Category: Digital


AMDG

the-bumpy-transition-from-childhood-to-adolescence-20130110065041-jpg-q75dx720y432u1r1ggcWorking with so many  young people for so long has led me to reflect more on the nature of adolescence, the good, the bad and the ugly!  It seems that the main task of  adolescence  is gaining independence.  Its a journey from a dependent childhood to adulthood, for some it is a long journey, maybe even lasting 20 years or longer. In the UK many factors recently have prolonged the process, expanding higher education, prolonged debt and financial reliance on parents,  marriage happening later (if at all), a globalising job market which is more unstable and temporary.  Adolescences involves a painful trade off – from the comfort of enjoying the benefits of childhood to the uncertainty of emerging into adulthood.  It takes courage and resilience to leave the nest, and a success-addled culture is leaving less space for failure.

Its increasingly obvious that the main task at university, at least at undergraduate level, is socialisation.  Belonging, establishing the more responsible settled patterns of adulthood, this is whats going on at many universities – with 18- 22 year olds.  Lectures, essays and exams, although important really take a back seat to the challenge of leaving the nest.  It is when they start to specialise at masters and postgraduate level that the knowledge acquisition and contribution come to the forefront.  I have observed that the big universities are very poorly equipped to take the pastoral duties of accompanying young people in their quest to become adults seriously.  Often this is reflected in their student satisfaction ratings.  Here in Manchester it is notable haw many of the Chinese students seem so miserable.  The Confucian model of learning is more holistic, with a stress on virtues and the development of character, something that hard pressed lecturers don’s have any time for.

1353088148turkle-alone_together_pbAdolescence in many ways an exciting time, with an emerging creativity often linked to rebelliousness, hope, idealism and a youthful beauty.  But there is a dark side of adolescence which American Bill Plotkin calls ‘pathoadolescence‘.  This is defined by  being hostilely competitive,  violent, superficial,  materialistic,  greedy,  tribal and ultimately self-destructive.  Interesting he argues that it spawns a variety of cultural pathologies, resulting in contemporary societies that are class-stratified, violent, racist, sexist, ageist.  Certainly when one looks back at the political discourse of this last year this analysis seems to ring a few bells.  It also maybe that the speed of our technological change fuels these trends, Sherry Turkles book  Alone Together –  is certainly worth reading.  Her basic thesis is that our digital age of relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void,but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.  Could this lead to a new phenomenon ‘Regressive Adolescence?’ .

AMDG

Today’s Gospel should make us feel uncomfortable – the rich man who steps over the beggar at his gate. Like all of us he is uncomfortable when confronted with destitution, with extreme poverty….  I think Jesus wants us to feel uncomfortable when we hear his words today.

Cladownloadyton M Christensen , in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in Academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is  a disruptive technology, open source, peer edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to end of to many traditional encyclopaedias being produced.  You can think of many examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, amazon and bookshops etc etc

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive –  Jesus in the tradition of Prophets from the Old Testament is warning us.  The Prophet Amos in th first reading says ‘Woe to the Complacent in Zion’  …. Our complacency our comfort in this world where there is such extreme wealth and extreme poverty is an offence to God.  Amos the prophet does not mince his words.

But Jesus is more sophisticated even as a prophet – he doesn’t want to harangue us, he doesn’t just want us to feel guilty and powerless that we can do nothing, he wants us to change our hearts – he wants a deeper transformation.  He wants us to ponder this parable, to reflect on it … to pray with it – so that our hearts change.

tentsofsomeofthehomelessnearmanchesterpiccadillyrailstationToday’s Gospel of the poor man at the rich man’s gate is meant to disrupt our complacency – We are meant to feel uncomfortable if we really listen to this.   We see poverty on the streets of Manchester all the time, there is even a small tented shanty town growing up near Piccadilly, and we also see bright new shiny buildings going up everywhere.  This paradox is perplexing …. If the economy in Manchester is booming – how come so many people are obviously being left out?  What has happened to the common good?

sermon-slide-deck-til-death-do-us-part-matthew-19112-19-638And if we are honest we developing coping mechanisms to cope with this – but the danger is that all these coping mechanisms take us in on ourselves ….  Saint Augustine said that sin is a life lived “inward” for self rather than “outward” for God and others. The theological phrase in Latin (if you are interested) is “Incurvatus in se” (Turned/curved inward on oneself).  How many things allow us to live like that now – we can control our environment – glued to our smart phones – living digital lives – we put our headphones in and we can even block the world out.  But let us acknowledge these are coping mechanisms.

But God has told us repeatedly through the prophets, through Moses, through Abraham, to have a deep attentiveness to the Poor….. but that makes us uncomfortable.   Jesus wants us time and time again about the isolating power of wealth …  the more we have we are that isolated from each other, and ultimately isolated from God – we create rich ghettoes, gated communities, bigger walls…. And we become miserable

How can we help?  There are so many ways so many initiatives flowering up around us ….  The Holy Name and the Chaplaincy are becoming a centre for many of these initiatives…..  just take the newsletter home and read it.  But even before that maybe we can pray for the grace of freedom – to leave the technological arms race where we have to constantly upgrade our phones, the grace of freedom to realise how we are trapped by consumerism, and how we become blind to our neighbours in need…   That could be our simple prayer for the week …  Lord make me free…  when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.

Homily given at the Holy Name Sunday 25th September 12.00 mass 

AMDG

Regions_of_the_African_UnionPreparing to go to Tanzania with some of the students here, it is good to challenge some of the stereotypes that they are carrying with them.  First of all – Africa is a continent, not a country….   Northern Africa with its failed Arab Springs and Isis breathing down its neck is very different to Southern Africa, so long dominated by South Africa, which hosted the World Cup. Although Johannesburg has now economically been taken over by Western Africa, as Nigeria surges ahead.  The Nigerian Film Industry, Nollywood, is the second biggest in the world after India.  Not surprising since the average Nollywood movie is produced in a span of 7-10 days on a budget between $7,500-13,000. Compare this to Hollywood’s average budget of $6.7 million per movie and one year production time! It seems that the internet and digital technology has allowed it to take off.

IMG_2890-480x480However East Africa, dominated by Kenya, leads the world in mobile banking.  It is easier to pay for a taxi ride using your mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in New York.  M-PESA Kenya’s world-leading mobile-money system, is used by nearly three quarters of the adult population allowing them to transfer cash using their phones. A micro-financing scheme –  you pay money into the system by handing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents (typically a corner shop), who credits the money to your M-PESA account. You withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have sufficient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash. You can also transfer money to others using a menu on your phone. It is quick, safe and easy and  useful where many workers in cities send money back home to their families in rural villages. M-PESA has since been launched in Romania & Albania.  A technological innovation that has reached Europe.

disruptive_technologies_rbb-300x263It is a disruptive technology (like Uber & Air B’n’B) and of course the banks are upset.  But in a part of the world were bank branches are few and far between, and bank accounts were seen as a luxury and only obtainable to the elite it has proved phenomenally popular. It reminds me of travelling to India with a group of students 13 years ago and having to rent a very expensive satellite phone for emergency use – it cost about £800.  A year later – all I had to do was by a sim card when I got off at Bangalore airport.  It was easier to cover the country in mobile phone masts, than put up pylons and landlines.  In a similar way M-PESA avoids having to put up branches every where.