TORONTO - Which is the fast God prefers for a 21st-century Lent? In a media-saturated age, it makes sense to desaturate our souls with a media fast, suggests Salt+Light Radio media correspondent Mark Matthews.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - Social media need to promote more logic, kindness and Christian witness than bluster, star-status and division, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Published in International

Too often it can enslave us and strip away parts of our humanity

The three front-page stories in a national newspaper the other day really caught my eye. One was about technology giant Apple Inc.’s impressive financials, the second was about a conference in Montreal on how technology makes life better, and the third was about a massive study of Canadian workers that found we’re overworked and getting more sad all the time.

There seemed to be a thread tying these stories together. Every day we’re bombarded about the virtues of technology, but we rarely take time to think about some of the downsides. For example, we’ve been told for decades that technology makes us more productive and frees us up for more leisure time. Not so, according to the 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, in which 25,000 workers were surveyed. We’re working longer hours (the vast majority of people are now working more than 45 hours per week) and technology tethers us to the boss and clients on evenings and weekends, once the sole domain of family time.

As I was thinking about technology’s impact, an interesting e-mail dropped in my box. The subject line was “Einstein was right.” Perhaps you’ve received it too, or seen it race around the social media circuits?

It is pictures of young people, each with his or her smartphone in hand, in restaurants and museums, on the beach and in cars. All the pictures show the young folks glued to their screens and ignoring nearby friends.

The caption after the pictures is a supposed quote from Albert Einstein: “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” I say “supposed quote” because I searched long and hard and couldn’t come up with that exact quote.

The closest I could find from the great scientist was: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Whether the originator of the e-mail took liberty or not with Einstein’s words, you get my point: technology is not pure panacea.

If you have teenage kids, you’ve seen them tap away not hearing a word of what you’ve said. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t the greatest listener either, but today’s teens take it to a whole new level. And it’s not just teenagers. Almost all of us pay way too much attention to our handheld devices, sometimes even in church.

Social media (ie. online relationships through Facebook, Twitter and others) have restructured human relationships. What once was the dynamic experience of having a real-life conversation became selecting from a bunch of dropdown boxes to describe ourselves and our likes. As we become digital, our interactions are dumbed down so that they play nice with technology. We don’t even have to articulate why something makes us happy any more, we just click “Like.”

Things are changing so fast with smartphones and computers for the purpose to entertain us that it gives me an eerie feeling we’re losing some of our humanity as we reach to connect online instead of connecting one-on-one or in real-life communities. Will this lead to a less caring society? I hope not.

But as Christians, we need to think about these things because the teachings of Jesus are about our relationships — with family, friends, strangers, even enemies and, of course, our relationship with God. One need only re-read the beautiful Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) to understand this.

I realize Pope Benedict has urged Catholics, particularly younger ones, to embrace the digital world and the Vatican has even given its approval to an iPhone app that can help us with Confession.

But the Pope also said: “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”

At that technology conference in Montreal, according to the Globe and Mail, an entrepreneur from Kenya talked about a game he had developed in which players protect trees from illegal loggers.

This, apparently, has helped to change people’s views of the practice in the real world. And that’s a good use of technology; first by helping the environment and second by offering hope and opportunity to bright minds in parts of the world not as wealthy and privileged as we in North America.

But technology can enslave us and strip away parts of our humanity, if we let it. We should remember that the next time we’re sending the boss an update on a Sunday while our family is nearby.

Published in Robert Brehl

Organ donation is a generous gesture that celebrates life and says to the recipient: “I’m glad you are alive,” said Christa Morse.

Facebook users in the U.S. and U.K. are now able to put their organ donor status on their Facebook wall, alongside their religious and political views. Soon that option will be coming to Canada and other countries. When that happens, Morse will gladly sign up.

Published in Youth Speak News

VATICAN CITY - In an effort to boost recruitments through more modern methods of outreach, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has opened a page on Facebook.

Facebook.com/gsp1506 was launched May 4 "to open a window" and better inform young people about the "Guardia Svizzera Pontificia," said the guard's commander, Col. Daniel Anrig.

Published in Features

No doubt, some people will be offended by this column. Seems whatever is said about Catholicism offends someone these days. Even the most benign comment is challenged. Instead of listening to and discussing other points of view, there is a tendency to shout at those who see things differently.

Think I am exaggerating? Take a quick spin on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere and you’ll easily find the shouting, name-calling and misunderstandings. (Just Google “Catholic faith arguments” or “contraception” or “women priests” as starting points and then simply click away.)

Published in Robert Brehl
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