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Wendt Update

Wednesday, February 12, 2014  
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Digital People 

"What matters in the end is not our becoming but what we become,” urges Nick Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.  Stop and look around.  Very likely someone nearby is staring into a screen.  Our mobile, digital technologies offer us endless connectivity, bringing people together.  They also are shaping us into technologically driven people of distraction and trivia.  One more message to read.  One more text to send.  One more update to check.  One more game level to achieve.  One more search and the answer will be had. 

Carr’s book offers a thoughtful investigation of internet technology, and on March 10, 7:00 p.m. in the Heritage Center, Carr will be speaking at the University.  To prepare for his visit, the Wendt Center is sponsoring several Faculty/Staff book discussion groups in the month of February focused around Carr’s book.  These groups provide a place to grow communally as well as a time to wrestle with issues of character formation and technology use.   In addition, the Wendt Scholars’ spring theme investigates technology and character. 

Carr examines historical changes in technology and the resulting changes in society.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He also researches brain science and gathers the results from various studies to show that our very brains are changing with increased use of the internet.  He fears that If we descend into the "frenziedness” of technology, our capacity for being compassionate, engaged, and thoughtful people may be threatened. 

Of concern to me is the insidious subtlety with which this amazing technology not only opens up so many opportunities to do good and to be good but, like a Trojan horse, brings such change that even our brains are affected.  For this technology can quickly disintegrate into virtual distraction, dominating real time, real relationships, and precluding deep reflection. 

So often we are told technology is neutral—it’s all in how you use it.  Many people, however, disagree.  The very choice to invest money into research and development for one type of technology over against another, is value-laden. Once developed, price point and distribution have their own moral weight.  And then we need to consider the trade-offs of what we gain with what we lose.  Or as John Culkin, writing in 1967 about Marshall McLuhan’s work  observes, "We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”   

If we seek to be compassionate, caring people living lives of service to God and others, we need the ability to reflect and discern how to best spend time and which activities to get involved in.  Making conscious choices is only possible if we can set our technology aside from time to time and think about who we are and who we want to be.  Do we become less sympathetic, less thoughtful and more techno-savvy?  Or do we become more engaged, more compassionate and more fully human?  

Annalee Ward
Director of the Wendt Center


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