Technological Poverty

“At the same time, however, there arises the question of the kind of spacesuit we should have in order to sustain the cosmic tempo with which we are fleeing faster and faster from the gravitational pull of tradition, and we wonder what ground controls would be necessary to prevent our burning out in the vast expanse of the universe, our bursting asunder like a homunculus of technology-questions that cannot be brushed aside today as stubborn obscurantism, for they are being raised most urgently by those who know most about the tempo of our alienation from tradition and who are most keenly aware of the problems associated with man’s historic spaceflight.”

– Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology

The above quotation, selected from an essay first published by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the early 1970’s, was written in the wake of the famous “space race.” Nonetheless, his analogy concerning where technology seems to be taking us, and how it is fast divorcing men and women from any sane point of reference, may be more apt now than ever.

Keeping such observations in mind, we at Gregory the Great Academy require our students to embrace a life of “technological poverty.” By this we simply mean abandoning cell phones, the Internet, i-pods, laptops, video games, and word processors at home and arriving on campus with the bare necessities for life in the dorms. The reason is this: in order to give our students freedom from the distractions of the modern world, freedom that allows the boys to focus on the important aspects of life such as the development of virtues, the cultivation of good friendships, and the contemplation of the Divine.

Some may perhaps wonder why we take such seemingly “radical” measures. An i-pod’s assistance makes hearing good music easier, and information was never so readily available in the past as it is today thanks to the Internet. One could even argue that we are more “free” today than we ever were before, because of the Internet. There was a time, not so long ago, when only the “learned” had access to what is now accessible to everyone who owns a computer. So much, it seems, is now merely a short “click” away.

The philosopher Josef Pieper once addressed this objection, responding that “the average person of our time loses the ability to see because there is too much to see!”  Can we really take in, think about, and retain anything, if our eyes and ears be constantly bombarded by so many things that there is scarcely time to give any one thing the attention it deserves? T.S. Eliot once asked, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Does the ability to multiply information and constantly dangle it before the eyes of everyone necessarily result in everyone growing wiser? At Gregory the Great, we strongly hold that it does not.

St. Augustine observed that intemperance often perverts our desire to learn. The Church Fathers called it curiositas, and Augustine, “the concupiscence of the eyes.” This intemperance occurs when our natural and good desire for knowledge about reality, the “zeal” they referred to as studiositas, instead becomes desirous of titillation, of enjoying the act of seeing rather than what we see, or what the world we see has to teach us. Such “concupiscence” becomes all the more possible when so many things are constantly brought to our attention, whether it be via our cell phone, Google, iTunes, Netflix, a television constantly blaring, or commercials on our roadsides and even in our homes that inform us of what we need to “improve” our lives.

While we might think that the more information is made available, the more we can learn, and that the more there is to see, the more we will notice, it seems the contrary is only too true. One of the key reasons for this is the passivity that the seemingly endless parade of visual stimuli creates. Knowledge was once imparted through reading and the subsequent reflection it requires, as well as through conversation—all activities in themselves requiring full mental participation. Can our minds participate as fully now as they did then? One need only consider such pop expressions as “veggin’ out,” “surfing,” and “browsing” predominately used to describe our relationship with current technology. The sounds and images are too powerful and, as was mentioned, too numerous.

Cavalier and unrestrained usage of such media cannot help but result in a horrific deadening of the mind, as well as of the imagination, which is its very cradle. Titillation becomes the only pleasure available to us; too many things zip past at light speed; all that is left us is to enjoy the ride, lulled by the “pretty pictures” adorning the roadside. Here one may witness the stark possibility of the Holy Father’s vision. Men and women, stripped of their natural inclinations to learn, reflect, know, and live, are very much like the spaceman in the quotation, floating well beyond the earth, cut off from “ground control.”

The end of such a journey, as the Fathers so adamantly insisted, is despair. As man grows more distant from reality, so does reality—nature with all her charms, symbols, delights, and embraces, and the wise traditions interpreting her—grow more distant from him. The mind so habituated to spectacle is left forever “channel-surfing,” now mildly interested, now bored, forever immune and blind to the sights that once held many a generation spellbound and enthralled. What is worse the channel-surfer may sub-consciously lose hope of ever finding a “channel” that might actually hold his interest. He cannot help but begin to loathe all channels, and even the very world they depict. Such hopelessness and loathing have been called acediaand labeled a grave spiritual danger. And, of course, stripped of judgment, what remains of his capacity for opinion and belief is now vulnerable to whatever the medium might choose to feed him. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that the media’s influence is “largely exerted irresponsibly, arbitrarily, and without reference to any moral, or intellectual, still fewer spiritual guidelines,” later referring to it simply as a “brainwashing operation.”

Such “freedom” seems more like servitude. Therefore, at Gregory the Great Academy we pursue a different course. For this reason, we require our boys to embrace the aforementioned life of “technological poverty.”  The use of electronic media at the Academy is strictly prohibited. Below is a list of items we do not permit our students to have in their possession. If a student so much as arrives with such paraphernalia in his possession, it will be considered a violation of policy, and the disciplinary consequences will be grave. Also, the item(s) will be confiscated immediately and will not be returned.

To parents, if your son owns some of the things listed below, we suggest you lay your hands upon them prior to packing. The only concession we allow to this policy is regarding cell phones for students traveling to school alone. If your son is traveling by air or a long distance by bus, he may carry a cell phone with him on the condition that he turns it in upon arrival at Gregory the Great. This is the only concession we are willing to make. Otherwise, everything else listed below is not permitted. Even if the student attempts to turn in a particular “contraband” item upon arrival at the school, he will be held in violation of the rules mentioned herein and the disciplinary consequences will be grave. As our doctrine of “technological poverty” is held not out of fear or close-mindedness, or a desire to oppress, but, quite to the contrary, in order to create an environment truly conducive to learning, to the experience of joy, to contemplation, we ask all to comply with our wishes.

Forbidden Items-not an exhaustive list. In general, electronic devices are not allowed. If you are not sure whether a certain item is forbidden or not, please call ahead and ask, do not take the chance, as our policies admit of no exceptions.

  • Radios
  • CD players, CDs
  • iPods, MP3 players
  • iPads, tablets
  • DVD players, DVDs
  • Electronic and non-classical musical instruments or equipment
  • VCRs, VHS tapes
  • Computers, laptops
  • Television sets
  • Cell phones
  • Video games of any kind
  • Digital cameras
  • Digital recorders
  • Video recorders