Anima Technica Vacua.
Coined by theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, the unique phrase “anima technica vacua” more or less means “the empty technological soul,” and it’s an adequate and fascinating description of our rampant technology use and the modern fragmented person.
It’s a fascinating concept with too many concrete examples. We have become excellent processors of rapid information but have grown poorer at deep thinking, reasoning, and contemplation. We switch from device to device without a real purpose; heaven-forbid we experience boredom, I suppose.
So many more examples could be dissected here: the ceaseless chatter of 24-news cycles that drown us in information but offer little wisdom; the vacuousness of certain social media sites that offer more anxiety than joy; the empty promises of pornography that is readily available at any moment.
It all amounts to the heightened human experience of disintegration and fragmentation. We are on a cell phone and yet out to dinner with a loved one…who are we really being present to? Are we accruing any level of meaning in our lives or merely moving from one pop culture factoid to the next? We’re not even at home in our own bodies (“changing” our biology or doing violence against our body, eg.), another reason why St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is such a vital message for our modern ears.
It’s no wonder to me that “mindfulness” is the new buzzword of the day and “adult coloring books” (which are awesome, by the way) have found a market. The same technology we love to embrace can never meaningfully embrace us back and, at some level, we recognize the deep need to slow down and reclaim what technology has taken from us.
Reintegration Requires Silence
I’m not sure that there is anything that modern society loathes more (outside of Christian doctrine as a whole) than silence. Pop music must be pumped into elevators, baseball games, drugstores. TVs greet us in every waiting room. Screens have even been slapped onto the backs of airplane chairs…you physically can’t escape it.
If we never make space for silence and contemplation, we will never be uncomfortable, and we will never ask the questions that make life meaningful: “Who am I? What am I made for?” “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said. If “God speaks loudest in silence,” as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, if we make no space for silence we will never hear the voice of God.
“God is in silence, and the devil is noisy,” Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote in a wonderful interview regarding an upcoming book,La Force du silence (The Strength of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise). “Silence is the last trench where no one can enter, the one room in which to remain at peace, the place where suffering for a moment lays down its weapons…let us hide ourselves in the fortress of prayer.”
Silence opens up space for God. Simple, right?
Necessity of Presence
Jackie and I heard the phrase “eyeball time” recently and it’s become our go–to call to pay attention to each other when our phones get the best of us. We’ve all experienced that feeling of dejection when we’re trying to converse with a friend but are well aware they really aren’t paying attention to us.
Be the change. Put your phone away. Stare into the eyes of your friend.We are all in need of “unplugging” and healing. We all need to slow down our relentless busyness and be ok with missing out on the news of people halfway around the world. Give those you love (and sitting right next to you) the gift of your presence.
Beyond practicing purposeful presence with our fellow man, we also need to rest in the presence of God. There’s simply no other cure or self-help remedy or Zen trend that will bring our weary souls to peace without seeing–and allowing ourselves to be seen–be God.
Examine your life. Give eyeball time. Enter into silence.
“You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You” St. Augustine.
PS: Check out this great podcast on “The Joy of Missing Out,” which highlights the burdens of digital technology, how the internet makes us feel more busy than we are and how it fragments our identity, and tips on how to unplug and get control of your digital habits.