Posted March 15, 2011:
Technology and Man (Part 4)

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

I’ve been reflecting these past months in Restoration on the effect technology is having on our humanity: the ways of being human in the world that are built into us by God’s creative design, and how the new information technologies are affecting us.

I’ve talked about the essential reality of human intellect and will, how we are made to intelligently discern and choose what to do. Use of technology has to flow from a careful discernment, or it is sub-human from the start.

I’ve talked about our mind-body unity, our call to be present to the here and now, and to be open to all reality as it comes to us in this here and now.

All of these are at least potentially imperiled by an indiscriminate use of technology.

And here’s another concern we have to think about, in my opinion. Time magazine had a cover story on Facebook a few months ago. The headline was "How Facebook is Redefining Privacy, and what this means for you."

This is another element of our humanity being radically redefined these days, especially by the social media sites. What is the distinction between what is public and what is private? This is very important.

This is really what the virtue of modesty is about. We think of modesty as being about what kind of clothes we wear, how much skin we’re showing. That’s certainly part of it, but the essence of modesty is that it is the virtue by which we discern properly the distinctions between public and private elements of our person.

What is absolutely public, for the whole wide world to know about, see, hear? What things are for my circle of friends and family to know, to see, to hear?

What in my life is for only my very intimate friends to know, to see, to hear? What is for my spouse alone, if I am married, to know, to see, to hear? Finally, what is for God and God alone to know and see and hear of my being? Modesty, assisted by prudence, answers these questions.

There is a very serious question of dignity at stake here—a question of self-control, the proper disposition of our beings, of the good order of all things. Without a clear private/public distinction, our relationships are out of order in a deep way.

There is, in fact, such a thing as secrecy. Secrecy is not always wrong. There is a valid use of the phrase, "that’s none of your business!"

The Wikileaks scandal of recent weeks has highlighted precisely this question. While opinions can differ about the parameters of government secrecy in a democracy, it seems that powerful individuals in the computer world actually question the very notion of privacy.

The founder of Google has even said publicly that if you don’t want the whole world to know about something, you shouldn’t be doing it. Privacy is null and void in that understanding, not only for governments and diplomats, but between husband and wife, parent and child, intimate friends.

But how much of the depths of these relationships come from the sense of being invited into the heart of the other? As we grow in our relationships, we share with that intimate other what we do not share generally.

In the context of Christian marriage between a chaste man and woman, there is a sense of disclosing to the other the most intimate physical realities of one’s being that no one else has known but the one you have wed.

In the world envisioned by the architects of the social media platforms, all of this will be displayed on the Internet for anyone to see. The very notion of intimacy will be drained of any meaning.

And what about God? God operates in the secrecy of the human heart. The most private and intimate movements of the Spirit occur in the deep places of the human heart and are between you and him alone. We must not expose these deep, secret movements of God to anyone except our spiritual director.

So does Facebook, or more properly, the 26 year old billionaire who created and runs it, have a right to redefine privacy? Absolutely not!

As it happens, I am on Facebook, but it defines nothing in my life. I will not, I refuse, to give Facebook or Google or any other techno-entity the right to define me or my values.

There is a real problem facing us with the Internet. The volume of personal information people are putting onto it, the growing sense that everyone’s personal business is somehow fair game for public chatter, the laying bare of all secrets all the time—there are serious questions here.

Our freedom and our dignity demand that we engage these questions. There is also a growing tendency to simply shrug and say, "That’s the way things are now." No. It’s the way we’ve made things. We are human beings, not automatons.

We can make things different if we choose, and I think we’ll have to, eventually. The current free-for-all of personal information is inhuman and unsustainable in the long run.

My final reflection on technology and humanity is that human life is consequential. In other words, everything in our life is either an end in itself or a means to an end.

We are meant to live intentional, thoughtful, decisive, purposeful lives. God is the only true and absolute end to our lives; everything else in greater or lesser degrees is meant to be a means to our divine end. But our whole life is meant to be shaped, fashioned, to an intentional end.

Even when we’re having fun and joking around and having a party (which those who know me know I love to do!) it’s because we intend to have a party and joke and have fun. Having fun and laughing together builds family, builds relationship.

Celebrating is a way of saying that life and the world are good things. Ultimately, to celebrate is an act of worship, of rendering to God the due acknowledgment that he made a good world, full of things to delight in, to laugh about, to rejoice over.

But in all these matters we’re meant to be in control of our choices and movements and to do things for a reason that is good and true.

Technology, too, can absolutely be used in a consequential way. No question of that.

It can also be a shiny toy that distracts us and diverts us. It can pull us into hours and hours of surfing the net to find out the latest celebrity gossip or the latest buzz or to watch the latest YouTube video, or, or, or …

It is very shiny and loud and endlessly varying, and it can have a hypnotic effect in our life. And we have to be watchful of that. Where is it taking you? Is this video, this website, this chat room, a means to an end? To what end? A good end? God? If not, why are you there?

Everything I have written in these past months can be summed up in a simple way. Know who you are. Know what your life is about. Know what life in general is about. Know that you are made for God and God alone.

Then, looking at the technology in your life, think, think, think. And having thought long and hard and carefully, be free, with the freedom of the children of God. Do with it as you see fit.

The End


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