Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tomorrow's Crosscurrent: The Ipod Generation and the JPII Generation (part III)

To repeat, an immoderate use of ipods, ipads, and text messaging are likely to have at least three unintended consequences; all of which will be social and spiritual in nature.

First, among adolescents and young adults, face-to-face interactions with people in the same room will be seen as less desirable than communicating with others through text-messaging or some other form. Using an ipod, and all that it offers through modern technology, has the likelihood of being perceived as more interesting than talking to a family member or friend in their presence. As these habits become more universal, I fear that an illusion will result from this. And that illusion will be that whatever is “out there” is far more interesting than whatever is “in here.” By “in here” I mean those people who are present in the same room. As the saying goes, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” This is a moral and spiritual hazard because it just may instill a kind of discontent and boredom with those very things (and people) which require our love and attention the most. Take any adolescent who has been groomed by the Ipod generation, he or she can seem far more interested in responding to a text message than responding to a comment someone made in their presence. Indeed, normal, human interactions- so necessary for building-up relationships –may lose its appeal and hence will be valued less with our younger generation.

The second unintended consequence of interacting with gadgets instead of people is that it exacerbates the already growing epidemic of narcissism. A few studies have shown that young people, for the first time in history, aspire to be famous over that of being rich. This, I am told, is a new phenomenon which is unique to the twenty-first century. In our entertainment culture, celebrities have been canonized and adulated while real heroes of American or Christian history have been put on the back burner. Shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, along with the Disney Channel, have created an appetite for stardom. With stardom, however, comes the presumption of one’s own importance. But as Christians already know, the biggest scar Original Sin has left on human nature is the illusion that the world revolves around the individual. Good parents do their utmost to rid this self-centeredness out of their children. And whatever is left over in the adulthood years- if one is a Christian -the observance of Christ's law and the daily examination of conscience helps to purge remainder away. But fame tends to intensify these vices, making the development of virtue and selflessness very difficult. Although fame is not inherently bad, Original Sin feeds off of it.

What is more, if fame or popularity is the standard of success for the celebrity; or if their happiness is dependent on people liking them (which is often the case in the entertainment profession); then the source of their contentment and joy is forever outside of their control; it no longer resides in the heart, the faculty of choosing and the chamber of God’s dwelling. Perhaps this is why many famous people are unhappy and why the gift of faith escapes so many of them. Indeed, if a rich man is only saved with difficulty- as our Lord implied -then a celebrity is saved with at least as much difficulty. Fame, of itself, is morally neutral. It is nevertheless the case that narcissism or self-absorption is easy when you’re famous.

But with regard to ipods, ipads, and text messaging, these are emblematic of the technological progress we enjoy as Americans; and to be sure, they are efficient means of communication. With that said, the Ipod generation has demonstrated, at least to my satisfaction, that the immoderate use of these gadgets can carry the human mind away from reality to the world of entertainment. Such a world is a nice place to visit but living there day in and day out can wreak havoc on our perception of reality.

The final trend that will issue from the Ipod generation is an aversion to silence and, as alluded to, a heightened boredom with the ordinary circumstances of life. In her Diary of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina said, “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence...Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle...The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives almost always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hinderance."

Silence is the language of God; it is the condition upon which we hear his whisper. Hearing one's thoughts in the stillness of our soul is likewise important in the spiritual life. Modern technology, with television and radio, has already made noise an everyday phenomenon; indeed, we get nervous and restless without it. But with ipods, ipads and text messaging, noise will be 24/7 with little interuption. Silence and the quiet of the soul, a necessary condition for meditation and prayer, will have a hard time competing.

The JPII generation will have to evangelize through the means of modern technology in order to reach the Ipod generation, no doubt; but they also will have to resist the immoderate use of these things. And with the immoderate use of ipods, ipads and text messaging, there are spiritual and social implications to consider.