God’s Grandeur in the Media Environment

Part six in our Lenten series on technology and spirituality.

god's gandeur hopkins media environment benjamin robertson

At the beginning of Lent, we examined how time-saving technology often has the tendency to help us do more work in less time and then fill up our extra time with new kinds of work. I think we intuitively realize this and commit ourselves to media fasts during Lent because we know that our technology doesn’t always deliver on the promise to save us time.

As I reflected on this some more throughout Lent, with some time away from technology for perspective, I got to thinking about the kinds of ways we use technology, and whether we really make a responsible use of the gifts we have been given.

I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur, which begins with a look at the beauty of creation and the ways we fail to honor God’s grandeur in creation:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

It dawned on me that it isn’t just the natural environment that we have “seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil.” If we look out at our media environment, our capabilities for communication and connection are awe-inspiring. We can communicate faster than ever with more people than ever before. But how often does this foster true dialogue between diverse groups of people? How does this speed help us? Pope Francis asked earlier this year, ““What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?”

Stepping back from technology for a little bit can help us see to what degree our media environment is seared with trade and bleared with toil. When a new innovation is launched, we’re quick to see as a society the best possible way that technology will lead the human race. Who hasn’t heard the claim that the internet was going to bring us world peace by fostering dialogue between all people? But what has happened with the internet so far? We’ve seared every web page with advertising, affiliate links, and marketing to try to sell things. We’ve redesigned our social media–the very things we all thought would bring us closer together–to serve us more ads and help more marketers get in touch with us. We’ve blurred the fantastic peace-making or at least dialogue-enhancing possibilities of the internet with toil–doing more work in less time and freeing ourselves to do more work.

Hopkins reminds us that despite the way we’ve seared and smeared creation, “nature is never spent/there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” For all the ways that we’ve turned our media environment toward trade and toil just as we’ve done with the natural environment, I think Christians should have hope that we can turn our digital environment toward opportunities to grow in humanity and mutual understanding. In fact, this is our responsibility: to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Up&Up. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benjamingrobertson.com

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