Four ways Catholics can get the most out of today’s technology
Did you realize Holy Scripture suggests how we can rejoice in the benefits of technology in our lives? Well, in a sense.
Two of Jesus’ imitable habits in the Gospels were retreating to solitude for silent prayer (cf. Mt 14:23, Mk 6:46, Lk 6:12, Jn 6:15) and strategically engaging with his culture through various contemporary social forms. For Jesus, that social form was the various marketplaces of Judea and Galilee; for modern Christians, it is the digital landscape. By extension, then, today’s Christians should both retreat to holy places for silence and prayer as well as to engage the world through some contemporary social form — for example, technology. But because that ever-expanding, ever-creeping technological battlefield is truly a place where souls can be lost or saved, it is important to be well-equipped. We must learn to be virtuous users of technology.
For those unconvinced of the benefits of technology, there are several real advantages for the life and mission of Catholics, which include: tremendous online spiritual resources (podcasts, YouTube channels, Bible apps, Our Sunday Visitor, etc); the ability to evangelize to hundreds of people at once; the ability to stay in touch with distant family and friends; the ability to run successful small businesses and outreaches; and the ability to plan support groups, spiritual gatherings and more from your phone. If we are intentional with our technology usage and customize our devices appropriately, we cannot just make technology not bad, but we can make it good.
1. Avoid distracting apps
Perhaps the most obvious way to make a phone, tablet or computer particularly efficacious is to be mindful of the apps and programs that are and are not on your device. For instance, ask yourself if certain distracting apps are worth having on your device at all, or at the very least if they need to be on your home screen. Hiding these apps from your home screen is a good first step, as it makes you less impulsive and more intentional about opening those specific programs. Of course, this is a limited and negative approach to this topic.
The positive approach would be to have constructive, not destructive, apps on your devices. While likely few (if any) apps on our phones are intrinsically bad or sinful, our usage of them can render them de facto bad or even near occasions of sin. It is, therefore, important to acknowledge and address — and even maybe remove — those apps.
2. Use apps that draw us closer to God
But if we stop there, we render our phones a neutral entity again, with the social benefits of maps and texting and a few other services. To render technology good and beneficial to our journeys to sanctification, we have to consciously fill our devices with wholesome content, reminders and opportunities for spiritual growth. Replacing your default wallpaper with a picture of Our Lady or Our Lord can be a constant reminder to you, but also a witness to anyone else who sees your device. Having an app such as iBreviary or iMissal on your home screen can be a gentle nudge to stay in tune with the Church’s daily Mass readings. That way, whether or not you go to daily Mass, you are in sync with the rhythm of the Church calendar.
Mass every Sunday is a necessary and beautiful part of our faith, but it makes even more sense when we have the biblical context from Mass readings the other six days of the week. Swapping YouTube (where you might be watching Bishop Robert Barron or Father Mike Schmitz) for the a podcast app where you can get the same spoken content without YouTube’s algorithm hunting you down can be a huge upgrade. The iRosary app helps with guided Rosary prayers; the Hallow app is chock-full of meditations, reflections and hundreds of other Catholic audio resources; and, of course, the Bible app allows for effortless daily Scripture reading and reading plans.
3. Secular apps can be beneficial
Additionally, some secular apps are far more conducive toward a holistic Christian life than others. If you have been wanting to travel (or just generally expand your horizons) and learn a new language, try Duolingo. If there have been books (whether Catholic or not) that you have been meaning to read, try Audible to have someone else read it to you while you drive, exercise or cook. And Obé, I have been told, is an amazing way to bring engaging workouts to your corner of the gym, living room or even office. While I run, I like to load my (previous) Apple Watch or (current) Garmin watch with audiobooks and podcasts to kill two birds with one stone. Sometimes it feels like a sacrifice to replace music or a game with an audiobook or language app, but in the end it always feels refreshing and fulfilling. There are many ways to utilize secular apps and programs to become a more holistic and integrated person. Not everything on our devices needs to be explicitly religious or Catholic, and there are many apps that help us become better, healthier, and happier humans, which is far better than what many apps can truthfully claim.
4. Avoid the addictive trappings of social media
Next, to enjoy the myriad benefits of social media without falling prey to the user interfaces that are explicitly designed to be addicting, relocate your experience to the website version rather than the app. For instance, go to Instagram.com rather than the Instagram app. I have been doing this for over a year, and the difference is remarkable. While I can still develop the habit of typing in “instagram.com,” I have no desire to spend more than 5 or 10 minutes on the website because it is considerably slower, clunkier and duller than the app version. But guess what? I can still see my friends, family and other users’ stories, photos and videos without getting sucked into a rabbit hole. Granted, this method makes posting very cumbersome. So if I want to post something I can redownload the app. It is inconvenient, but it is also a small sacrifice that I have found bears much fruit in my life. The same can be applied for any distracting apps that have website counterparts: Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Strava, eBay, Facebook and more.
For apps without a website version (such as Snapchat), it might be beneficial to delete the apps during the work or school week and redownload them on the weekend. It might seem counterintuitive to pay for such nice phones to only use the slower website version of our favorite apps, but sometimes counterintuity is a small price to pay for the freedom that it brings. Being able to use these highly complex and robust services without much of the insidious, attention-sucking design components is a huge opportunity for Catholics.
Of course, this whole article was prefaced with the need for virtuous technology usage on top of prayer and silence. Our devices can be used for good, but that good always needs to be in the context of the sacraments and sacred Scripture. Going to Mass as often as possible, reading Holy Scripture (especially daily readings), going to confession when the internet gets the best of us and spending periods of our day in phone-free prayer is essential. Until holy Scripture, the sacraments and prayer become cornerstones of our days, all technology is futile, and every smartphone is vain. But technology, in itself, should be not futile or vain for Catholics. Let us rejoice in and be glad for our technology, and, as Catholics let us use it for our good and to glorify God!
Harris Craycraft is a student at Boston College.