Spirituality for Today – August 2012 – Volume 17, Issue 1

What's New?

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Her nervousness, demonstrable in her shaking body and quivering voice, filled the small room where she awaited the time for her operation. The heightened anxiety within her was not occasioned by the tedious questioning of the healthcare professionals who kept appearing in the room, nor the concern in the facial expressions of the family and friends who accompanied her, but in the unnerving realization that she must relinquish her cellular telephone with all the manifold functions contained therein. Medical skill will remedy her physical malady, but her psychological condition which has been coined "gadget addiction" is quite another matter. Although an ancient reality of human nature, our technological age has accelerated the obsession to attach ourselves to the latest mechanical innovation.

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Does the necessary possession of the newest instrument for conducting our lives and our relating to one another simply a sign of paying tribute to progress or is there something venomous hiding in the high grass. In an article for Lapham's Quarterly, Jennifer Szalai writes, "Our technologies belong to us; we create them, and they amplify our abilities and our reach, yet we exhibit a strange eagerness to relinquish our dominion over them, endowing them with a monstrous authority that demands our accommodation and surrender." Many among us acknowledge the fear that gadgets are taking over the world and that our growing dependency on them is a type of slavery that causes us to wonder whether or not humanity is irrepressibly fading before their increasing presence. A point stressed by James M. Morris in his review of Winifred Gallagher's book, New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change is instructive, "We live in a world juiced by change of every sort – by technological surfeit and infatuation with the trivial – and each of us needs to decide how much of that rampant energy is healthy. Clever phones, for example, have made social morons of millions. T. S. Eliot, unfamiliar with data plans or texting teenagers, knew more than 75 years ago what it was for 'strained time-ridden faces' to live 'distracted from distraction by distraction/Filled with fancies and emptied of meaning.' Gallagher summarizes in two words the advice of experts on how to make our way through this 'world of potentially limitless distractions': selectivity and balance. These criteria would have been old news to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It's a fine measure of our predicament that they should now seem novel." Instead of becoming "surgically attached" to our devices, we must use them in moderation and rediscover the beauty of our ability to think and to imagine.

Faith and ritual, evangelization and catechesis have not been immune from this challenge. From the time that Jesus introduced a "new and eternal covenant," religious perspective and practice have been subject to enhancement and revelation. By now, the changes in the Mass have become comfortable somewhat and, perhaps, we have come to appreciate the meaning that they convey in our act of worship.

Knowing how people communicate and feel connected opens the arena within which the Church must become competent in expressing itself. This efficiency must be more than websites and applications; it requires an efficacy of expression and communication. Much of this knowledge is beyond many of us of advanced years, but not so, the young and fine minds of the faithful creative geniuses who are on the horizon. They must navigate the treacherous waters of technological advances and learn how to employ them in the service of the Lord. In an odd, yet like way to the thought behind the Church's teaching on sexuality and birth control, it would be a shame if artificiality and mechanisms define human interrelationships. What a pity it would be if the communication of person to person, in the future, will become relegated to the communication of person to a wall of devices and then to a person. The avoidance of this unsavory prospect rests on the moral probity of the men and women who will invent the products of the future and how well they will cast a critical eye on the implications of those products. In prayerful hope, we shall ask, "What's new?"