Pope Francis—Digital media is making us stupid, selfish, and isolated

Not all progress is good progress.
Not all progress is good progress.
Image: AP Photo/Wally Santana
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The leaked draft of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter focuses largely on climate change, and it includes a radical call to action on that front. But the 192-page letter also contains some stark criticism of the role played by the media, and the digital world, in the breakdown of “the human environment.”

Global warming, says the Pope, is the result of how mankind has produced and consumed in recent decades. Alongside that environmental degradation, he sees a spiritual and societal one. He identifies “a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction” in the way we live our lives, and cites increased violence, drug trafficking and “loss of identity,”  as signs among others that growth over the past two centuries has not always meant progress, or improvement.

Media and our reliance on the digital world are partly to blame, he writes:

47. Add to this the dynamics of the media and the digital world, which, when they become ubiquitous, hinder the development of our ability to live with wisdom, to think deeply, to love generously.

The great thinkers of the past, in today’s context, would run the risk of seeing their wisdom muted in the chaotic noise of information. It will require an effort to ensure that such tools translate into a new cultural development of mankind and not into a deterioration of its deeper wealth.

True wisdom, as a result of reflection, dialogue and generous encounter between people, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data that eventually saturate and mystify, in a kind of mental pollution. At the same time, real relationships with others, with all the challenges that they imply, tend to be replaced by a type of communication mediated by the Internet.

This allows us to select or delete relationships according to our will, and this often creates a new type of artificial emotion, which have to do more with devices and screens than with people and nature.

The present tools permit us to communicate with one another, and to share knowledge and affection. However, sometimes they also prevent us from making direct contact with suffering, shivering, and the joy of others and the complexity of their personal experience. Then it should come as no surprise that, with the overwhelming offer of these products grows a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction in relationships, or else a damaging isolation.