Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI Addresses a Technological Culture

The ever increasing presence of technology in our culture is extremely helpful in many respects, but technology also has the power to shape culture negatively (and most certainly will) when used without critical evaluation and wisdom. Examples of this shaping can be found in Facebook's significant metamorphosis of the meaning of friendship, Myspace's orientation towards the self as the center of its own universe (which is both a reflection of a previous condition as well as an incubator for it), and Twitter, a tool exclusively devoted to sending out frequent status updates thoughout one's day (holding the potential to cause a kind of hyperactivity befitting of the name Twitter). We as a culture have a tendency to freely and enthusiastically give tools such as these control of the way we think and act. While I am a staunch Protestant, I often appreciate Pope Benedict's thoughts, and his words to a technologial world are no different. Here is an excerpt from his address given yesterday, January 24th:

"The new technologies have also opened the way for dialogue between people from different countries, cultures and religions. The new digital arena, the so-called cyberspace, allows them to encounter and to know each other’s traditions and values. Such encounters, if they are to be fruitful, require honest and appropriate forms of expression together with attentive and respectful listening. The dialogue must be rooted in a genuine and mutual searching for truth if it is to realize its potential to promote growth in understanding and tolerance. Life is not just a succession of events or experiences: it is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this - in truth, in goodness, and in beauty - that we find happiness and joy. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by those who see us merely as consumers in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.

The concept of friendship has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years. The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human culture. It is in and through our friendships that we grow and develop as humans. For this reason, true friendship has always been seen as one of the greatest goods any human person can experience. We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship. It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.

Friendship is a great human good, but it would be emptied of its ultimate value if it were to be understood as an end in itself. Friends should support and encourage each other in developing their gifts and talents and in putting them at the service of the human community. In this context, it is gratifying to note the emergence of new digital networks that seek to promote human solidarity, peace and justice, human rights and respect for human life and the good of creation. These networks can facilitate forms of co-operation between people from different geographical and cultural contexts that enable them to deepen their common humanity and their sense of shared responsibility for the good of all. "

The entire address can be found here.


Anonymous said...

The "evangelical" protestant world no longer thinks through these issues. In fact, they view all technological advances as morally neutral and the faster a church climbs aboard the greater advantage they will have in the "church marketplace".

Thank you for calling attention to this on your blog, and I hope that many will read this, and consider Pope Benedict's warnings.

In Him,

David Strunk said...

Thanks for sharing this article. Benedict is a great thinker and representative of the Christian worldview.

Sarah Geis said...


You're right. New advancements, especially technological ones, always have winners and losers, as Neil Postman warned. Further, the assumed neutrality of all technology leads to a rapid, uncritical adoption of the latest tool to become public. The better approach is a cautious and thoughtful one, slow to use such a thing if use happens at all.


Sarah Geis said...


True. We certainly can learn much from his pre and post-papal words.