A few weeks ago I finally bought myself an iPhone. And since then, I’ve been playing with it and delighting in the expanse of freedom I have to access all kinds of information, instantly.
And then I read this paragraph in an article by Andrew J. Bacevich in a recent issue of Commonweal:
“The Information Age … displays in stark terms our propensity to bow down before freedom’s reputed source. Anyone who today works with or near young people cannot fail to see this: for members of the present generation, the smartphone has become an amulet. It is a sacred object to be held and caressed and constantly attended to. Previous generations fell in love with their cars or became addicted to TV, but this one elevates devotion to material objects to an altogether different level. In the guise of exercising freedom, its members engage in a form of idolatry. Small wonder that aficionados of Apple’s iPhone call it the Jesus Phone.”
This brought to mind something I read recently in the New York Times Sunday Review about how our modern information age has increased the amount of information we have but perhaps decreased the amount of knowledge we possess. As my teacher Bernard Lonergan, S.J. taught us, information is not knowledge. Information is data. Knowledge is the fruit of the effort to understand the data and then to judge whether our understanding is accurate or inaccurate, true or false. Knowledge – and that includes values – is the fruit of thinking and judging.
And to think or judge we need, I suggest, two things: silence and conversation.
- We need time to step back from the whirl of data and information and ponder, assess, compare, and venture judgments.
- But we can’t do this entirely on our own. We have to talk with, engage, others, especially others who are really different from us, so that we can hear their views and seek to come to share assessments. Only in that way can we act together to achieve the values we jointly affirm.
So before I start preaching to others, especially to the younger people of my Union Theological Seminary community, I have to preach to myself: put down your iPhone, Knitter. Find time to sit by yourself and also to talk, really talk, with others.