God and the digital age
THE final report of the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment that concluded last October has an interesting observation regarding the digital culture that is now pervasive in the world. It talks about the great benefits and the dangers that the digital world is giving us.
It is intriguing to note that the good and bad things in this world are becoming more and more blended. They do not come to us anymore in some clear-cut ways, but rather in a united way, so subtle that we now hardly can distinguish which is which. Our new technologies are like Trojan horses that can appear to us as a great gift to humanity, but actually they contain a lot of concealed dangers. They are very treacherous. Whatever benefit and sense of success and accomplishment they bring are akin to a Pyrrhic victory when the good things are somehow nullified by the bad things they also cause.
The new technologies and the digital culture have significantly changed the way people understand things in general and as a consequence, their behavior also. They create an “approach to reality that privileges images over listening and over reading that influences the way people learn and the development of their critical faculty.” It’s like we are having a new ball game.
It’s true that these new technologies give a lot of benefits. They provide “an extraordinary opportunity for dialogue, encounter and exchange between persons, as well as access to information and knowledge.” It can “facilitate the circulation of independent information that can provide effective protection for the most vulnerable, etc.”
As to its dark side, the report says that the “digital environment is also one of loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence…Digital media can expose people to the risk of dependency, isolation and gradual loss of contact with concrete reality, blocking
the development of authentic interpersonal relationships.” Besides, the report noted that “there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms of manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process.
“The way many platforms work often ends up favoring encounter between person who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate…” We don’t have to look far to validate these very serious observations and they definitely have to be addressed accordingly. The only way to handle this predicament is to teach everyone to actively look for God every time they get into the digital world.
There is no other way. Either one is strongly with God to be with the right footing in that very treacherous world or he is simply lost and carried away from the strong and irresistible forms of self-seeking that can only lead us nowhere. I would say that the real challenge of the digital age is not so much on how to handle these technologies with technical competence and some norms of prudence to keep us safe and maintain a semblance of sanity and fairness. It is a serious call for everyone to be more authentic in their need and relation with God. It is for everyone to be truly holy and apostolic.
It is a call to know more about God who in fact is the very foundation of reality, of what is truly good, beautiful and fair in this world. Our main problem is that God is not properly known, much less, loved by many, and so he is somehow regarded as irrelevant in dealing with this challenge of the digital age. We need to wake up from our spiritual and religious stupor to properly handle this tremendous challenge of the digital age.