Tag Archives: Technology

Gift vs. Given

I am now officially done the seminary year.  This past week I helped out at a Bible Camp in our diocese, and I have also done something I have not done for a while: leisurely reading.  I love reading for school, etc., but I have already noticed a marked difference between reading for a paper and reading simply for its own sake.  When it comes to leisurely reading, nothing compares.

One of the books I have decided to take up is by Kenneth Schmitz titled “The Recovery of Wonder“.  It is, essentially, a book about things and how we view things.  If this post is obtuse, please grant me this slight indulgence as I very much find myself in line with Schmitz’s thought and find his style to be rather attractive.  When I find a style attractive, I have a tendency to imitate it, hence why this post may be obtuse.  If you are not a great fan of obtuse things, then, by all means, you are not obliged to continue on.

As I stated, the book is about things or, in Latin, res.  The fundamental question that underlies the investigation of the book is the reality of things: are they complex wholes or are they simple parts mashed together?  I have yet to finish the book, but am already able to see where his argument is going by virtue of the title.  Wonder – and it is for this reason I purchased the book – has been a concept that has been rather appealing to me for some time now.  To be in awe of things is the sign of contemplation and to see that things point beyond themselves to an Other who constitutes the totality of finite existence.  The thing points to the transcendence of this Other because this Other is also immanent to the thing by virtue of its upholding this unnecessary thing in existence.    In effect, this is the traditional, pre-modern metaphysical worldview.  A thing, whatever it may be, is ultimately a mystery – that is it is something that has an infinite depth that can never be grasped in its totality; there is always a ‘more’ to it.  The word that constitutes such a worldview is the word ‘gift’ and it is the result of the reality of the Hebrew and Christian revelation of the God who creates ex nihilo.  Writing a paper this year on Genesis 1:1-3 helped me realize just how profound and revolutionary the opening words of Genesis are.  The way, in fact, to read the entire creation account of Genesis – the hermeneutical key by which one ought to read the entire creation story – is through the lens of the concept of gift.  All that is is a gift from God, it is not necessary.  God creates out of His gracious love and each thing that is in existence is the result of His loving gaze upon us.  When in the realm of metaphysics, one would call this an ontology of gift: every thing has within its being the stamp of being gifted into existence.  No thing that is – save for God – need exist.  It is pure gratuity.  Thus we hang thinly between the abyss of annihilation and the totality of being.  Our very being is constituted of nothingness and everything at the same time.  This is what is known as contingency, and contingency – ontologically and not simply in a causal series – is expressed most fundamentally in the concept of gift.

Gift, donum, is contrasted with the modern approach of seeing reality as given, as a datum.  When things are seen as a gift, they are seen as their whole, though constituted in a complex manner.  Yet the whole, in the realm of gift, is greater than the sum of its parts.  With the modern concept of things being simply a given, a datum to be investigated, a phenomenon to be observed, we run the risk of seeing distinctions within a thing as also a separation between the aspects of a thing.  This is what is known as scientism: the constant desire to pursue the simple aspects of a thing to the neglect of the whole.  It is also an expression of voluntarism, of power over nature, of the throwing oneself over and above another object.  It is no coincidence that our move towards a technological society is based within a cultural mentality in which power is the ultimate arbiter of life.  Seeing the world as a given – that is, it is simply there, without any concern for its ultimate ontological origin – means to seeing it as something to dissect and to have power over.  Things become the objects of our rational need to dissect, separate, and own, instead of the more primary human need of the intellect, which expresses itself in contemplation, allowing all of reality to be itself to the subject and to receive it with openness as the totality that it really is.

I am not downplaying the importance of the givenness of reality.  There is a very true sense that there is a givenness to the natural realm.  It is simply there in front of us in order to investigate.  Often, when two worldviews are pitted against each other, we have a tendency to want one to win out over the other.  But this need not be the case.  There is value and truth and, dare I say, even beauty to the modern approach to the world.  However, if we are to have true success with it, if it is going to truly correspond to our humanity, then it must be in conversation with the contemplative nature of life.  Contemplation – intellect – and rationality need not be opposed to each other.

