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Elizabeth GroppeAugust 06, 2012

Peace to you, and welcome to my first post for "In All Things," where I will be writing about ecological concerns. My name is Elizabeth Groppe and I am a teacher of theology at Xavier University, a Jesuit school nestled in the rolling hills of the Ohio River Valley. I am also the mother of an exuberant 7-year-old boy. The invitation to write this blog was a challenge to my recent resolution to spend less time working at the computer, plugged into a coal-fired electric grid and staring at a screen. I realized one evening after hours spent trying to tame an out-of-control email account that I was setting a bad example my son, whom my husband and I rarely permit to use the Internet. In an era in which the average person can, by one estimate, recognize 1,000 advertising logos but fewer than 10 plants and animals native to his or her locality, Richard Louv emphasizes the importance of getting children out from behind screens to play in parks, cultivate gardens and roam in woods (see his Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder). According to one study, the average amount of time children spend out of doors declined by 50 percent between 1981 and 1997. Meanwhile, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University concluded in a 1998 study that people who spend even a few hours a week online experience increased levels of depression and loneliness. Internet addiction is a growing problem among today’s youth.

And yet the World Wide Web is an important means of transcontinental communication in a complex world facing urgent challenges. It is an essential tool in many disciplines and in international humanitarian work, including the research of scientists studying climate change and the efforts of organizations like the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change to address the climate crisis.  Never before in human history has so much encyclopedic information on so many topics been so readily and broadly available.

Why, then, is it the case that many of us appear to be unaware of many of the basic ecological facts of life? Last week, one of the television monitors that now fill our public spaces with an endless stream of words and images was broadcasting the results of an election year poll as I was standing in line at a bank: “What issues are most important to you in this election?” the poll asked. The results: the economy, the national debt, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, health care, gun control and gay marriage. Why was there no reference to the fact that the very systems that support life on this planet—the climate, the forests, the oceans, the soils—are in jeopardy? Did no one mention this? Or did the structure of the poll not allow for consideration of the health of the biosphere?

Missing in so much of our electronic media is a holistic view that sees the world as a whole and offers a frame of meaning with which to understand and interpret it. America magazine tries to do just this, providing a forum for reflection on current issues that is informed by Catholicism’s vision of a cosmos that is intended to mediate the beauty, goodness, compassion and justice of the God incarnate in Jesus Christ. So, here I am, sitting at the computer writing this blog. And here you are, reading it. After we are done, shall we go outside and see what we behold?

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Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 7 months ago
Thank you for this, Elizabeth. I will look forward to your writings! Circumstances have happened in my life recently where I do not have a constant access to the internet (I'm now at the library) and I am welcoming the newfound time, space and quiet in my life.  I can't believe how much time I can WASTE with a web-connected computer in front of me.

I become so much more discriminatory about what I read during my time at the library, and can more easily see what is important to me and what is just babble.

In many ways, I feel like I got my life back!  I'm with you about the TVs that are everywhere - as if this "virtual" life is what we have to be connected to when it is really the distraction.  Once, a few years ago as I was recovering from some minor surgery and put into a chair with a TV on the arm as I "woke up" ... it seemed to me that it was really there to keep me from waking up!
David Smith
10 years 7 months ago

Elizabeth, please don't confuse "the internet" with the worst that can be found on it, any more than you'd confuse "people" with mass murderers.  With your good guidance, your child won't make that mistake.  Funnel and focus.

Beth, great that you have access to the internet through a library - old enabling new.  As we move away from the slow, carefully gated information of print on paper to the less fettered and often instant information of online access, libraries with fast, free broadband connections are essential.

The more we can know, the more we will know, and, all else being equal, the smarter and wiser we'll become.
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 7 months ago
You certainly have my support in your efforts. I value the occasional canoe trips I took in the past with friends in places like Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario and the Allagash River in Maine.  It gives you a taste of unregulated, raw, creative nature.  We always have this relationship with nature but civilization and technology shield us from it, except for the occasional EF5 tornado and hurricane. When the power goes out, welcome to the natural state of man.  Otherwise, we can make ourselves think that our technologically propped life and our economic systems are ordinary life.  They are not.  If we can't understand this, then the realities of nature will disabuse us of it but perhaps not quickly enough.
David Smith
10 years 7 months ago
There need be no battle between nature and technology - unless we consciously erect one. I'm writing this from a window table of a Starbucks in east Cincinnati, near the beautiful grounds of a Catholic seminary, overlooking a dark green line of summer trees - a tiny part of Elizabeth's rolling Ohio River Valley - under a clear blue evening sky. Nature is lovely but very hot and humid outside - and lovely but pleasantly cool and dry from inside.

Thank God for rolling hills and for wi-fi and for air conditioning, even though the cool air and the broadband are made possible by burning coal.  Nothing in life is evil in itself - it's what we do with it and how we think of it.  Everything has a downside, but let's not dwell perpetually on what's not perfect.  The coal will run out soon enough, and then we'll surely find plenty of other things to regret.

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