That thing in your hand, that glittering screen. It’s dangerous, and you know it. You feel what it has done to you and what it will; you feel bound, less human.
That amazing embryonic thing: a phone that has become you in just a matter of years, in an eerie post-human birth.
Gabriel Marcel writing more than 50 years ago: “In our contemporary world it may be said that the more a man becomes dependent on the gadgets whose smooth functioning assures him a tolerable life at the material level, the more estranged he becomes from an awareness of his inner reality.”
It reads like prophecy now, the obscure warnings of a minor philosopher. He was talking about the radio, and now his words better fit your phone or whatever screens you can’t do without.
Materially we’re still in awe, but spiritually we know something’s changed – even if we can’t find the words for it.
Martin Heidegger, that odd rustic, said “we remain unfree and chained to technology” whether we know it or not and we’re simply blind if we don’t see technology has changed us, changed our world and even itself. Although hopeful, he was sober in his warning that technology is dangerous and challenging. He said we should watch over it and question it.
But which is it, good or evil? Kevin Kelly, Wired magazine’s founding executive editor, called it the “technium,” the gathering together of living minds into a technological transcendence, a new metaphysics, a new consciousness that will “reroute our sense of a soul,” our inklings of God. We are, he suggests, at the dawn of a new Axial Age in which our sense of everything will change, brought about by technology we may have invented but will not control.
Good or evil is beside the point. There will be no return to whatever way it was. All questions can only be about the future, about a dialectic paradise promised by the progress we set in motion, by technology we ironically dreamed would make our lives easier and empower us but has done the opposite.
That addiction, that tick, that nudge to check your phone every few minutes: It’s the beginning of a new sort of servitude.
For some this is frightening. Talk of all things technological: the cloud, augmented reality, even Pokemon Go – all of it foreboding of a divorce of soul from body, of humanity from the earth. Frightening at least for those of us who liked being human.
Which is why the most important thing is to remember we’re human and to remain so. Fools and presidents will not be the ones to enslave; our masters are the screens in our hands, which we’ve allowed to whither us like a billion privileged Gollums.
It’s our predicament as well as our test: whether we’re still human enough to renounce the tyranny of all those glittering screens.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield, of St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas, can be reached at email@example.com.