By Jim and Susan Vogt
200+ e-mails! Susan returned from a
week away and had 200 e-mails in
her inbox—and that was after daily
pruning from remote locations! Yes, it’s
wonderful to keep up with work while
on the road, but really! Is modern technology
a blessing or a curse? We bet most
of you would say, “Both.”
As an example in the blessing department,
take our son’s recent wedding. The
invitations were done on a home computer.
The couple created a Web site to
tell their courtship story, allow people
to RSVP online, link to local hotels for
reservations and facilitate contributions
to charities in lieu of wedding gifts. Cell
phones and Global Positioning Systems
(GPS) helped guests find each other and
the reception. Photos were posted on
the Internet the next day for viewing by
out-of-town relatives and friends.We
could even show our elderly parents,
who weren’t able to attend, a video of
the wedding a few days later. It’s a far
cry from our own wedding experience.
Same vows, same joyful sharing in the
couple’s love—but what a difference!
On the other hand, there were those
200 e-mails waiting at home. Not only
has our society learned the beauty of
group e-mails—for communicating
urgent or frivolous messages to a couple
hundred of our closest friends—but we
also have the hassle of spam, solicitations,
offers to share a royal Nigerian’s wealth,
more inspiration than many people can
absorb and computer meltdowns.
Perhaps the most telling part of this
two-edged sword is in how it has changed
our expectations regarding time. It used
to be that if we sent a letter—remember
that archaic practice of putting a stamp
on an envelope?—we could count on
about a week before expecting a reply.
Now, some folks are impatient if they
don’t get an e-mail reply within an hour
or, at most, a day. Our standard of how
much work should get done in a limited
amount of time has increased exponentially,
and it is the source of much
stress as we race around, hurrying to
Another ramification of technology is
the impact it has on human relationships.
Most of us have experienced the rude
cell-phone user who conducts private
business in public. But it’s more than
rudeness that is in play; technology can
actually shape our culture.
When our daughter joined the Peace
Corps in 2000, cell phones were just
becoming common. She lived for over
two years in Mali,West Africa, generally
without electricity, much less a cell phone.
When she returned to the States in 2003,
she said it was a different world. Most of
her friends had cell phones, and it changed
how they gathered. No longer did one call a friend and make plans for the evening.
Instead, someone would say they’d be at a
given club and, as the evening progressed,
various friends would join and leave, all
keeping track of where the “party” was
moving by cell phone. It used to be that the
skill of advance planning was important for
social interaction. Now, people can be more
spontaneous. Still, the art of planning is
important for some life tasks—like parenting.
You can’t raise kids on the fly.
And then there’s travel. It’s made
easier with GPS and less boring with
in-car video equipment. We remember vacations with our kids, struggling to
keep them occupied with license plate
games, car bingo, books, singing and
simple crafts. Now, a video or electronic
game can keep most kids satisfied for
hours. Easier on the parents, but how
are kids going to learn the words to
“100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”?
So, what’s a responsible technology
consumer to do? We can’t fully protect
our kids from the trash on the Internet.
We can’t prevent mature adults from
frittering away time playing computer
games, “Googling” themselves or searching
for bargains on eBay. Following
are some guidelines for balancing the
blessing and curse of technology:
■ Talk to children about dangers
associated with browsing the Internet.
You want them to learn from you first
so that, when they encounter trash talk
and distortion of truth, they’ll know
your position. Do this one year before
you think they’re old enough for it.
■ Make sure the time spent on screens
(TV, computer, Blackberry®, e-mail) is
not stolen from relationship time with
your spouse, children and friends. The
Internet can be a seductive mistress—
even when it’s not sexual.
■ Become Internet savvy. It may not be
your thing, but you owe it to your kids
to be competent enough to set boundaries
and monitor their activity. Consider
rules like “no computers in bedrooms”
and “no entertainment use of electronics
until homework is done.”
■ Never answer a cell phone while you’re
talking to someone in person—unless, of
course, your child is calling
from the police station.
■ Use Internet shopping
and banking to “buy”
you more time with your
family, but not necessarily
to buy more stuff.
■ Use e-mail to communicate
quickly and efficiently
with your far-flung family
members, global friends
and work colleagues.
Don’t burden them with
unsolicited forwards, no
matter how cute you
think they are.
■ Send photos and videos of grandkids
(and grandparents) to keep the family
■ Tape or TiVo® your favorite TV shows
so that you can skip the commercials.
Use that extra time to communicate live
with someone—or just read.
■ Take a break from sedentary technology
use to take a walk, see nature live, play
a sport, make a date with your spouse or
do something live and interactive with
■ Dispose of electronic waste responsibly.
By its nature, technology quickly
Ultimately, paying attention to
the human always trumps technology.
What a difference a word makes: “In
the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
Jesus is the Word, not Microsoft®.
In what ways has technology
improved your life?
Have you used technology
to avoid more personal
encounters with others?
Why or why not?
Is your use of technology
for communication and
entertainment balanced with
your need for face-to-face
interaction and fun? What
can you do to seek and maintain
a better balance?
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
By Frank Frost
Art, imagination and poetry
provide valuable pathways in
the journey to truth and understanding.
Such is the case with Steven
Spielberg’s futuristic Pinocchio tale,
A.I. Artificial Intelligence. In an overwhelming
embrace of technology,
“mechas” (mechanicals) provide “orgas”
(organics) every imaginable service—
from manual labor to child care to sexual
pleasure. But can they provide love?
The ability to love is what distinguishes
David (Haley Joel Osment), a
mecha boy acquired by a mother (Frances
O’Connor) grieving over her son who
is cryogenically preserved until medical
technology can cure him. David’s
creator (William Hurt) is challenged by
an associate: If we make a mecha who
is able to love, she asks, do we have the
responsibility to love it in return? This
moral question is central to the plot.
