We all use daily – more or less - the internet, the mobile phone, and the tablet. Some of us may have a platform, a blog or a web page. We read, consult, watch the news and sports, play games perhaps, and enjoy various kinds of music in the many web windows. We love the frequent and convenient use of WhatsApp. Do we use the different wonderful digital instruments well? May we over-use them?              

USE AND ABUSE 

I am happy to say that my students through the years were generally good and responsible with their studies and their use of internet sources. I only had a few exceptions – part of life! Once I had a student whowrote a good and elegant paper - a long review of a book on justice; but I had my doubts about the well-crafted language and even the well-developed content. So I checked some sources in internet and found the book from which he copied shamelessly, although - I am sure – without malice. At another time, I was a member of a panel for a doctoral dissertation, the power point presentation of the candidate was excellent in matter and form. However, when the time for questions came, he was not able to answer some basic questions of the panelists. His presentation was – in part - a question of “cut and paste.” At another time, a religious sister presented in class her paper on abortion. Again, it was wonderfully done! But, from a humanist and Christian perspective, her conclusion was absolutely wrong: abortion - she concluded - may be ethical. I asked her: What is your source?She answered: the BBC

We live in a new continent – the digital continent. We are all citizens of this additional continent: we are netizens! This new and universal citizenship appears to be marvelous, progressive and most useful. However to be ethically good we ought to be able to use it responsibly. Vatican II distinguished between the right use and the perverse use of the mass media of communication. 

ETHICS OF INTERNET USE 

The diversified use of internet is positive when it helps us to connect with others and becomes a rich window to knowledge, companionship and friendship, and healthy entertainment. It may be a good means to join worthy causes promoting nonviolence, respect, sharing, and peace. Like other faiths and religions, the Church is committed to the use of the information technologies to proclaim justice and compassion. With many other persons and peoples, Christians are using these new technological roads to present their views on different social issues and ethical concerns. They are asked by their humanity and faith to show – while respecting all others - the power and beauty of their faith in Jesus, who is the Good News of God. Indeed, the technological instruments can be a good pulpit to proclaim the Good News, to help people in distress, to preach peace, to pray for special needs. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who preach peace and salvation (cf. Is 52:7).  

 

The use of internet is for many people and institutions a great and ethical means to true progress and development. On the other hand, it may also become - in our age of “post-truth” -, an obstacle to grow as responsible human beings, or a tool of ideological and political propaganda, a controlling power by big corporations, a channel of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” or half-truths. Moreover, users of the internet webs may hide under anonymity to lambast people or groups, or to spread violence and hatred.  

Certainly,science and technologyrepresent a huge step forwardin the advancement of individuals, communities and society at large. They help us on our constant search for advancement and happiness. They are not, however, absolute values but useful means to search for knowledge, wisdom, to connect with people - for empathetic communication.Unfortunately, the over-use of internet relegates and at times seems to replace, memory in particular. Well-known philosopher, writer and educator José Antonio Marina was asked recently: Should it be learned through memorizing?His answer: If not by memorizing, how are you going to learn? Memory is the organ of learning and a source of understanding, creativity, reasoning and skills. It is a great mistake to say not to learn things by memorizing… It is one of the reasons why the educational system has not functioned” [in Spain]. 

On the matter of use/abuse of internet, the virtue of moderation or temperance is very relevant today. I mean temperance not only as the moderation of the attraction of disordered pleasures, not just as moderation to be healthy, but also as moderation in the use of a new possible addiction which may make people “click slaves.” Hence, the urgent need of moderation in the use of technology. In an enlightening article on virtues, Eugene Hemrick points out the obvious relevance of the virtue ofmoderation in our technological age. He writes: “We need to know when to turn it off and shut it down in order to be more fully in possession of ourselves.” The Acts of the recent Provincial Chapter of the Dominicans of the Holy Rosary states: “The computer, and the Internet in particular, is becoming a phenomenon that affects different aspects of our personal and community life. It is an excellent working tool. But we must be careful not to use it as a machine to kill time, to encourage individualism, and to weaken our community life…” For his part, Pope Francis is asking Christians who attend Mass to, please, respect and participate in the Liturgy and not be distracted by using the mobile phone to take pictures! “The Mass is not a spectacle but an encounter of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord… Please remember, at Mass no cellular phones!”  And at other places of encounter!

MORAL EDUCATION 

As any other thing in man’s hands, internet, the digital media of communication can be used unethically. “Science without a conscience can only lead to man’s ruin” (DonumVitae). True conscience is not doing what one likes but doing what is right.Only the truth will make us free (Jn 8:32): knowing the truth and practicing it in justice and love. The unbridle use of technological instruments without a moral compass may lead – is leading some or many among us – to moral and spiritual ruin, and to loneliness and unhappiness. Although trust should be the basic attitude – some are asking -, should parents supervise their children’s mobile phones and other internet avenues?  

Like all the activities of the human person, technology and technological communication means are to be evaluated ethically: Are they good or bad – or ambivalent? Education – also of the passions or emotions – is the road to responsible autonomy and freedom. Education or moral education – there is no neutral education - is being defined as “a journey towards ethical maturity.” Certain degree of ethical maturity is required to be able to use properly the internet. The digital media of communication are marvelous means to responsible freedom and human flourishing. They are means to good ends, and therefore, they should be good means – means that lead to the good end.  Good means help us progress in wisdom, in freedom with responsibility, in solidarity. We have to develop or strengthen the habit of moderation or temperance in the use of internet and its multiple applications and possibilities. For instance, it is a good advice to think twice before we post something on internet – in Facebookor Twitter: One is to feel ethically comfortable when thinking that many others will read my message or twit.  

Let us not allow the use of internet to rob us from time needed to converse with our companions of the journey, to walk leisurely, to contemplate the beauty of creation, to listen in prayer to our interior sound of silence. 

Once I heard from a nun a reason for her - and her sisters - not to use internet: it is a good kind of fasting – technological fasting.  As the American sociologistAmber Case put it, we have to search for spaces for reflection and “calm technology.”  Truly, certain austerity is good to be able not to overuse and abuse the technological means.  Important gurus in the digital age are sorry for abusing the technological means and leading others to do the same. One of those now sorry is Jaron Lanier, who in his 2011 Book-Manifesto You Are Not a Gadget (Spanish Edition, Contra el rebaño digital), asked everybody “to go back to human contacts and abandon the world of trolls where we are trapped by ritual collective hatred, universal imbecility, frivolities, ridiculous news and chats on poodles (cf. Lucía Méndez La dopamina de las redes, 2017).

Technology and technological means of communication are wonderful. They are, however, instruments and means to be informed, to learn, to reach people, to link with friends and colleagues, who are much more important than the iPhone, the tablet, my Facebook account. I close with a quote from Spencer Kimball, which I read in an interesting article by Earnest L. Tan entitled Etiquette and Ethics in Using Technology”(2016): “Love people, not things; use things, not people.”  

Fausto Gomez OP

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