What does it take to live as an adult Catholic in our changing and challenging world? Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. An online small group process is an added bonus.

Technology—Have You Been Seduced by Electronics?
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 get...where?

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.

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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 in touch.

■ 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 another person.

■ Dispose of electronic waste responsibly. By its nature, technology quickly becomes obsolete.

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®.

Jim and Susan Vogt have four adult children and live in Covington, Kentucky. Jim directs the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. Susan speaks and writes on marriage, parenting and spirituality. Learn more at susanvogt.net.

Making Connections

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?

 
 
Movie Moments
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 relationships?

■ How does this film portray being human? How does the “flesh fair” sequence use color, sound and movement to comment on humanity vs. inhumanity?

 
 
Putting Shoes on the Gospel
Ernie Allen
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 anonymous. An 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 suspicious activity.

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.”

 
 
Passing on the Faith
Techno-faith?
By Jeanne Hunt

Scenario

Scenario 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.

A response

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 and more

■ 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 Parenting Pointers

■ 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.

 
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