By JENNIFER BURGIN
When they had gathered he said to them, “My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty....This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.”
On Netflix, I discovered a bizarre British mini-series, similar to Twilight Zone, called Black Mirror. I was shocked off my sofa as I watched one disturbing episode after the next. Definitely for mature audiences, the second episode takes place in a futuristic "prison" where men and women ride exercise bikes as retribution for crimes committed. While cycling away, they watch 24/7 video images or play games with avatars. Digital currency accrues as the prisoners engage in virtual activities. The ultimate prize is affording a singing competition entry ticket; the best singer is "released" from prison but with alternative arrangements in exchange. True freedom is only a figment of the imagination. The episode left me thinking: Are we slaves to Technology? Are we literally chained to the Internet, electronic devices, video games, and social media?
Sadly, I think Technology is transforming into a pseudo-God. How many Americans worship the idols of Apple and Google?! People are addicted to their cell phones,Facebook and Twitter. Whole communities are formed around the virtual instead of reality. No wonder the Church sees a decline in Mass attendance. Some people are more "enlightened" by the virtual world's non-stop stimulation, entertainment, and self-promotion. They can buy, earn, see and believe anything without conforming to a set of moral standards. They don't have to listen to boring homilies while sitting around yawning people reciting the same mass responses each Sunday. In the virtual world, they can meet like minded people who may share a mutual disgust for God and then troll around cyberspace spreading cyber venom. Or, they can become lazy and indifferent toward religious practice.
Always keep in mind that not all technology is bad. The Internet is a wonderful resource for the New Evangelization. Pope Francis has had tremendous success with his Twitter feed. The Vatican News Agency can quickly spread accurate information about the Church. Catholic conversions and reversions do still happen! We just have to be careful to use Technology wisely and diligently. It's easy for us to get sucked into the wows and whims of our electronic gadgets, but then forget about the poor, the hungry, the abused, the imprisoned, and the elderly. We can lose one-on-one connections, both emotionally, mentally and physically. Yes, we can read online about those suffering in the world, and make a donation with the swipe of a finger, but nothing is more humane and loving than to minister in person. Technology can keep us socially isolated if we allow it. We should discover innovative ways to use technology to build up the Church.
As Christians we are called to physical communion as well as Holy Communion. Here we can shake hands, hug one another, or shed a tear or two without using Skype. We can share a laugh and a smile without using emoticons. We can pray together, worship together, and interact together without the need for Wi-Fi. We can keep that human bond alive without allowing artificial intelligence to destroy it.
I wonder what Saint Paul would think about Technology. Imagine a live broadcast from the Roman prison via satellite with a recording posted on Jew-Tube! Imagine all of the people re-tweeting quotes from Saint Paul's speech. Wow, what a different world it would have been. Yet, I'm satisfied with the real biblical story.
“That’s sad. How plastic and artificial life has become. It gets harder and harder to find something…real.” Nin interlocked his fingers, and stretched out his arms. “Real love, real friends, real body parts…” ― Jess C. Scott, "The Other Side of Life"
This meditation was written by Jennifer Burgin, a Lay Dominican. Please visit her blog: Jennifer's Spectrum of Spirituality