Yet, I must emphasize one thing and it is with this that I will end this post.  The point of Schmitz’s book is to rediscover the idea of wonder, to be amazed by that which is around us, from the simplest to the most complex things.  In short, we must rediscover the contemplative nature of life.  Both Schmitz and Pope Benedict point to the ecological movement as an expression of the sense that technological domination over the natural realm must have its limits, that we must let things be at times, that we must allow the world to be itself for us and for us to receive it in contemplative and receptive humility.  What is wrong in the movement is that it emphasizes the natural realm to the neglect of the human and even, at times, to the detriment of the human.  Yet there is also that essential kernal of truth: the natural realm is beautiful and worthy to be upheld and protected against the domination of the human will’s desire to cease control of all that is. To be human is to be finite, to be limited, and the idea that the natural realm is only datum, only given, will constantly go against the truly human when it acts to the neglect of the contemplative attitude towards the world.

It may seem like an impossible task, for the ideology of scientism is very much ingrained within our cultural mentality.  It will take Herculean efforts in order to overcome such a cultural attitude.  Yet we must begin it.  To rediscover wonder in the world is to rediscover the essential aesthetic quality of the world.  Beauty, I am convinced in this day in age, will indeed save the world.  We can reclaim the rightful place of the giftedness of the world alongside the scientific.  They need not be opposed.  For when this is done, then the investigation into the world will no longer be for dominance over it, but rather as an immersion of our selves into the reality of things for their own sake.  Then, and only then, will the world be able to begin to be beautiful once again.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Just What Is The New Evangelization?

This is a question we have been dealing with quite extensively in my course on the very topic.  If we are the summarize it succinctly, we could simply call it as a preaching of the Gospel to Christians who have not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.  The New Evangelization, then, is first and foremost ecclesio-centric: it focuses first and foremost on the Church and those who are already within her loving embrace.

By bringing the faithful to a real, living encounter with Jesus, it would follow with the Church’s missionary activity which, according to the Second Vatican Council, is the very purpose of the Church.  In theology and philosophy, the purpose of a thing is what defines it as what it is.  Thus, if the purpose of the Church is to be missionary, then she is missionary in her very nature.

That, in a nutshell, is what the New Evangelization is.  Yet, many people misunderstand or misconstrue the real essence of the New Evangelization and presuppose that the adjective “new” entails different methods of evangelization.  There is, therefore, many people who think that the New Evangelization is all about using what is ‘new’ in the world, especially in the realm of technology.  The proponents of such a view, when speaking of the New Evangelization, also in the same breath use words such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Mobile Communications, etc.

Such a mentality is blatantly contrary to the mission and purpose of the New Evangelization.  If one were to glance at the Lineamenta (the working document for the upcoming synod on the New Evangelization), one would read, under the section “Areas In Need of the New Evangelization, the following quote:

The fifth sector is scientific and technological research. We are living at a moment when people still marvel at the wonders resulting from continual advances in scientific and technological research. All of us experience the benefits of this progress in our daily lives, benefits on which we are becoming increasingly dependent. As a result, science and technology are in danger of becoming today’s new idols. In a digitalized and globalized world, science can easily be considered a new religion, to which we turn with questions concerning truth and meaning, even though we know that the responses provided are only partial and not totally satisfying. New forms of “gnosis” are emerging where technology itself becomes a kind of philosophy in which knowledge and meaning are derived from an unreal structuring of life. These new cults, increasing each day, ultimately end up by turning religious practice into a clinical form of seeking prosperity and instant gratification.

This is not much of a supportive mindset in regards to social media.  Nor is it, though, a condemnation of social media and technology in general.  Yet, it asks for a detailed reflection on the nature of technology, its positive and negative impacts, etc.  One must be cautious and discerning with all things.  We cannot presume that because it is new that it is good.  This is a danger of many in North America especially, where technology so influences every aspect of our lives.  The warning in regards to the idolatry of technology is a warning we in North America must especially heed.

Furthermore, the call to having a discerning mind in regards to technology is also a call to enter into these areas.  It is not because these areas are necessarily a good in themselves – they may in fact be harmful to our psychological development!  However, we are called to enter them because, increasingly, it is where people interact with each other.  Unfortunately, people depend less and less on personal encounter.  Even talking to people over the phone is becoming an increasingly foreign thing with the advent of text messaging.

We must imitate our Lord Who would go into places that were perhaps taboo, even engage in social interactions that were taboo (I am thinking especially the Samaritan woman).  We must go into these places not to use them as ends in themselves, but rather as places where we can bring the Light of Christ.  By encountering that light, things begin to seem to be as nothing in comparison with the gift of Christ to our lives.  In short, we enter them not to stay within them – we don’t get a twitter account in order to stay there and communicate there.  Rather, we enter there so that we can introduce others to the grace of Christ’s loving gaze that will draw them out of these areas.  If we believe – as many scientific studies have shown – that many technological advances have adverse psychological effects on us, then we ought to be doing what we can to help people come out of these spaces.  Yet, we can only do it by first going where they are going.

