FEBRUARY 28, 2018

By Frank Flegel


“There is a contradiction in our relationship with modern technology,” Dr. Greg Kennedy S.J. claimed as he opened his delivery at the 38th annual Campion College Nash Lecture to a full Riffel Auditorium on February 28. “We have an attachment, an intimate connection to technology; but we know nothing about it.” He was speaking primarily about a cel phone; “We don’t know how it’s made, or how it works.”

The lecture was titled Attached and Indifferent: Technological living on a lonely planet. Dr. Kennedy’s youthful appearance and jocular manner belied the his 15 years as a Jesuit and the time involved in amassing university degrees in Philosophy, Theology and Divinity.

He began the lecture by asking the audience to hold up their cell phones and describe in a word or two their relationship with it - connected, addicted, painful, were some of the words that came back from the audience. And how did they feel when the phone is not with them - lost, out of the loop, disconnected, were some of the responses. He pointed out some other contradictions in everyday living and, with some humour, described offices he had seen in huge Toronto buildings that were air conditioned to the point of feeling cold, yet individual offices had little heaters in them. He said he watched people through floor to ceiling windows on the second floor of a fitness club working out on treadmills and step machines and in the next windows were people accessing the exercise floor using escalators. “What’s up with that?” he asked, laughing along with the audience.  He then admitted to a reputation of being long-winded and asked the audience to help him limit his talk to 45 minutes by setting their cell phone timers for 45 minutes, all together when he said go. Sure enough, 45 minutes later a cacophony of cellphone musical tones filled the auditorium joined by laughter from those present including Kennedy. He begged for an additional five minutes to finish his lecture and he continued. 

Quoting several studies throughout his lecture, including Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and his own experience as spiritual advisor to families and teens, he showed how young people especially are impacted by their use of technology. “The more screen time, the less self-esteem they have. There is loneliness because we are not in the present. It leads to depression and suicide.” He connected it to the environment; not spending enough time in the woods as he described it. He quoted the World Economic Forum that said in a report that by 2050 the seas will have more plastic than fish. He also said that about 40% of the earth’s animals have disappeared in the 43 years since his birth. He talked about the spiritual peace people experience by walking through and participating in the organic garden maintained by the Jesuit community in Guelph, Ontario. “The earth is lonely for us,” he said.  “We have to associate with other species.”

He ended by inviting everyone to join him in singing The Lord of the Dance with the words projected on a large screen. The audience complied with exuberance and belted out the words of the song, closing the lecture in the lighthearted atmosphere that Dr. Kennedy had projected during his presentation.

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