The issue of communion for the divorced and remarried has occupied so much attention in the run-up to the Synod on the Family that the many other topics addressed in the working document are being largely ignored.
One issue was how technology effects the family, and I addressed it in two pieces:
Electronic gadgets have a powerful gravitational pull. The quick look at Facebook becomes an endless spiral of links, memes, cute videos, and listicles. A session of World of Warcraft doesn’t end until five hours later. There’s a growing unease when five minutes pass without checking a smartphone.
What do all these behaviors have in common other than the general medium of “new technology?” What do they provide that makes them so appealing and hard to resist?
The concern expressed in the Synod working document is that “television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology.”
This is an image of the atomized home, with each person disappearing to their own electronic bubble, thus isolating individuals in the family.
Some of this is essential in modern life. I could not work without it. My children learn and play and create using many of the same tools singled out for criticism. My son is studying college-level biology this summer in an online course. My daughter is writing a book and painting on her iPad. These solitary moments are not necessarily an evil, any more than someone sitting alone sewing, reading, or studying would be.
The problem is that the atomization is spreading to more and more parts of ordinary life. The smartphones are at the dinner table. The time spent gaming or online is growing. The escape into a boundless electronic world of instant gratification and stimulation can mean a retreat from the comparatively mundane world of the family.