I can speak simply from personal experience.  Growing up – especially in high school – the computer was everything to me, so much so that I decided to study Computer Science at UVic so as to further engage in my passion.  I found Computer Science boring and uninteresting, but my obsession with the technological did not cease.  Yet, since my conversion, since my encounter with the face of Christ, I have been drawn to a Person Who is real – more real than any reality of this earth!  My purpose now is to act on that reality with greater devotion and conviction each and every day. Thus I finally gave up my Facebook account because I found that I was giving too much time to technology.  Now, frankly, because I don’t use Facebook, I am barely on my computer – though this is at times a detriment as I forget to answer e-mails and renew library books.

Yet, it still is a struggle, and I battle with this struggle daily.  I find myself continually enraptured by the latest technological advances.  It is not helpful, furthermore, when most people around you are buying the latest advances and so you see them being used.  I think there is something to this enrapturing quality of technology that is worthy of another post, but what I wish to say is that I still struggle, but I do see progress in my life.  Despite how cool I think having an iPad would be, of being on all these social networks – of ‘feeling’ connected, I am starting to learn that there is a Presence more important than anything else and that my yearning towards these innovations is simply my deeper yearning for Him.

In the end, then, our purpose in using social communication is not to use the means as an end in itself.  We must take seriously Marshall Mcluhan’s famous statement: “the medium is the message”.  This is not the statement of an optimist, but one who is discerning towards the reality of things.  The medium becomes confused as the message, thus obscuring the message.  We must be discerning and use these communications wisely, yet always demonstrating that, ultimately, our use of social communication is an expression of communicating in a social and real with an Other.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Interwebs Pt 2

Well, it happened.

Last Friday, after a week or so of preparing people, I did what I thought to be the unthinkable.  I DELETED MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!

Now, Facebook is tricksy: they like to give you two weeks before deleting your account, just in case you change your mind.  That e-mail they sent haunts me: I can still revert, I can still go back!

But I refuse to.  This is what I must do.  But, I must admit, it has not been easy!  Suddenly I feel disconnected from the world.  How will the world know if – God willing – the bishop decides to call me to ordination?  How will I tell friends and family alike?  How can I share the latest articles I’ve come across, the newest ideas, the latest books, the mundane activities of my life?  I must admit it: there is slight separation anxiety attached with this detachment.  It is not easy. 

Furthermore, how am I to find out what sort of events are going on around town with my friends?  How will I know what is going down?  I feel separated, lost, and scrambling to distract myself in other realms of my life.

But, in the end, despite the difficulty, despite the slight anxiety, I realize this has been a good thing.  I did not realize how much time Facebook was taking up in my life until I left it.  How easy it was to go on my phone and check it out.  How easy it was to just sit at my computer and engage in rather pointless discussions.  In the end, it was more a waste of time than anything else.

But there is a further element of reflection from all this: the separation anxiety is real, but it is because our world has reduced communication to social media.  We are unable to communicate outside of it.  This has all occurred within the span of five years at the most!  That is a scary change, one that, I believe, is the result of the unreflective spirit of our age.  As I mentioned in my previous post, we have a tendency to take upon new technologies simply because they are new and not because they are good.  We refuse to ask “what are we losing with all this?”  It is a question we must always ask.  In the end, as Neil Postman observes, every new technology means that we lose something.  The invention of writing began to be the end of oral tradition and profound memory, for example.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it means we lose something in the process of gaining something else.

My question today, however, is whether this form of communication through social media is actually good?  The reactions I got against leaving Facebook, the fact that people felt they would be unable to communicate with me by leaving it tells me there is something wrong here.  If something creates the inability to communicate any other way, then I think we need to begin to re-evaluate and ask whether we are on the right path.  The more I reflect on it, the more I think that we are not on the right path.  I see an inability to confront and talk face to face.  I see an inability to communicate person to person.  When communication loses the personal element, then we are no longer communicating.

