Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dialogue, Communion, Silence, Enduring Things

"New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."--from Pope Benedict XVI, released on the feast day of St Francis de Sales, who is my second son's confirmation patron.

HT: Elizabeth at In the Heart of My Home

from Pope Benedict XVI's message....

While the speed with which the new technologies have evolved in terms of their efficiency and reliability is rightly a source of wonder, their popularity with users should not surprise us, as they respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other. This desire for communication and friendship is rooted in our very nature as human beings and cannot be adequately understood as a response to technical innovations.
This makes a lot of sense psychologically to explain all the networks springing up in such creative forms everywhere. I am often stunned by the sheer beauty and ingenuity of the internet in tailoring itself to different types of communities. "Source of wonder" doesn't seem too strong a phrase for this. I told my father when I first got online 10 plus years ago that it was like a huge beautiful city, filled with libraries of treasures and communities of kindred spirits. Obviously it had its dark side and I wasn't oblivious to that, but I had no desire to walk in the dark paths and the good side was SO good that it shone like a million little lights, to me. I haven't seen a reason to change my basic thoughts on this.

The invention of the internet (or development -- I'm probably showing my non-tech side here) seems almost analagous to the invention of the printing press.

Pope Benedict's message contains a caution, though, that is the flip side of the good aspects of the internet:

We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship. It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.

For good reason, I think, he doesn't mention outright the "bad" side of the internet -- that its communicative possibilities can be used, like any other communication possibilities, for evil. He is focusing here basically on people of "good will", and saying that the cyberworld ought not to become a replacement for the world more directly around you. It shouldn't be a way of filling in empty spaces (which are usually there for a reason) but a way of expanding one's sphere of society outwards. This was a subtler danger that I was not at first aware of when I discovered the internet. It came later when I realized I could get caught up in the glamour of the online world (did you know that "glamour" is a corruption for the word "grammarye" because to the medievals, knowledge of words had a mystique of its own? I think that mystique is a good part of the pull of the internet for me!).

Again, the invention of the printing press seems analogous, if you think about it. We take for granted the goodness of printed words that are readily available to a wider audience. This IS good. However, just as with the internet, the printing press brought some elements of pandemonium. Bad, mistaken information could be transmitted much more readily; there was no assurance that the right books would fafll into the right hands. There was a new layer of abstraction -- people could be taught from books directly instead of from painstakingly copying and memorizing literary treasures. Information capacity exploded, which meant inevitably a layer of superficiality.

Plus, with reading there is an equivalent danger of using books as an escape from reflection and simpler things of the quotidian, and from human intimacy. Ask this bookworm how she knows this.

I have been recently reading some blog pots that seem to speak to this danger that excessive internet use might "disrupt.. the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development."


On the other hand, I was thinking that it is neat to get the link from Elizabeth since she was one of the people that made the cyberworld merge with the "real world" for me -- though we haven't met in person she was a key in prayer effort to save Aidan almost 10 years ago now; the internet allowed the Communion of Saints to work in a way it wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. The internet became a channel of grace.

And printed books, also, have allowed many things that couldn't ever have been possible in the days of hand-copied parchments.

So I think that I have to remember that it's my job to use this gift wisely, to leave ample room for the silences and slow relationship-building times in real life, but to embrace what is good about the internet world.

The Pope writes:
Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.
May it be so! That will be my prayer!

4 comments:

Mama Monkey said...

Beautiful post! I am fascinated by the parallel between the advent of the internet and the invention of the printing press. I never really thought about that before.

Marie said...

Yes, lovely post. I had seen this snippet from BXVI earlier in the week, but I really enjoy the gentle way you unpacked and laid it out. I just said to my dh a few days ago that my life might have been very different had I had avenues like blogging, email lists and even Facebook back then! I find these have really helped me grow, understand myself and others, and even be far more willing and capable to communicate with casual acquaintances. In short, the virtual world has served to make me much more human, and I'm very grateful for this gift!

Laura A said...

Excellent points. It is true that I have used the internet to find a type of conversation (such as this) that I don't hear much in my local world. But I hope that I am open to whatever relationships that God has set for me. Something to pray about this morning.

Chari said...

"I told my father when I first got online 10 plus years ago that it was like a huge beautiful city, filled with libraries of treasures and communities of kindred spirits. Obviously it had its dark side and I wasn't oblivious to that, but I had no desire to walk in the dark paths and the good side was SO good that it shone like a million little lights, to me. I haven't seen a reason to change my basic thoughts on this.

The invention of the internet (or development -- I'm probably showing my non-tech side here) seems almost analagous to the invention of the printing press."

I love these two thoughts.......I felt the same way about the internet....having an addiction to libraries, you know.

Great comparison about the printing press......you ARE clever. :)

Another good thing to come out of the internet: BEST FRIENDS!