The air conditioner is broken. I did not know it was dead, though I knew it was unhealthy, until I tried to turn it on last week when the temperatures were reaching up and over a hundred. My parents, happily, had an unused window unit in their garage, which is now in our bedroom window- violating the homeowner's association agreements. I refrained from further violation, in the form of a clothesline in the backyard. I kind of want one anyway, and this seemed like a good excuse. I was afraid, however, of incurring the wrath of the association. Better to quietly break one rule, broken by necessity, than to flagrantly ignore all the rules. Our dryer is upstairs in the hall, between the bedrooms. I will not run it in the heat. I chose instead to bring my laundry to my parents' house, like a college student.
In other unrelated news, last week the Church celebrated the forty-fifth annual World Communications day. In honor of this event, my computer was attacked by a virus, our camera stopped working, and my cell phone broke. The message couldn't be clearer: I need to update and use newer, better technology.
The annual event is one I had never heard of before this year. It may have slipped by me again this year as well, except that my friend wrote a book. Matt Swaim wrote a book last year, which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend, called, The Eucharist and the Rosary: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer. This year he put out another book. Prayer in the Digital Age came out this summer, and on the eve of the Church's celebration of World Communications Day, Matt visited to the parish where I grew up to discuss the topic. If I am honest, I was not excited about the book. I am not incapable of using modern technologies, but neither am I one to want the latest and the best- good enough is good enough for me. Anyway, I thought that the book was going to explain how to incorporate the cool new gadgets into prayer. I guess I thought Matt was going to explain how to use the confession app, for instance. I should have known better.
Matt discussed how changing communications can affect how we view people. He warned us to watch out for online discussions wherein we attack people verbally in ways we never would in person. He discussed the idea that in forums, like Facebook, we present the world with a created persona, and we use that created persona to interact with other like inventions. These profiles are not like us. We think about how we want to be percieved, and we project that edited version of self into relationships or "friendships" with other super edited personalities. Though forums of this kind of a lot to offer, there are grave dangers in vesting too much in this alternate reality. We can lose our sense of self. Or, we can lose our awareness of the real dignity of each person. We begin to view people as collections of data, rather than unique individual made in God's image.
The latter leads to all kinds of problems, which are readily apparent in our daily lives. Viewed as unexceptional compilations of bits, the people we interact with have no true value to us except to impart what data we might find useful. That is a particularly ineloquent way of expressing that one of the dangers of this mindset is utilitariansim, which is the mindset which questions the value of the life of my daughter, Sarah. It is a rampant and vicious rejection of the sanctity of life.
Matt did not condemn modern communications. He insisted that kept in their proper place, they are useful. He discussed some of the various ways that technology can be an awesome aid to our prayer lives. Whether it be to set our phones to remind us to pray at specific times, or perhaps to inform our faith, or to gather groups to pray and inspire without geographical boundries, contemporary communication can be an awesome tool. With that in mind, I will share the statement which Papa Bene released discussing social communications: Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.
Again, in honesty, I have not yet read Matt's second book. I have it in hand now, and will read it soon. If the book covers the same ideas that Matt discussed in his talk, it is indeed well worth reading.
As I decide what can be fixed, what I can live without and what needs to be replaced, it has been useful to meditate on the role of social media in my life.
"Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others. On the contrary, believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived. " Pope Benedict XVI