To me, communication must take all three transcendentals into account: the true, the good, and the beautiful.  In fact, all activity should be done in truth, for the good of myself and others, and in an attractive/enticing manner.    That is the ethos which governs my life.  Technology, however, has lost its aetsthetic value, its ability to put forward an attractive truth claim, to form an attractive ethos.  With the loss of the aesthetic dimension, with “the beautiful” being removed from the realm of technology, all that is left is facts in place of truth, activism instead of goodness.  When you remove a transcendental, all else becomes pointless because all the other transcendentals lose that which makes them what they are.  Truth needs beauty and goodness to be truth, beauty needs truth and goodness to be beauty, and goodness needs truth and beauty to be itself.  The internet, I believe, does not have the moral or aesthetic dimension.  With this, I see the internet only as a place for fact finding.  One can find resources, articles, news, etc.  This is good.  But it is not a place of communication.  The only exception I will give to this is e-mail because it mimics letter writing.  It still loses the essential element of reflectivity – it’s so easy to write without much reflection in email – but it can allow for that element.  I have yet to see that reflectivity anywhere else on the internet.

By the by, a friend and colleague has posted a wonderful reflection on his blog in reference to my first post.  You can find the article here.

In Christ

-Harrison

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The Interwebs

Lately, I have been reflecting not just on the value of the internet, but the value of technology in general.  This has always been something that has been on my mind, but it was not given clarity until last year I read Neil Postman’s “Technopoly“.  If you have not read it, I highly encourage you to.  The book will challenge your approach to the world and technology.

Anyways, this “existential angst” over technology – as a friend recently put it to me – is something that is definitely experienced in my life.  As I pick up my iPhone to check text messages, e-mail, facebook, twitter, etc: each time, I feel like I am obeying a master who has total and complete control in my life.  This is partially because I have allowed the phone to have that sway over my life.  But it’s not just the phone: it’s the internet, it’s the social-media, it’s even the e-mail.  Everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by that which demands my time from me, asks me to surrender myself to it, and to give in completely to the ways of technology.  However.  The more technology has attempted to claim its sway over me, the greater there has been a desire to rebel and revolt over the great monolith that is technology.  The more it imposes itself upon me, the more I want to scream in revolt: NO!

Thus, recently, I have attempted an experiment.  I recently decided that, not only is Facebook a tool that demands far too much of my time, but, in the end, it really isn’t all that valuable.  How many videos of laughing babies – as cute as they are! – do I need to see?  How many memes do I need to see?  Is my life fulfilled because now I have seen “S**t women say”?  I think I will survive without these.

The initial post of “I’m leaving facebook” brought both public and private dissatisfaction with such a decision.  And it was with those that the doubt started to seep in: “is this a good idea?  Maybe I’m abandoning people? Am I perhaps offering something valuable with what I post on Facebook?”  But then I said to myself: I don’t care, I can’t care.  The time that will be freed up simply from abandoning Facebook will give me to actually, you know, engage with people face to face!

There is a deeper reason besides my natural desire to simply rebel at all that is put in front of me.  I have been reflecting on the many discussions I have had on Facebook and have realized this: the internet is a horrible place to communicate.  To have a “discussion” on Facebook, for example, is impossible.  The medium demands succinctness.  It doesn’t allow for subtlety, nuance, presuppositions to be declared, etc.  In short: social media doesn’t allow for dialogue, it demands a screaming match.

Blogs, I will admit, are different.  They allow for a reasonable amount of space to get an opinion across.  But Twitter, too, can be a very devalued form of communication (though it can be highly useful for sharing news with others).  But, more or less, the internet is wonderful for discovering facts and information, but it is horrible for communication.

Yet, we as a society seem to embrace it all the more!  We allow ourselves to be overtaken by devices, gadgets, and websites.  Trending websites are leaning towards the more and more banal (Pinterest is the weirdest thing I have ever heard of!).  We are devolving as a society because we are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by what is ultimately unimportant.

We have allowed technology to become the form of our life, instead of allowing ourselves to be that which gives form to technology.  In short: we are slaves to technology.  Technology is becoming the wave of the future and, simultaneously, the wave of our demise as a human race.  I think of videos such as the one at the end of this post and think: we are making the lives of others worse just so that we can enjoy the latest gadget.

What has our society come to, that we need these gadgets in order to be human?  Why are we lack discernment towards all that is thrown at us?  Why can’t we use the faculty of reason to actually properly judge whether something is good for us or not?  Why do we presume that just because it’s new, it’s good?

The existential angst I feel in getting rid of Facebook is real: I don’t know what to do without it, to an extent.  Yet, I have lived without it before, I can live without it again.  This move gives me the strength to do more, too: to get rid of twitter, and probably my iPhone too.  I’m a lot happier when I’m with people, when I’m reading, when I’m praying.  Why do I need to fill my life with endless distraction?  It seems so inhuman.  The fact of the matter is that technology has become that: it has become inhuman, and yet we treat it as a part of ourselves.  This, to me, is too far.

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