by Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
We live in a digital age. We hear this regularly. We take not only photographs today using smart-phones, but we can record high definition video on these same devices; furthermore, we not only play, but we can record music using these same phones. Alexander Graham Bell gave us a clever invention of a phone attached to a wall – but now our smart-phones give us video calls integrated within powerful touchscreen computers; that provide us with an almost continent wide coverage. In years to come if some one fancies upon this piece that you now read – no doubt that individual’s generation will laugh at the technological attainment that I now applaud, for they will have most likely surpassed our advancements, and then some. But are there limits to progress – was not the folly of Babel found within the foundations of the famed tower as it was in the highest storey? Can humanity get caught up in a tsunami like current, lusting for materialism; willing to riot and plunder for wants, and letting needs satisfy themselves for the morrow?
Let us explore our love of technology. Long before the age of the iPad and the World Wide Web – we lived in the age of paper. Paper; that much taken for granted invention. Stop for a moment and think, for without it, where would humanity be? If we retrace the history of paper – we see the great news stories splashed on broadsheets, announcing the death of presidents, kings and queens; and the declarations that commenced and ended the various wars that were to end all wars. It is only because of paper that the thoughts of Shakespeare, Dante and Goethe, were recorded for generations born hundreds of years after their author’s death, to be read and re-told. If paper had never existed, would any thinker have ever desired to contemplate beyond the merest of whims? What use would there have been, for any man to have have had great dreams, only for these to be blown away in the sand in which he had written them. There would be no audience, other than the most immediate, to pass on accurately or not by word of mouth; or an audience limited solely to those geographically proximate to some secluded cave to see an etching on a wall. Would any artist write, or a painter paint, if they knew that their creative talents would never find an audience? Without paper, there would be no books, no great libraries, no priceless document of antiquity. In fact, human civilization has been built on paper; for how else do we remember today Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Without paper, how many of us would know Holy Scripture?
But now we have entered the digital age; an age of computerized – micro-chip wizardry; cleverly wrought but totally reliant on a single factor for its survival – electricity. How tenuous rests the digital age – exquisite like a finely carved ice sculpture, shining and standing in the early spring sun. Remove electricity from the modern world, and we return rapidly to the age of paper. Remove electricity from the modern world – and we return to learning how to play instruments, so as to entertain ourselves and others; we return to having to read to ourselves, or others by candlelight; we return to having to sit down and eat with one another – rather than sitting in front of a television set; we return to having to communicate, using eye to eye contact, rather than grunting, perhaps now and then looking sideways from our computer monitors, acknowledging in such manner, those we claim to love. Remove electricity, and the iPod would become a very attractive paperweight, and the iPad, something to paint a beautiful picture on; or perhaps as a type of mirror to help adjust a tie or make-up. The digital age brings wonders – but without electricity, where are our precious thoughts? Stored away on microscopic little files. Where are our precious photographs? Locked away on a hard-drive. Without electricity, hours of labour and hours of love-making memories, would be as if we had nothing to show; as if a person had genuinely never lived. Thumb-worn sepia photographs – however tatty, still tell us far more of a story, than a thumb drive in a world without electricity. So we live in a digital age.
Remove electricity from our modern lives – and how quickly our contemporary heroes would fade – for want of no MTV, or soap-operas, or motion pictures, or TV mini-series, to entertain us, and lull us into a mind-numbing series of distractions. We may need to shave morning and night – but how different are we to the toddler, who tries one toy and then another, then cries for boredom. We eat our dinner and then with our remote controls try channel after channel to see what in heavens name can entertain us. Nothing on? We turn the television off – stare in to the darkness, and then turn the television back on to watch till late into the evening some programme we have seen a dozen times. We sniggered at our fathers when we caught them slumped in a lounge chair in front of a television set – and now our children do the same to us.
Remove electricity and our heroes would soon become those who make a real difference to the lives of others, those who are closest to us, those in our communities – rather than those who perform for us. To amuse ourselves in a world without electricity, we would have to return to playing Chess, Go or cards; return to a life where we would actually have to interact with a flesh and blood opponent – who we would also have to share a conversation with, in addition to a coffee and cake. With the death of electricity – Virtual Reality – would die. Stripped of the ‘virtual’ we would be left with reality; left to discover what is real about our lives.
Such is the Law of Progress; fashions and trends change, technological ages come and go – but human beings are still made of flesh, bones and blood; and this is where the author of Ecclesiastes comes to speak to us – to share Wisdom.
Thousands of years ago, the author of Ecclesiastes, taught in words that jar and disturb the senses that man needs to remove from his mind, the non-essentials about life and living in order to understand what is most important. Once this is discerned, life can be lived to its maximum. As a power failure ends the digital age – so too there are factors in a man’s life that if removed, kill the body, kill the mind and kill the soul. Vanity of vanities, he writes – the greatest of which being that man believes himself to be more powerful than he actually is. Kings, scholars, artists, poets, and dictators, despite their prowess, acumen and military might – all are but one heart beat away from the grave. Goethe concluded: “Nothing is worth more than this day”; but Ecclesiastes teaches us better still: nothing is more imperative than building a relationship with God. An individual’s life is seasonal; humanity itself ephemeral – but God is perennial. Once we understand our limits, once we understand the futility of catching the wind – we can lay hold of what is Real, and what makes us Real – God.
This post is also available in: English