Thursday, 6 August 2009

We're all doomed, ctd

When Vincent Nichols was named as the new Archbishop of Westminster, there were those who hoped that the consecration of this worldly-wise, media-friendly Merseysider might prefigure a more positive engagement with modernity on the part of English Catholicism. Imagine (as David Aaronovitch does) how refreshing it would have been if, in his first major interview since coming into post, Nichols had said the following about the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace:
I know many people express concern about this networking, but I think there's much that is positive about it. It's just another aspect of progress.
But of course he didn't. Instead the new Archbishop had this to say:

I think there's a worry that an excessive use or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we're losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community.

We're losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person's mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point.

Too much exclusive use of electronic information dehumanises what is a very, very important part of community life and living together.


Among young people often a key factor in them committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships. They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they're desolate.

Which isn't to say that the rise of social networking is an entirely positive phenomenon: though as Aaronovitch says, if his own daughters are anything to go by, 'what seems to have happened as a result of all this inferior computing is a continuation of friendships beyond the bust-ups that happen when kids separate to go to different schools or colleges. In this respect, my progeny seem to keep their friends longer than my own generation used to.' As a fellow parent of teenagers, I would have to agree.

As Aaronovitch suggests, a positive response to social networking from the Archbishop would be difficult to imagine, because 'it wouldn’t fit his world view, so, in the context of the interview it was just another regret about the decline of community and authenticity in the modern world.' In other words, Vincent Nichols appears to be as much an adherent of the Private Frazer school of theology as his predecessor. Aaronovitch continues:

I thought, as I read it, does the Archbishop not recall that every generation says this about the subsequent one? That theatre and dancing sapped the martial spirit, that radio killed live performance and atomised the audience, that video killed the radio star and atomised the audience, that comics meant the end of reading, that TV meant the end of reading, that computers meant the end of reading, and that now texting means the end of friendship? That modernity (at whatever level we have now reached) threatens our essential human selves (whatever they are)?

Aaronovitch concludes: 'Archbishops, it seems, can exist only in a declining world.' And he goes on to chart the prevalence of a culturally pessimist - or 'declinist' - discourse among contemporary commentators (I think we know who he means).

Of related interest: a confession from Brigada Flores Magon.

And kind-of-related to all of this, and to my recent posts about ill-informed blogophobia, I recommend this mostly fair and balanced assessment of the impact of blogging on journalism, by Michael Massing.


Eve Garrard said...

I do love the Private Frazer school of theology, Martin - thankyou for this wonderful addition to our intellectual taxonomy. Perhaps it can be seen as the theological correlate of the Madeline Bassett school of political theory, in which if we're all just communitarian enough then the problems of modernity will disappear and the stars will indeed turn out to be God's daisy chain.

Martin said...

Thanks for the comment, Eve. You mean Ms BUNTING, I presume? (but I agree with your characterisation.)

Eve Garrard said...

Actually it was Madeline Bassett I had in mind ( - I hadn't thought of her Bunting namesake as also being her intellectual inheritor, what a splendid idea!

Martin said...

Sorry, Eve, my ignorance on display here - it's been a few years since I read the Jeeves stories.

Brigada Flores Magon said...

Thanks for the link, Martin.

Eve Garrard said...

Martin, if you hadn't forgotten about La Bassett we'd never have seen her spiritual connections with Madeleine Bunting, so all is clearly for the best in the best of all possible worlds!