The Spiritual Cost Of Digital Technology

In the digital age, a significant spiritual battle is unfolding, impacting the human soul. Luke Burgis, reflecting on his experience at a monastery in Umbria, Italy, shares insights into how technology is altering our spiritual practices. During a retreat, the abbot observed that new novices began bringing stacks of books into the chapel around the mid-2000s, coinciding with the rise of computers and smartphones. The abbot suspected that this behavior indicated a deeper issue: people were starting to approach prayer like they do computers, needing constant input to feel productive.

While technology has the potential to address many global challenges, it should not serve as our model for living. Burgis’s experience of entering the chapel empty-handed led to a painful yet purifying silence, underscoring the profound impact of a calculating, computer-like mindset on our souls. As Psalm 115 warns, “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.” The more we imitate machines, the more we risk losing our uniquely human faculties.

Humans are naturally skilled imitators, as explored by René Girard. However, we are increasingly turning to devices as models of desire, which blurs the line between the human and the subhuman. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff’s “like me” theory of infant imitation suggests that from birth, children naturally imitate other humans. Yet, this may be changing as adults increasingly mimic technological behaviors.

General Jim Mattis once noted that “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” highlighting how it stifles critical thinking. Similarly, Instagram has been shown to exacerbate mental health issues, making reality harder to grasp for its users. The prevalence of digital pornography also influences real-world behaviors, demonstrating how consumption shapes our reality.

The distinction between reality and mediated reality is becoming increasingly blurred.

Aristotle’s concept of technē, the technical, distinguished human-made objects from nature, which possesses its own life principle. Modern technology, however, obscures these lines, leading to confusion about human nature itself. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that the internet would “vanish” into everyday life, creating an all-encompassing cage as described by philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Yuval Noah Harari’s view of humanity evolving into a techno-species aiming to conquer death reflects a misunderstanding of human nature. The real challenge is not to upgrade ourselves but to rediscover what we truly want. This requires rejecting mediocre models of humanity and adopting new, inspiring ones.

To combat this spiritual battle, we need to embrace an anti-mimetic approach, seeking models of humanity at its best, grounded in a vision that spans both future and past. Our true models should never be the work of human hands but should inspire us to achieve our highest potential.