technology and faith (part one)

as claretian missionaries, one of our taglines is: “to share the love of God in ways that are urgent, timely, and effective.” there is a certain christian pragmatism to try new things, work in collaboration with people who are not catholic, and to dive into areas where other catholics are hesitant to go. i have been thinking about the relational effects of technology on people over the years. the covid pandemic has accelerated these reflections for me since we are relying more and more on technology to get us through this time of crisis.

advertising has the aim to change our behavior to buy products. it can capture our hearts and minds. marketing can shape our desires. advertising uses the latest developments in psychology to their advantage. the better they can do this, the more revenue can flow into their companies.

the ways that corporations use the internet has brought this understanding of marketing to a whole new level. to me, it is a matter of faith because its effects can be de-humanizing. years ago, i would describe the internet as a tool like a knife: it can be used for good, it can be used for bad. we choose, we act. but that is not the case now: the internet is not neutral. those who can manipulate it can cause a host of problems. among them: a weakening of our relationships with ourselves, others and God. relationships are where love is lived out. through technology our minds can be manipulated to increase anxiety, fear and loneliness. these problems diminish us as humans and how we can positively see one another and our world. technology can tremendously affects our ability to love.

i have been reading about ethics and technology from tristan harris from the center for humane technology. here is his 60 minutes interview from 2017:

the manipulation of the human mind through technology is subtle but real. the addiction to technology has affected our whole world– especially our young people. the prevailing business model of companies makes more money the more time we spend on the internet. we then click and buy their goods and services. there is a reason that we are a more polarized; that we question truth in former traditionally reliable sources; that “fake news” has taken over. there are other dangers from internet use: lack of focus, propaganda, addiction, rise of hate groups, suicides, teen alienation.

what are our urgent, timely and effective responses to these tech problems? what are the obstacles that we face given the pervasiveness of technology in our world? how does all of this affect our ability to love and be in healthy and flourishing relationships? where is the Spirit who gives life in it all?

since these are human-made problems, there can be human made solutions. but are we even aware of these problems to have a conversation? do we just go along with the majority of people and step by step have our minds and hearts taken over by tech devices that capture our time and attention.

st irenaeus said that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive.” jesus came that we may have life to the fullest (john 10:10). indeed the Spirit is inviting us as people of faith to be fully alive as humans. we ought to stand against all that takes away our human dignity and ability to love and receive love in the world– and on our technologies

more to come…

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