Do you still read from left to right or do you treat book pages like web pages and look all over to glean what you can? Internet use is making enormous impact on human skills so studies that illuminate this are timely. Those who say ‘See you on Facebook’ rather than down the pub are living differently. If virtual contact serves human contact it is no substitute.
Such thoughts are marshalled by technophile priest Jonah Lynch under a title that applauds the touch, scent and taste of lemons, three senses that cannot be transmitted by technology. Based in Rome Lynch tells of how his attempt to care for lemon trees brought to light an impatience bred from his involvement in the speedy processes of electronic technology. Such involvement builds us as hunters searching for data but detracts from the patient and deep attention required as in farming. Attention is an extraordinary and vital tool of the human spirit. Its diffusing and fragmenting among internet users is of great concern.
Lynch celebrates the way his missionary order has effortless international conferences on the internet. All such good virtual contact brings an inevitable ‘disincarnating’ through the nature of net relationships. Laughing among friends bears no comparison with writing ‘hahahaha’ on a chat screen. The internet is guilty of an extreme materialisation, as in pornography. ‘After having reduced the infinite beauty of loving relationships to a pure physical mechanism, we are decomposing them into the banal virtuality of a group of pixels on a back-lit screen’. A recently opened clinic for internet addicts tackles five online addictions: pornography, gambling, information overload, social networks and role-playing games.
Where is God in this? ‘The human person made in the image and likeness of the One and Triune God is made for communion. This explains the extraordinary growth of Facebook, which interprets this ultimate desire. But what does Facebook do with it? Friends become a quantity…close friends, simple acquaintances, and ex-girlfriends are all on the same level.’ Lynch reflects further on the harshness of the internet. Like the mind of God it records everything but unlike a merciful God can use memory of every detail against us even when we lament of our errors.
The book ends with illustrations of how the author, a seminary Rector, employs forms of ‘technological fast’ to help his ordinands build their prayer life and friendships. Interpersonal relationships in the flesh, small and local communities, are seen as the key to human and church vitalisation, to be served and not replaced by virtual networking. The book ends rather in the air. Having presented the technological crisis so vividly, few answers are provided. This is both indicative of how new the challenge is and also a timely incentive to personal and corporate reflection and action to master technology before it masters us.
The Revd Dr John Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex 21st December 2012