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Connections are not encounters

· Faith and cybertechnology ·

In the times of the digital revolution an essay Cybertheology. Thinking Christianity in the age of the web fits into the ongoing discussion between apocalyptics (very few in fact) and those who have adapted. The essay is by Antonio Spadaro, SJ, who has very successfully adapted. Spadaro surveys all the latest technological innovations and then expresses their implications in the social, cultural and, above all, theological spheres..

Google Instant, for example makes it possible to optimize online research in a potentially “perverse” way, which is why “the answer tends to precede the question”. It will therefore be more important than it was previously to learn how to formulate questions properly, if one does not wish to be trapped by the criteria of the search engine itself, which tends to anticipate – hence to dictate – our real intentions. Thus Spadaro notes astutely that “the search for meaning cannot be motorized”. The logic of the gift in user-generated content is, again, in the author's opinion, compatible with a theological logic of giving because content that is shared or given is rewarded by the relationship itself.

However, be careful! “A relationship does not automatically produce communion”. If one wished to reduce to a few lines the essence of the unknowns that stem from the ever more pervasive use of the net, one could condense the whole into Spadaro's reflection: “connection and sharing are not identified with 'encounter' which is a far more demanding experience at the level of a relationship”. On this point in fact the accountability of all theories on the effects of the internet on sociability is staked, hence it is also staked on the way of thinking about faith in the near future. If, on the one hand, it is possible to agree on the fact that the internet tends to broaden and increase our possibilities for encounter, on the other, the difficulty of “connecting” with the stranger sitting beside us in a bar or at the airport, if the latter is focused on relating with his electronic gadget (whatever it may be, tablet, smartphone or notebook). And if, to cite Pierre Lévy, it is the intensive utilization of (even technological) tools to build humanity as such, we must ask ourselves why, then, do we meet more and more people – of course, however, always a minority – who are estranged from the social network, and even reaching the point of cancelling their personal virtual profiles after having experienced both its beneficial and “evil” effects on their emotional and psychological balance.

Not to mention the fact that if, through the use of electronical instruments we undoubtedly expand the perimeter of our relations also with people who live on the other side of the planet, yet it is not a rare experience to find adolescents who refuse to exchange their Skype username. They are afraid that those video calls, so easily within the rich of a click and so very undemanding, will take away all the magic of a physical encounter and that the Technology Magician, in the form of a digital interface, on the contrary, still doesn't succeed in conveying this conveying, despite its millions of bytes.

Basically, quantity does not give substance. The technological barrier, even though it opens to opportunities of astronomic proportion in creating relationships, can also be transformed into a “architectural barrier”. Spadaro himself despite his considerable hope, and his implicit wishes for the medium, is forced to recognize that this potential derives because “simulation beats reality with its vast potential and its low level of risk ever manipulable and reversible”. But he is also forced to recall that “the true risk on the horizon is in fact alienation, the hiding away in a fictitious world without pain which leads to the loss of contact with incomparable richness of the “irreversible” experience”.




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 21, 2019