The Social Web, an Apologia and a Warning

With the invention of movable type, the Catholic, Johann Gutenburg printed a Latin Bible (and a Papal Indulgence), thus inaugurating the age of modern publishing in a very Catholic way. But his invention came in time for certain anti-Catholic forces to use it as a weapon against the Church and Catholic Spain. The “black legend” would not have been so widely diffused without Gutenburg’s achievement.

In our fallen world, new technologies almost always advance the cause of Satan and his minions more than they do the cause of God and his servants. It seems that this ratio grows increasingly disproportionate as progressive technological advances are made. Here, I am thinking primarily of biotechnology and information technology, but I’m sure these are only part of the overall picture. (I considered “dangerous technology” at greater leisure in the article, Concerning Palantíri and Blogses: Technology without Grace.)

The “social web,” with its Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of other strangely named web sites and applications, is a case in point. Having dabbled in these things myself — I use both the above named regularly — I see their utility, their convenience, and, yes, their patent inanity. I am convinced that they dumb people down and waste time more than they benefit people. Moreover, a whole lot of that time-wasting is just plain sinful (cue chuckles from cynical libertines).

But I just admitted I use it. Isn’t this hypocrisy?

I think not. Saint Maximilian Kolbe was convinced of the evils of the press of his day. He stated how it was being manipulated and by whom. But he used the press himself, with gusto. He also wanted to use film and television to advance the cause of the Immaculata. The technology itself being not intrinsically evil, it can be used. But it must be used with great caution, the more so in the case of the newer technologies, which tend to denature man, to distract him, and to render him narcissistic and immature.

When the World Wide Web was first getting big, a good friend excitedly encouraged us to use it for the Crusade. We reluctantly looked into it, pessimistic that this thing could be any good. Then we made the jump (early enough to secure the URL “”!). No regrets. It has been a great boon to our work. As more online trends come our way, we have to choose which ones to use and which to ignore. Each time, it’s a judgment call, but the determinant factor is the audience. Saint Paul found one in the Areopagus, where lots of stupid and immoral things were said. But it did prove useful to him for providing an audience.

We use Facebook and Twitter for similar reasons. Beyond that, both of these can be used for “networking” with friends and professional associates. I have used Facebook to keep in contact with people in a fairly efficient manner. I do not need to be convinced of its utility any more than I need to be convinced of the usefulness of email or a cell phone.

All that said, I have to emphasize that, if I were a parent, I would never let my child use them, not until maybe his senior year in high school (same thing goes for cell phones). Why? Consider the following:

  1. Young people use these for silly things for the most part, and for wasting time.
  2. Whatever foolish (or imprudently revealing) thing they say online can haunt them for years.
  3. The dean of studies at a Catholic liberal arts college recently complained to me that the spelling atrocities conventional in “texting” and “tweeting” invade the tests and papers students submit.
  4. This same source revealed that the students are adversely affected by the information noise in which they are immersed. Their attention spans are dwarfed, and they are not out of the class for a minute before picking up a cell phone to text a friend or a parent. This clearly indicates that the lecture they have just heard is not something they are mentally digesting.
  5. My interlocutor, who happens to be a Benedictine monk, further complained of his electronically agitated students that “they hate silence.” Now, to a monk, who values silence as a treasure, an aid to thought, reflection, and contemplation, and even a necessary building block of culture, this brief utterance says a lot.

Moreover, the “multitasking” that all this gadgetry and technology facilitates is morally malevolent and intellectually bankrupting. I hate to cite “studies,” but more and more of them have arrived at the same conclusion that common sense should have taught us. Multitasking is most certainly uncontemplative and anxious. Whatever ruins contemplation and breeds anxiety dumbs down one’s intellect, enervates his passions, and ultimately weakens his will. (For those who multitask too much: these are all bad things.)

Adults, too, need to discipline themselves in their use of these powerful and often very time-wasting tools. Each of us needs to limit screen time for ourselves and our families. For that end, let me recommend a worthwhile article by Colleen Hammond: The Screen: How Acceptable is It?