Recently, while struggling to find the right words for an article I was writing, I opened the dreaded ChatGPT! Yes, I did it for the first time ever and it was interesting to say the least. I typed in my question, and it gave me a several-paragraph answer, but what was missing was the human part, the funny and unpredictable part!
For example, a friend invited me to her granddaughter’s seventh birthday party, and there were about ten other seven-year-olds running around the yard. Suddenly, one of them stopped and said, “hey, I need to call my mom, I told her I would as soon as I got off the bus and into your house, can I use your phone?” Earlier, we had collected any cell phones the kids had, so that they could enjoy each other and the day. A sly smile came over my friend’s face and she pointed to the rotary phone on the picnic table next to the sliding glass door. The child approached it like it was an alligator who had not eaten in a week. My friend motioned for me to join her behind the curtain of the glass door and watch. The child just stared at the phone not knowing how to begin, and we laughed in gut-bursting silence, which is the most painful kind of laughing one can do. I know, it was not nice, but it sure was funny watching that kid have no clue how to stick her finger in those holes and pull the dial around, one time, then two times etc…. I doubt ChatGPT could have conjured up such a hilarious scene, or even understood why it was funny. Not to worry, we did not let the little tyke struggle for too long, and I must give the child credit, she did try to figure it out before we ended up handing her a cell phone. In no time at all she had her mom on the phone, but then I thought….is it really a phone?
I know that when I am using this thing as a map in an unfamiliar dangerous new city, and I get a call and my screen blanks out, I scream, “don’t be a phone now!” Or when I am watching a movie and get a call at the movies climax…I roll my eyes and say, “really? Now?” Our modern world has struggled to come up with a name for these things that are not just phones, such as Personal Information Devices or PIDs for short, but that is also an acronym for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease! Recently, I heard the term “mobile device,” and it seems the world has finally settled in on that name, I think.
Some of the things we are learning about these phones, oh, er, I mean Mobile Devices, is that information comes to us as pieces and fragments making it difficult to operate from a central worldview, one that orients our lives to everything like the simplicity of a children’s birthday party in the sun around friendship and food. Addiction quality is also a problem, and I cannot tell you how disgusted I was to see the invention of the Apple watch, further encouraging social media habits, creating even greater personal discipline challenges. And finally, algorithms like those on Tic Toc, systems that capture your limited viewing habits, only giving you more of your limited view of the world, creating a virtual Plato’s cave. This does not encourage thinking! I actually long for the simple days when my mom tripped over the phone cord and yelled at me, “Get off the damn phone,” when I was talking to my boyfriend at two in the morning.
One of the world’s great thinkers, Thomas Aquinas, the Patron Saint of scholars, schools, and students, taught us much about how to think- grappling with truth, and how to learn. All essential to faith. First, he believed that it was vital to continue to learn even when you are no longer in school. When you use your talents to learn about the world, you learn more about God. Secondly, he believed that Faith and Reason are not mutually exclusive. He believed the more you study the more this becomes evident, because both come from God and work together. Thirdly, he believed that you must wrestle with the truth, research, and research again. He strove to see things as they are, and not as the world would have you see them. This principle of non-contradiction is applied to all aspects of one’s life, politics, faith, sacred texts, and academic discipline. Fourth, to be creative, just as God is our creator, to know him we must create, write music, write, paint or bake!
When it gets right down to it, Computers, ChatGPT, Tic Toc and AI, will help us with those pesky phone numbers, credit card numbers, names of former classmates, your health stats, and the year you bought your dining room table, but it won’t teach you to think! It won’t afford you the ability to be grateful. That has to come from within your interior castle. The laughter of kids, the cool of the pool, the warmth of the sun… therefore, I think….. that if a person is to rediscover oneself and their friends and family …they are going to have to put down their mobile device. Begin to paint, sew, bake, or just enjoy being in the presence of children’s laughter, the cool of the day and commit it to your heart, your soul, your memory and not your PID.