by Fr. Phillippe Bourat - From The Angelus May June 2017
The dangers and the insidious but real harm of the invasive digital world, which fascinates and modifies the behavior of all age strata of the population, are often under-estimated by those who are in charge of education. Yet, the stakes are high.
We cannot deny that a regular use—not even an intensive use—of the internet and digital screens deeply modifies the habits of life and the amount and nature of leisure, and are the object of habitual worries of the mind. Rare are those who, today, escape the power of this tentacular beast.
Who can doubt that the spiritual life itself is not affected? The spirit of prayer and the life of contemplation are inevitably diminished, mortified. Although prayer is not a technique, it demands some natural conditions and a proper environment in order to grow. The houses of prayer, churches, and monasteries, have always been places where silence was duly cultivated. The Christian soul and, a fortiori, the soul dedicated to God, must be a house of prayer and, for this purpose, avoid what turns it into a slave of technological tools which perturb and excite the imagination.
The constant glare of the internet and its infinite variety of words and images cause the user to become dependent on change and entertainment, accustoming the brain to ask always for more novelty, stimuli, excitement. Curiosity becomes the main motive of action in a mind less and less disposed to reflecting, synthesizing, judging, memorizing, and more and more to reacting according the principles of pleasure and novelty.
What is growing among the users of digital tools are the flaws of superficiality, laziness, selfishness, impatience, irascibility, and a pride of presuming to know everything with just a few clicks. And, more basically, there comes the loss of the sense of an elementary courtesy which demands that, when speaking to someone in person, we should cease responding immediately to the least solicitation of phone calls or emails.
As for the judgments of value, which some apply in the more superficial conversations which they hold about “true life,” these judgments are now dictated by bits and parcels of information collected and memorized during the brief length of a coffee break conversation or meal. Beyond this, everything of depth and breadth is forgotten, evacuated, dissolved. The memory is relegated to the smartphone or the engine search…
Thus, verbal exchanges are dictated by what has been seen or consulted, by the opinion of those who pretend that majority makes truth, that sentiments can replace thought, that social life means sharing the same inept judgments on things, thereby leveling reality to the rank of insignificant, sacralizing the trivial to the detriment of the doctrinal or philosophical, and senselessly repeating the opinion of those who refuse to think beyond 140 bytes…
The future of intelligence is rather bleak because what is imposed on it, besides a relativist and subjectivist philosophy, is mostly its replacement by the device which invades most parts of the intellectual life.
If most teenagers cannot even imagine spending one day without their smartphone, and if their life is connected to many social networks, there are yet many adults who still have the illusion that a reasonable use of the digital will allow them to escape the drifting we mention here. Yet, to be certain that this “reasonable use” of the technique is possible, they need to prove that the user is still dominating the use of the machine and not the other way around, as long as he has on hand the “antique” means which used to develop the potentialities of the human mind. Although not impossible, this has become very difficult for many. Clerics and layfolk alike: many are already slaves to the device but have the best intentions in the world and the good conscience of one who is sure of doing good… since everybody does it!
The following test could serve as a check:
The fear of looking old fashioned, reactionary, or outdated, but especially the addiction contracted by the regular use of the devices, all prevent many from self-examination and check ups. They may realize that the drift of this new way of life is not the best, but the pull for them is too strong.
Paradoxically, among those who self check and refuse to let the digital lay claim over their minds, many have a life goal that differs from ours. But, at least, they have preserved the idea anchored within them that real life has more worth than virtual life, and that the human faculty of thinking, as well as the social and political life, are more precious than technological formatting and slavery to the almighty digital world, which have created a totalitarian consensus.
These men and women need to be aware of the stakes. They will belong to the future elite, those who know how to read, to understand what they have read, to reflect and put into perspective through philosophy and history, and to judge according to true principles. These are the persons who will be given responsible charges because they will possess psychological and human ability and a rare moral life. The Church counts on their generosity, their fidelity to the doctrinal combat, their skill to live against the stream of ease, and their sense of the common good which will engage them in offering their life to His service, if God so calls them, or to settle a Christian family.
Because they will have understood that the slavery which is being prepared for them is a traitorous snare, these are the ones who will recall that man’s destiny is heaven and that this goal demands they preserve their intelligence, their memory, and their will ordained to God, so that the work of grace may grow in them and through them.
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"The prudent man considers things afar off, in so far as they tend to be a help or a hindrance to that which has to be done at the present time." - St. Thomas Aquinas