Technology has a certain mystical quality to it, especially when you don’t understand fully how it all works.
I am still amazed when I flip on a light switch or turn on the tap water. Am I God? Did I just create light and bring waters down from the heavens? When I fire up the microwave and say, “Let there be Hot Pockets,” there are Hot Pockets. But unlike God’s creation, they are not that good.
So I stand in awe of the many digital affordances that have made us omniscient (Google) and omnipresent (Zoom), but it all gives me pause. Wasn’t that what sent Adam and Eve packing in the Book of Genesis, the desire to be like God?
By taking a bite of the fruit from the tree of knowledge, did they become the first Apple customers? If not, it seems they had a hand in designing the logo.
All of our technology and its power to mystify the uninitiated poses something of a threat to experiencing God’s presence in our lives. The more power we acquire, the less dependent we become on one another and the divinely created order.
We begin to imagine that our technological achievements can overcome nature’s shortcomings and this cuts us off from the language that God often uses to communicate with us. The natural order has a grammar to it that cannot be ignored or denied.
This paper would never print a sentence like, “Green originals paint thinner for some cat.” Well, they just did. But the point is that the sentence makes no sense. It ignores the rules of grammar and composition. As such, it conveys no real meaning.
When the grammar of nature is remade in the image and likeness of technology, it makes it hard for us to make sense of the world and to hear God’s voice. Have you ever asked a child where food comes from, only for them to answer, “The grocery store?”
Kidding aside, there is the very real possibility that the child has no real conception of how animals and plants are raised, or how weather and disease and all the other realities of nature factor into our food production.
This may not seem like a terrible loss to you, but what happens when the child hears the psalms or the many agricultural metaphors used by Jesus in parables? Will they resonate with material and spiritual truth or just remain abstract images that are hard to connect with and understand?
Somehow God continues to communicate and reach souls even through all of the technological systems in which we find ourselves embedded. There is no limit to his abilities. But it’s still incredibly important for parents, priests and teachers of the faith to recognize how our tech environment can challenge our ability perceive God’s presence in the world.
Technology can be a blessing, and one of its primary blessings is its ability to remind us what it means to be human. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to spend inordinate amounts of time on screens. For some people, it’s their only form of human connection.
This is a gift, but the more profound gift is the sense of longing for true connection and true communion that has emerged in the last year. Those who have been cut off from attending Mass for so many months report a deep “eucharistic hunger.”
Notice how God, by way of the negative experience of the pandemic, is leading people back to the Eucharist.
Technology is a powerful tool, but it pales in comparison to the power of God and his ability to use every bit of our earthly experience to reach us with his saving love.
Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.