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‘Earth is lonely for us’: Nash lecturer

By Frank Flegel

The Catholic Register


REGINA — “There is a contradiction in our relationship with modern technology,” Rev. Greg Kennedy, SJ, said as he began to deliver the 38th annual Campion College Nash Lecture to a full Riffel Auditorium on Feb. 28.

“We have an attachment, an intimate connection to technology, but we know nothing about it.” He was speaking primarily about the cell 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.” Kennedy’s youthful appearance and jocular manner belied 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 cellphones 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.

Kennedy 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 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.

He admitted to a reputation of being long-winded and asked the audience to help him limit his talk to 45 minutes by setting their cellphone timers for 45 minutes, all together when he said “Go.” Sure enough, 45 minutes later a cacophony of cellphone tones filled the auditorium. He begged for an additional five minutes to finish his lecture, then he continued.

Quoting several studies, including Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and his own experience as a spiritual adviser to families and teens, he showed how young people especially are affected 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 per cent 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, Ont.

“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, closing the lecture in the lighthearted atmosphere that Kennedy had projected during his presentation.

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