Technology and the Human Connection
In Nov. 2021, Pope Francis video-messaged the Pontifical Council for Culture, which gathered virtually for its Plenary assembly. He lamented that the message could not be given in person because the digital universe makes everything “incredibly close but without the warmth of presence.”
Our culture is being transformed, said the Pope, by a technological revolution that, at times, threatens our shared cultural vision, including how we communicate. Describing our epoch as an “age of liquidity,” he called conference attendees to rediscover what it means to be human, learning not only from Greco-Roman civilization but also the biblical vision of man and woman, which can inform our understanding of culture. He invited participants to dialogue and learn from each other. If we in the West suffer from radical individualism, we might learn from the “holistic vision of Asian cultures,” the “solidarity of African cultures” and “the anthropology of Latin American peoples.”
The digital revolution changed how we communicate, and even how we understand ourselves. Some years ago, I read Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation. She contends that overusing technology has made us less empathetic; likes and dislikes on social media platforms and anonymous posts and comments never force us to see our words’ affect on others – how they hurt them. This overuse, she argues, leads to a lack of truly human conversations.
Even in families, members fear losing control of their emotions and thus, instead of meeting in person or speaking on the phone, they text each other so that they can edit conversations. Many use their phones to find the next best party from a fear of missing out, but cannot seem to genuinely enjoy being at a party or being together.
This lack of truly human communication impacts dating as young people, who aren’t speaking in “real time,” have lost the art of courtship. In job interviews, many perform poorly and feel an undue pressure when having to speak “off the cuff.” Sadly, Turkle even observed parents looking at their phones more frequently than their own children.
THE HUMAN CONNECTION
Perhaps we lost something of what it means to communicate humanly because of technology’s advances, but the biblical vision can help. Think of when Jesus looked up in the tree and, with a gaze of love, called Zacchaeus by name. How important was that gaze! Or again, Jesus bent down to look at the woman caught in adultery and said, “Neither do I condemn you but go and sin no more.” So too, Jesus gazed at Peter after his threefold denial, and Peter wept bitterly, perhaps because he still experienced Jesus’ loving gaze.
Recently, I offered Mass at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. Although I spoke, most children communicated through sign language, but a great deal of communication happened in their hearts. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to communicate love and to receive love from another? We have all kinds of technology, but do we have enough love? Enough empathy? I admit, I love technology and probably overuse it, but my phone and my computer have never loved me back!
Unable to walk and residing in an assisted living facility, my mother is also a little hard of hearing. We occasionally use FaceTime to speak, but there is nothing like an in-person visit. She smiles on the phone, but for in-person visits, she smiles more widely. When I hold her hand and agree to have tea and a biscuit, she is happy. For many years, her way of saying “I love you” was to cook Indian food. She can no longer cook now, but if she can feed me even a biscuit, it is a way to say, “I love you.” Perhaps, those words are the message we need to hear most of all, and that we hear all the time from God.
This article appeared in the February 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.