Category: Techlash


AMDG

‘Saints next door’ is what the Pope Francis reminds us of in his new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. This encouraging document is a call to holiness in today’s world and it may prove more attractive to many young people than the empty promises of celebrity and the tyranny of physical perfection.  The Pope is reminding us that ‘Holiness’ is not just found in esoteric devotional practices or historical hagiographical accounts.  Holiness is ‘a practical way for our own time.’

It is tempting to restrict our understanding of holiness to something that is for ‘professional religious’ i.e. for monks and nuns, and therefore out of the reach of ordinary people. However, in Vatican 2, Lumen Gentium spoke with great clarity about ‘The universal call to holiness’.  Pope John Paul II spoke powerfully about holiness being a task, not a state.   Here Pope Francis is building on this,  showing how this path to holiness involves a daily encounter between our weakness and the transformative power of God’s grace.

There is nothing new or radical about this, it has been a theme in the Church at many different times of renewal in its long and fascinating history – recently Francis de Sales gave some very practical steps for this.  For Pope Francis, as well as encouraging every-day holiness,  it is also about spotting the temptation to ‘false forms of holiness’.  Some of his familiar themes come up, for instance, the simple but heroic act of resisting gossip is a step on this path to holiness. Listening with patience and love, in a time when the experience of attentive listening and being listened too is becoming all too rare, is another way.  There is also some very good advice about where many of us spend a lot of our lives – online.

“  115 Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the
internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media,
limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and
all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.
The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be
unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own
discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to
uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids
bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the
unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6).”

 

 

AMDG

There is currently a lot of debate about how toxic parts of the internet are becoming. Whether it’s disinformation campaigns, ‘Troll Farms’ or data being ‘mined’ and exploited.  As important as all these things are there is something more fundamentally dystopian that I am concerned about – we seem to be raising a generation who are not being taught how to forgive and move on.  Until the internet learns how to forget it cannot forgive. We have a generation who are being encouraged to put all their private lives online, who are becoming emotionally dependent on ‘how many followers you have’ or ‘how many likes you have got’.  This is not an emotionally resilient generation.  So when they make mistakes, which they inevitably will, rather than being supported by loving parents (which I was) they are being publically shamed by their peers.  Generalisations of course…. there are always exceptions but I think if you spot a digitally wise teenager you are spotting a future leader.  Many of their peers are in danger of growing up to be neurotic, emotional control freaks who are both excessively permissive and also harshly puritanical.

How important it is and how difficult it is to let things go.  Resentment can act like a snake that coils around your heart and slowly squeezes so that a heart of flesh becomes a heart of stone.  Resentment is the opposite of gratitude – it tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. Gratitude receives the unfolding of life as a constant gift and has the renewing and refreshing quality of a gurgling mountain stream. Resentment wraps us up in darkness and our memories stagnate and become distorted.

This is why, when it is appropriate and we are ready, we need the grace of forgetting in order to forgive and let go. However, the internet is in danger of becoming an engine of resentment. In the UK there has been a succession of stories where people who have broken through to a high profile role have suddenly been brought low because of something they said on the Internet when they were younger and they should have known better. Immature opinions and angry outbursts come back to haunt people.  So someone in their late 20’s who works hard and is talented, gets a high profile job and then has to endure a media tornado of shaming because of something they said online when they were 16 and suddenly lose their job.  Online shaming has seen the unwelcome re-emergence of the destructive phenomena of public shaming.

There was an important ruling in the EU for the ‘right to be forgotten’ in 2012.   This allowed individuals to request that their names were removed from search engines, allowing EU citizens to  “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past.”  In this age of the ‘techlash’ and a new interest in ‘digital-parenting’, I often talk to students about how important it is to clean up your digital footprint. Their Facebook timeline is of much more interest to prospective employers than their CV’s.

All in all, it is becoming a tougher climate in which to promote the much-needed process of reconciliation.

AMDG

Carrying on the second part of Digital Commandments which were developed with a group of university students.  It is interesting to note how the pioneers of the internet, mainly American Computer Scientists, were very utopian about the new world they were creating.  There was a lot of talk of open-source sharing,  even Google started with its famous ‘Do no evil’ maxim.  The atmosphere has significantly changed, Google is now finding itself fighting legal cases all over the world.  Facebook has turned all its 2 billion users into products,  they have 15,000 employees but only 14 people/entities own more than 1% of its stock.  So in spite of all the cheerleader’s claims about Facebooks  ‘mission’  – as a company, its wealth is profoundly unequally shared and it seems non-meritocratic.

What can account for this mood-change when we think and talk about the internet? As the web became more commercialised those utopian voices are being drowned out by dystopian ones…. Which leads us nicely to the sixth digital commandment  :

6. Thou shall not gamble/spend online with money you do not have  (This led to the most heated debate of the night. Some of the students had heard horror stories of people blowing student loans etc.  Also  as one pointed out, ‘If you are looking at leaving uni with a 50k debt than you stop taking credit seriously until the bailiffs knock on your door’) 

7. Thou shall prioritise speaking to real friends ( We discussed the problems of social isolation, particularly acute withdrawal, which is growing problem on big campuses.  We agreed that is much more effective concentrating on sharing our problems with a few real friends – face to face – over a cup of tea.  The students were particularly interested in the MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s writing – such as ‘Alone Together – why we expect more from technology and less from each other‘ )

8 Thou shall avoid ‘false intimacies’  ( All seemed to agree that when you are lonely, which we all can be, trying to fill the void online led to all sorts of dark places and the risks of blackmail or manipulation seemed to be increasing.  This was something where the ability to digitally discern was important  )

9. Thou shall be true to thyself  ( Many friends are projecting false images and lifestyles into their digital lives …. which leads to jealousy, comparing yourself all the time. To be a digital missionary was about integrity, not using a false name, not doctoring images etc)

10. Thou shall be an online peacemaker  (There’s a lot of anger out there and we don’t need to add to it!)