David’s resolute odyssey to become a
“real boy” in order to earn his mother’s
love provides plenty of complexity for
moral discussion. But running throughout
is a theme that probes what it means
to be human: Is it the ability to love?
In the central sequence of the “flesh
fair” in which mechas are destroyed for
the amusement of orgas, the mechas show
care and compassion (including a nanny
who comforts David), while the orgas,
for the most part, act inhumanely.
In the end, the need for relationships
trumps technology. In the film’s postscript,
the quintessentially technological
and compassionate creatures, who
2,000 years later succeed the human race,
communicate simply through touch.
Next time you watch A.I. Artificial
Intelligence, ASK YOURSELF:
■ What impact, for good or ill,
does technology have on humans
in this film? Do they generally care
about others? Are they hungry for
■ How does this film portray being
human? How does the “flesh fair”
sequence use color, sound and
movement to comment on humanity
by Joan McKamey
Ernie Allen has devoted much of his
professional life to finding children
who have been abducted or exploited,
serving as president and CEO of the
National Center for Missing & Exploited
Children since 1989. In those years, PCs
and the Internet have become everyday,
essential tools for business, education and
communication for much of the world.
Sexual predators and other
people of dubious character
have discovered ways
to use these technologies
for their own ends.
“The Internet has provided
an opportunity for
those who prey upon
children to seek access to
them in a way that is virtually
offender no longer has to
seduce a child in a shopping mall, playground
or some public area. They can
take their time and win the confidence of
the child,” Ernie told Every Day Catholic.
Ernie was working in local government
in Louisville, Kentucky, in the late 70’s
when news broke of John Wayne Gacy,
Jr., sexually assaulting and murdering
more than 30 teenage boys in the Chicago
area. This drew Ernie’s professional
focus to the victimization of children,
eventually leading to his co-founding
(with John Walsh of America’s Most
Wanted fame) the NCMEC in 1984.
“I did not get into this as a result of
personal tragedy. I saw it as an opportunity
to make a difference in the lives of
real people,” Ernie explains. Seeing his
work as an expression of his Catholic
faith, he shares, “I am committed to living
my life in such a way that it touches
and enriches the lives of others.”
Ernie is inspired by the “heroics of
average people doing average things and
accomplishing real miracles.” He cites
several examples of ordinary people
whose actions have led to
the recovery of missing
children: They followed
their gut instincts, stayed
alert and reported
While Ernie acknowledges
the dark side of the
Internet and the additional
challenges it brings, he
reports that NCMEC is
using it to assist with their
good work. They recently celebrated the
tenth anniversary of CyberTipline
(cybertipline.com). He says,
“Since 1998 we have handled 570,000
reports regarding child sexual exploitation.
More than 1,300 children have
been rescued to date.” He also boasts,
“NCMEC has created a wonderful,
positive, free educational resource
for children called NetSmartz”
(netsmartz.org). It includes animated
characters for younger children,
interactive games and content, and
videos and messages from real kids for
the teenagers. Parents trying to cope
with the challenges of the Internet will
find netsmartz411.org helpful.
In speaking of his work, Ernie says,
“We try to keep hope alive.We try to be a
source of comfort for those in a situation
that is filled with pain and agony.” He
finds inspiration in the story of Jesus
blessing the children (Mark 10:13-16)
because it “speaks volumes about the
innocence of a child.” He says, “I firmly
believe that the Kingdom of God does
truly belong to them.We as adults have
an obligation to cherish them, nurture
them and keep them safe.”
By Jeanne Hunt
Hunter and Celia head off to class
at St. Francis High School with
their laptops but no textbooks.
Last night’s homework was sent electronically,
and today’s religion lesson is posted
online for review. Both teens recently participated
in a moral-issues chat room
monitored by a youth minister hundreds
of miles away.
Technology brings faith into a realm
beyond family, school and parish. However,
parents are concerned about what their
teens see and hear as the electronic doors
of the world open to them.
Our widening generation gap is apparent
in the arena of electronic media. Grandma
struggles with her cell phone while her 14-
year-old grandson texts with ease. Staying
connected to changing electronic technology
must be foremost in parenting skills.
Not only should parents know what their
children experience on the Web, they must
also know how to navigate the same sites.
While there is easy access to immoral
media, technology has more than a dark
side. A wealth of good family-life resources
is available. Never before has it been so
easy to receive support and information
on faith formation, marriage skills,
spirituality and Church life.
A simple click brings us the news from
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB), a radio show on Christianity and
Islam, a prayer service for your small-faith
group and even a craft for a saint’s feast.
Here are some favorite Web sites that can
help sustain a healthy Catholic family life:
■ americancatholic.org offers saint information,“
Faith-filled Family” columns
from St. Anthony Messenger magazine,
Catholic greeting e-cards, radio programs,
answers to your questions about faith
and Catholicism and more
■ usccb.org brings the latest information
from the U.S. bishops, daily lectionary
readings, radio programs, family and
marriage support, movie reviews
■ homefaith.com nurtures the spirituality
of Catholic families
■ susanvogt.net offers “Family Matters”—
articles, resources and activities on marriage,
parenting and spirituality plus over
150 archived Marriage Moments and
■ Finally, check with the younger members
of your household for the Web sites
they enjoy. Plug into their world. Try
disciplesnow.com and the Catholic
version of YouTube at catholic-tube.com.
These provide eye-opening perspectives
for adults and teens.
Begin your own list of favorites for
exploring topics or just adding fun to
living out your faith at home. There
should be two lists in every Catholic
home: 1) Web sites that are banned on
our screens and 2) sites that enrich and
encourage our faith.