Book review: New technologies globalize superficiality, writer says


“Compassion: Living in the Spirit of St. Francis” by Ilia Delio, OSF. St. Anthony Messenger Press (Cincinnati, 2011). 142 pp., $14.99.

In “Compassion: Living in the Spirit of St. Francis,” Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio shows that in spite of the valuable contributions of technology, we may be in danger of a “globalized superficiality.” Being inundated with information of every kind precludes our living at a deeper level from which compassion flows.

We tend to see machines as role models, rather than tools, says Sister Ilia, and could become isolated, spending more time at computers than in interaction with others or with nature. When the differences are blurred between real experiences and computer simulations, we strengthen the ego, attempting to control or create the real, rather than surrendering to a greater purpose, which would lead to self-transformation. Technology lends itself to individual control, the author states, obscuring our dependence on the earth, others and God.

Operating through the “god mode” in video games and feeding on endless information can lead to separateness, self-indulgence and narcissism. Rather than being a dynamic expression of God, the universe begins to resemble a huge machine.

Without play and contact with nature, both children and adults stifle their imagination, diminishing their power to dream, create and live spontaneously. The world is then one of controlled information split off from energy and matter. Artificial media enable us to “share without (fear of) rejection,” to manipulate and eventually to become “disembodied super minds.” We then lose touch with the real human person “longing for wholeness in union with another.” Sister Ilia states that our greatest poverty is to feel comfortable through being safe and alone in isolation.

The book points out that the virtue of poverty, as shown by St. Francis, is to be empty, open to receive the gifts of God. In contrast, the effect of the separation possible through technology is to control and possess, to advance ourselves through appropriating the goods of the world, whether they be property, riches, skills, knowledge or reputation.

This type of clinging to things ultimately leads to injustice and violence. The environment then seems hostile and we become hard-hearted and self-absorbed, driven by fear of others and defensive behavior.

However, the realization of the presence of God within our fragile humanity and in the natural world leads us toward compassion, according to the author. As Francis left the city and the marketplace for the woods and countryside, so we can also escape the limited world of cyberspace to spend time in nature.

Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggested that we seek the larger space in the unexplored wilderness to find ourselves “where the soul is most deep and where matter is most dense.” Sister Ilia shows that Francis found inner space for his soul in the outer expansion of nature.

The book suggests that since our basic belief is in Incarnation, the way to find God is to “look inside where God lives.” The divine presence in an embodied world calls for a conscious choice on our part to spend time with the mundane and ordinary as Francis did, who saw “brothers and sisters” even in the elements of nature. Hence, the connectedness of all things calls forth compassion in binding us with the deepest reality, which stretches beyond the boundaries of gender, race, tribe, religion or creature. Through love we experience others’ suffering, leading to both their and our own transformation.

Sister Ilia’s book offers a clear path out of the present complex web of technological “progress,” egotism, political power and injustice. Finally, she quotes Father Henri Nouwen, who wrote that the world will not be changed through a new idea, project or plan, but only if we “can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves.”

Sister Mona, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, is the author of “Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity,” published by iUniverse.