Yes, I Love Technology… But Not As Much As You, You See

by Scott Roy

Kip Dynamite has the right idea when it comes to balancing technology and relationships – something that not everyone has a good handle on (Kip is Napoleon’s brother in the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite). How many times have my wife, Colleen, and I been in a restaurant waiting area surrounded by a crowd of people each with their head down staring at a smartphone? Yes, I love technology! It’s a part of human life, and I’m using it right now to talk to you. No, I don’t prefer it to the persons who need and deserve my attention.

Now, before I continue, this is not an article bashing technology. As a movement, CCO uses a vast array of technological assets to answer the missionary call. This is, rather, a reflection on how to make good decisions when applying various technological tools – especially in our missionary endeavors – to our friendships.

As an evangelistic movement, one of CCO’s foundational tenets is “One Person at a Time”. With technology, that tenet – that mandate – has a new dynamic to it. More persons can potentially be reached by the message of Hope, and even over the last year, we have seen great benefits especially through the use of social media. Along with these benefits comes a great danger. As many have recognized, social media, smart devices, and other advances in communication run the risk of actually stripping away the personal element in our relationships. Does this mean we should simply drop everything and go back to the ole’ Pony Express (which, by the way, involves technology)?

Absolutely not. It does, however, require us to proceed with great care and prudence. Not only do we run the risk of becoming sloppy in our relationships, we also run the risk of dehumanizing others and ourselves, running in direct contrast to the dignity instilled in us by God. Part of the Catholic message we bring to the world is: “there is more than this”. This meaning the “mereness” of the world, the ultimately “efficient” and “utilitarian” view that a denial of God demands. Beauty becomes simply attractiveness, and its full meaning incomprehensible. The beauty of the relationship, complete with its intimacy, vulnerability, and especially its presence loses its sense and grounding. We all know it’s better to talk to someone face to face rather than to text them, but… man, sometimes it  just seems easier, less complicated, less time-consuming, and/or less vulnerable to send the text.

Here’s an interesting fact: in a letter that J.R.R. Tolkien once sent, he described how technology could be compared to magic. Sounds odd, eh? The wicked characters in his Lord of the Rings series used magic and were great admirers and forgers of technology, subscribing to power, efficiency, and progress. It is, however, no great secret that his good characters also had a sort of magic, though it was different than that of the evil ones, or any other stories of magic and wizards for that matter. You will find that their magic isn’t really the magic we think of, but only perceived by others as magic. The object of their “magic” is not power, but art. It is meant for that completely beautiful – and seemingly inefficient, but defining – side of persons as it fills out their nature.

God’s grace is that sort of “magic” or technology (or rather their magic was His sort). As St. Thomas says, it does not seek to destroy nature, but perfects it. Likewise, our technology, our magic, must perfect or fill out nature rather than seek to undermine it. We are persons of community. We are made to communicate, primarily person to person, face to face. Obviously it is not always possible to do that and so we employ aids to fill out those opportunities for dialogue. We all tend to agree that it is better to speak face to face rather than on a phone, better to speak on a phone rather than email, and better to email rather than text. And so, we have a sort of hierarchy to work with, although it’s not meant to be simplistic. There is no easy way out of putting thought into relationships. If we are looking to be virtuous, to do all things well, we know that we can’t just seek to “get out” of a dialogue. If we do that, we attempt a sort of black magic that looks to undermine our natural responsibility to be personal (this principle can be applied in many areas of our lives).

As a husband, as a father, as a CCO missionary, and ultimately as a Catholic, I have realized the importance of that innate responsibility to communicate, and to do it as well as I can. I hope my relationships with people are getting better because I  try to use technology as the tool it ought to be – rather than have it use or dominate me – to fill out those relationships rather than undermine or avoid them. It’s good cause for us to consider how we use technology. Are we using it to fill out or perfect our nature and natural responsibilities, or are we undermining them or destroying them by finding the easy way out? If we can begin to prudently use or avoid technology appropriately, I think we’ll find ourselves singing along with Kip, “Yes, I love technology… but not as much as you, you see.”

Scott is a husband and father of 6 children in Mission, BC., and works with CCO’s Communications and New Media department, as well as studying Theology at Catholic Distance University.

“Unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day

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