“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”
–T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock
My fear in writing or talking about any new technology is that I am going to sound like an angry, old curmudgeon, shaking his fist at whatever is shiny and new, longing for the good old days of this or that.
But I am not an old man, I am absurdly happy as a priest, and the only thing I am nostalgic about is those times friends have brought me cornbread.
But we live in a world where “something new” is constantly thrust upon us, whether we are ready for it or not. This is particularly true when the app Pokemon Go was released. Suddenly strangers were scouring church grounds, all hours of the day or night, faces buried in their phones (or occasionally looking up to glance suspiciously at the wandering priest).
This sudden influx of wanderers on parish grounds has generated, in many of my older priest friends, questions about what is going on and how to respond to these unexpected visitors. The beauty of this time has been the chance to ask the deeper questions about our relationship with technology and what it means to really be human. And this is what I think is so interesting (and problematic) about Pokemon Go: that it has tapped into something important in us (why else would so many people be playing it?) and yet has also not lived out the full breadth of this desire.
Somewhat of a side note: Whenever anything new emerges It is important that we look critically at what is being offered, not in order to immediately reject it, but to test it. Not everything new is bad, just as not everything old is good; it all has to be sifted. As Saint Paul beautifully said in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “But test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (5:21-22). The simplest criteria for testing what is new is asking the question: “Is this good for my humanity?” If, whatever is presented to us, is not good for our being more human, being more ourselves, then for love of my own humanity I must set it aside.
It is a simple criterion, but to live it out requires a particular kind of work. This is the work of comparing what I am living with the desires of my human heart, to live at the level of desire. Great athletes set aside a great deal to perform better; they are cautious about what they eat and drink, they make sure they are making time to sleep. It is a daily sacrifice, but for many it’s worth it because performing well and securing victory is more important to them than distractions. The athlete has to pay attention and take even more seriously their deeper desires than to indulge in other, smaller, desires which presents themselves along the way.
This is an easy example for us to understand; but how much more seriously should I take the deepest desires which govern the whole trajectory of my life? The desire for meaning, for truth, for a love that transcends my smallness?
If I really love and respect my own humanity, I have to take these deeper desires more seriously. I have to constantly return to what is essential and set aside what is unnecessary.
And this is precisely the problem I see with Pokemon Go; It is not actually good for our humanity…but also why it is so unbelievably popular. It taps into the profoundly human desire to make a journey, for a life of adventure, for there to be a thread that connects everything that I do and everywhere that I go and it all matters; that I can be brought out of myself, and be given an opportunity to encounter others. There is a sense of promise in the game, in its potential, what it can offer. I have had many friends tell me of the positive effects, of it bringing them to new places and getting them outside.
But is this what the game really does? Does it live up to what it promises? I like to walk in the afternoons, and what I have found in those I’ve encountered playing Pokemon Go, is that instead of being glued to their phones or consoles inside, they are now glued to their phones and walking outside.
And this is being equated with living, a life of adventure.
It has tapped into a deeper desire that it cannot fulfill and yet pretends to.
Interestingly enough, instead of drawing others out to life, to the real world, introducing them to the mystery of being that surrounds them, it has instead conformed the real world to a game; it has made their experience of the real world a point of reference for a game. Instead of seeing a beautiful field and appreciating it as it is, we wonder if there are any Pokemon there. Now I look at life in reference to a fake world. How can I ever be rescued when I need to be if my point of reference is no longer reality? People need roots, a place to dig into, a point of reference – in a word, stability. That stability cannot be the digital world, still new, changeable, and flimsy. This game isn’t enough to sustain a life.
Why does any of this matter? Why say this? Who cares? It’s only a game.
Because I want you to be happy, to be free, to really live, to experience an adventure and companionship that is capable of sustaining all of life instead of fleeing from it. Whatever distracts from this has to be set aside. As Joseph Ratzinger beautifully said,
“Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death for ever through love.”
These games don’t do as they promise, they don’t augment reality. They are not an expansion of your humanity; they are an interruption. If you really love your humanity, really love your life:
Let it go.