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Human contact is better than an iPhone. A philosopher explains why.

TEENS ON PHONES
Jakub Zak | Shutterstock
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Technology is always welcome, as long as we establish priorities.

What will become of men and women in the age of the smartphone? What shall be the fate of social relationships?

French philosopher Fabrice Hadjadj, a member of the Pontifical Council for Laity, has proposed an answer in his recently published book, “Dernières nouvelles de l’homme (et de la femme aussi)” (“The Latest news about Man (and Woman too)”, currently available in French, Spanish and Italian editions). Here are some of the insights he shares therein.

Novelty

Mankind’s experience of novelty used to “last longer.” God, Hadjadj says, “had given humanity a certain model of body, or more precisely, two paired models, male and female, and he stopped there, seeing that it was very good. Without mistakes or vanity — was He not the Omnipotent? — He was certain He had created perennial novelty, an ever-flowing spring that welled up from the Eternal, which is more venerable than what is ancient and younger than what is yet to come.”

Divine guarantee

This “divine guarantee,” the philosopher observes, “called each and every person to renew their perspective on what already existed, to rediscover their own hands, which are able to receive more than to take; their mouth, where bread goes in and words come out; their being male or female as a finger pointed towards the other, or as a couple in which each person is turned towards the other…”

Smartphones, MP3 players, and tablets instead of hands

That age, Hadjadj says, “seems to have ended. Meaning has been replaced by progress.” But if there is a meaning to things, “it’s very difficult to substitute them with new merchandise. Therefore, it’s more convenient that they be meaningless, that our hands lose their eternal vocation (to handle a shovel, to play the lyre, to caress, to be raised up as an evening offering…) to be substituted by a gadget with it’s exceptional introductory offer,” such as a smartphone.

The earthworm

Hadjadj doesn’t consider himself a philosophical progressivist, nor as a declinist who wishes to turn back the clock.

“The world,” he says, “is still incredibly beautiful to me. An earthworm never ceases to amaze me. And I know that no technology will ever allow me to comprehend my wife better, nor to love her more. My resistance towards progressivism comes from my acceptance of the world just as it is given to us, with all of its drama. I have not yet learned to build a house, to cultivate a garden, to think like St. Augustine, to write poetry like Dante—why should I throw on a helmet for augmented reality? I’m not yet sufficiently human; why should I try to become a cyborg? It would be deserting my post, with the excuse of being on the cutting edge.”

Artificial intelligence

Anyone who marvels at the birth of a baby, Hadjadj says provocatively, “isn’t very impressed by the publicity for the latest iPhone. Someone who still knows how to shout for our salvation isn’t credulous enough to dedicate himself to artificial intelligence. Unless artificial intelligence helps him to shout more loudly and to be more amazed by the earthworm.”

Hierarchy

This philosopher, in short, says that he is not “an enemy of technological objects. A ‘return to nature’ is utopian. What my writings are critically examining is technology as a paradigm that takes the place of the paradigm of culture. It’s not a matter of excluding technology, but of establishing a hierarchy: the iPod should be subordinated to the guitar, and the electronic tablet should be at the service of the dinner table, because the tablet and the iPod push us towards individual, disembodied consumption, whereas the guitar and the dinner table invite us to embodied and social activities.”

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