Grappling with Technology

Back in the day before smart phones existed, but cell phones had already started to appear, I sat at the breakfast area of a small bed and breakfast in downtown Dublin, Ireland.  As I ate my typical Irish breakfast of ham, eggs and pudding, I saw a young lady sitting alone at a table right in the middle of the breakfast area.  She appeared to be still wearing her pajamas, long and colorful flannel pants, and a worn down t-shirt with a large, faded logo.  She also had a plate of Irish breakfast in front of her, but she was not paying attention to it.  She had a cell phone in her hands, and she was moving her thumbs so quickly I could hardly see them.  She was texting with what is now a dinosaur cell phone, where you had to press a button a few times before getting the letter you wanted.

This was the first time I ever witnessed such a scene, and it was odd to observe.  Now this behavior has become commonplace.  Could it be any different from working on a crossword puzzle?  Or reading a book in public?  I was struck to see the young lady totally unaware of her surroundings, not engaging with her food or those around her, and still wearing her pajamas.  “She is flicking off the whole world,” I thought.

In the report submitted by our Diocese to Rome in preparation for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocation Discernment which will take place in Rome later this year, the young people of our diocese reflected on the impact of technology in their lives.  The report states, “the most common challenge identified by the youth arises from the presence of technology and social media in their lives: cyber bullying, attachment to phones and other technology.” Only second did the youth report challenges that arise from a secular and sexualized culture, though these can be directly linked to the strong presence of technology in the lives of young people.

Most of the youth who answered the questionnaire were cautious of technology.  Many identified a need for more person-to-person interaction since the digital world has changed the way people interact. Though the digital world keeps people connected and provides quick interaction, there are many sites with false answers and poor resources. The digital world allows for views that discourage religious practice to become more widespread, and the youth are especially susceptible to these. A handful of young people recognized that though many social media sites are popular, these do often promote narcissistic behaviors and self-promotion which become unhealthy.

Daydreaming has died, and it has died a quick death.  Every moment previously filled with silence, reflection, and self-awareness is now filled with interaction with a smart phone.  I am not a luddite opposed to progress and technology, but I worry about the long term effects of a new generation raised with a screen in front of its face.  Positive or negative, we are in the midst of a technological revolution that affects how human beings socialize, interact, and communicate, and the Church must play a role in this process.  Announcing Christ to today’s youth requires creativity, patience, and an internet connection.  Grappling with the changes technology has ushered into society is necessary for the Gospel to remain vibrant and relevant.

Picture not mine, in public domain.

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