Edit: My original post on this topic was too glib, hurried and as a result poorly presented. I appreciate commenter thatsnotcanon for taking me to task on the tone and content of my original post and helping me vet my thinking on this. I am duly chastened and I apologize to anyone I offended with the content of my original posting. I have revised the post in the hopes that it makes my points more clearly and thoughtfully.
according to the Catholic Church . According to Pope Benedict, the Internet has a numbing effect on users and creates an “educational emergency – a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”
While responsible internet use is an important goal, it is not altogether settled in the research literature that the Internet “numbs” people or that it creates solitude. I think Pope Benedict’s position is in keeping with a belief he has previously espoused that modernity in itself is isolating and numbing and that the church has a necessary role as a stalwart against the more egoistic and isolating aspects of a reason based culture.
While the Internet may not isolate or numb us, it does promote is instantaneousness. I imagine the Pope is concerned that having everything we want online when we want it might further lock us into a sense of the “good life” based on Benthamite notions of pain, pleasure and utility. The “numbing” might serve to steer Catholics away from tradition, community and hierarchy…things to which the liberal enlightenment project has an uneasy relationship. However, we’re not sure this is happening. Research on Facebook users find that they are more likely to engage in off-line contact with friends when compared with non-Facebook users.
I think the Pope’s issue is with modernity, not with the Internet. The Internet speeds up communication, but whether that communication is inherently numbing or anti-social is up to the content of the communication and the orientation and skill-set of the communicator. Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion comes to mind as a form of communication that seeks to push back against the “hardening of the heart.” Indeed a commenter to my original post notes that the Catholic Church has its own active web presence.
I would hope the Pope turns from this initial critique of the Internet towards guiding Catholics and others towards ways in which the Internet can be used in ways that build community….ostensibly this is what he means by “creative intelligence.” But we need more scholarship to gauge whether this is indeed a problem unique to the Internet.
I have been bad about posting…I will now be good. Thanks to Ken for holding down the fort!