Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fr. Spadaro: Seeking and finding God Online

Did the web exist before the web? 

That is to say, did a vision of the ideal intellectual reference and relation system that would allow everyone to communicate, exist before? 

When Leonardo Da Vinci designed his helicopter he didn’t have enough mechanical energy to actually make it fly, but he had understood the concept of a vehicle with a rotor.   

In 1300, the theologian and logician Raimondo Lullo did not possess a personal computer or artificial intelligence software, but with his “combinatorial” and “mnemotechnical” art he got there before Turing and Minsky. 

Italian writer Italo Calvino mentions books being typed up on the computer in 1967, when he hadn’t ever used one before and while today the New York Times provides an online algorithm that creates poems using its titles, in 1961, Italian poet Nanni Balestrini already had the moving ballad Tape Mark typed up on a computer in Milan. 

The “philosophy written just on existing documents” which the philosopher Adornus says was the last theory presented by Walter Benjamin, was a theoretical precursor to the Web in 1936. 

The Jesuit palaeontologist, scholar and priest, Teilhard de Chardin, writes about a “noosphere”, a global sphere of human thought, in 1922. He and Benjamin therefore held the joint title of “father of the Internet”.
 
The old and branched out family tree is confirmation that the cyber world was not born from technology, on the contrary, technical power allowed the radical humanist dream that had been expressed generations before us to become a reality. 

This is the intellectual project Jesuit father, Antonio Spadaro, founder of the Cybertheology School and director of the Company of Jesus’ historic magazine Civiltà Cattolica (founded in 1850), is working on. 

In his presentation of the new paper and online editions of the magazine, Fr. Spadaro does not just reel out a set of IT related instructions with lots of clicks, links and gigabytes, but introduces a 21st century development of St. Ignatius’ reflections in his 16th century Spiritual Exercises. In these, Repetition – or iteration as webmasters call it – is a fundamental spiritual step.

In the editorial for the new editions of Civiltà Cattolica, Spadaro writes: “The magazine’s first Jesuits were innovators. They imagined the use of the press, which was the means of communication used by revolutionaries, liberals and anarchists. 

It is only natural therefore that our message should be spread across the digital platform as well, so that it can reach as many people as possible… Civiltà Cattolica…is now available as an app for iPad, iPhone and Android tablets, Kindle Fire and devices that use Windows 8… [so that,] thanks to Google’s collaboration,…all content published from 1850 onwards is now available in digital format. Let’s imagine different forms of digital publication for instant books that are able to link the reflections contained in articles published in the past, to those published in the present.”
 
This is not just an interesting “online transition” that is nevertheless taken for granted now. 

The project is more ambitious than this and is the only one that works Web-wise: it involves using the web not just as a means of transferring content in the old paper format online, but of creating new content ad hoc, engaging in dialogue and communicating one’s traditional values, looking at one’s image in this online mirror and seeing new characters and symbols it: “The unique nature of the magazine and the contribution given by its editorial team stem from the fact that it is put together by exclusively Jesuit writers…This spirituality is inspired by one very simple criterion: “to seek and find God in all things,” as St. Ignatius writes.”
 
The challenge for Spadaro and his collaborators, particularly after the election of the first Jesuit Pope in the Church’s history, is to consider the web as a contemporary sphere of “all things” as mentioned in the Jesuit founder’s reflections.  “He calls for reflections to be “shared” – Fr. Spadaro concluded. 

“The evolution of the world of information, including the most classical information, is …veering in this direction as Web 2.0 puts more pressure on it…These days it’s rare to find a newspaper that doesn’t allow sharing and commenting of its contents on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Even journalism does not just work by transmitting information but by sharing. 

This is why La Civiltà Cattolica has a Facebook page (facebook.com/civiltacattolica) and Twitter account (@civcatt)…

Our aim to engage readers in a digital context as well, comes from the mentality La Civiltà Cattolica had back in 1851 and which is still valid today: “The communication of thoughts and emotions between writer and reader has the same traits of a friendship and even becomes a form of secret intimacy…”.” 

The web’s intellectual recipe is a mix of reasoning and sentiment, theories and passions.

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