Laudato Si: Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality
Laudato Si is one of Pope Francis' additions to a group of writings known as Catholic social teaching. The purpose of Catholic social teaching is to address any concerns that religious leaders see in the ways in which humanity interacts with each other and the world. The Pope introduces new doctrine into Catholic social teaching when there is a crisis to which individuals need to be alerted. Laudato Si addresses the rapid decline in which society finds itself. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in reference to the need to heal the environment says, we, as a society, need to “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing” (Laudato Si, para. 9). He points to technology, suggesting that it is not the cure-all that society has seen it to be in the past. A “change in humanity” is the only thing that will address the path of destruction on which we are (Laudato Si, para. 9). Technology is destroying the world in more ways than one. There is also a notable interaction with the way teen mental health is declining in the wake of the globalized and productive modern society into which they were born.
Meet Generation Z
The generation born after 1996, my generation and the peers with whom I attend college, are known as Generation Z. My generation has been raised in a time of instability and alienation. Columbine was attacked, in 1999. The Twin Towers fell, in 2001, and we went in search of weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Facebook was launched. In 2005, we sat at home and watched New Orleans face Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, gun violence struck Virginia Tech, and school drills did not feel like so much fun anymore. In 2008, the housing bubble burst, and we watched gas prices rise and neighbors move away. In 2011, Gabby Giffords was shot along with others in Tuscon Arizona. In the same year, we woke up to find out Osama Bin Laden had been killed. All of this before the age of 12. Before we were old enough to process the cruelty of the world and realize that not everyone was kind, we saw the images of this reality on our television screens. On top of this age of violence and anxiety, we have been using and mastering the internet since the time we were in elementary school. We have hidden behind cellphones and had social media accounts since middle school. We did and mastered all of this while our parents texted with two hands and had to be taught how to "google." While progress, for the sake of progress if often commended and the goal of companies, there has been a huge cost of this technological development, the unforeseen mental health repercussions of technology on the new and vulnerable generation. America is a country founded on technology. The industrial revolution began an obsession with the newest and best things, and our ability to innovate put us on the road to superpower status as a country. Technology allowed us to dominate nations and people as well as develop a higher standard of living and quality of life for our citizens. However, while the waste and materials have been slowly poisoning out planet, there has been another casualty at the hands of technological advancement, the mental health of Generation Z.
How Technology Fits into the Brain Equation
The “development [in technology] has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience” (Laudato Si, para. 105). Human brains did not learn to change as the world did. As globalization took over, and the world became connected, the brain did not change in its needs or functions. However, human behavior did. We did not have to talk to people or connect with them because there was also some social media platform to fill the void. Quickly, the development of meaningful, in-person relationships seemed to fall out of practice. Some studies show that the use of social media often “reinforce[s] feelings of loneliness even when it is experienced as a source of support and connection” (Barth, "Social Media and Adolescent Development: Hazards, Pitfalls and Opportunities for Growth" pg. 203). Technology “shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society” (Laudato Si, para. 107). There is a power in human connection, and not being virtually connected to everything all the time. For the world, “the technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic” (Laudato Si, para 108). But there was a cost in the “power to globalize and make us all the same” (Laudato Si, para 108). Not only was the environment damaged but so was the mental health of so many people, as the desire to be made the same is taken to a new level. On social media platforms, impressionable teenagers see people projecting their perfect lives. They also are exposed to accounts and content that further a deterioration of mentality, especially when it comes to body image. There are few people I know who are truly happy with the way they look, and describe themselves in accurate terms with how they look and the actually relative health that their body projects. Instead a lifestyle of self-starvation of binging or purging seems to be the one the creates the most beautiful appearance. These sickly images become obsessive to teenagers. Students have become more “self-reflexive and self-aware in cyberspace” than in reality (Barth 204). Thus, there is a whole part of their personality that comes alive in the technological world that the world of humanity never sees, and then they are left to cope with the fact that they live in a split reality. We have always had a “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality in America but the social media presence and constant bombardment of information is taking it to a new level that humanity wasunprepared to face. “Many people are surprisingly limited in their ability to use their verbal skills, even their apparent psychological insight to manage either their emotions or the normal developmental tasks” (Barth 203). Since technology has harmed the adolescent ability to communicate, it has impeded their handling of emotional crisis. There is no way to process or explain how they are feeling. In other words, the good part the generation lacks the emotional intelligence that allows them to process and understand the world because technological experiences have stripped us of the chance to develop it.
A Silent Struggle
In the crux of this darkness, is the fact that “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have a blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present sate of the world and our technical abilities” (Laudato Si, para 113). This idea in Pope Francis’s social teaching in Laudato Si is a direct acknowledgement of the condition of teenagers today. In a Wall Street Journal article, visits to” children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts more than doubled between 2008 and 2015, from 0.66% of all visits to 1.82%.” There are so many reasons that we feel we cannot believe in a happy future. The state of our planet, the constant state of war, the social unrest in our country, the never ending string of gun violence in schools, where are we supposed to find hope?
The generation that is being harmed mentally and emotionally is also the one who, in a lot of ways, is the one who knows how to use technology best; “Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used” (Laudato Si, para 102). This power to communicate and share could be so powerful and helpful to the continued development of society, but since the platform has been left unchecked it has greatly harmed young people. There has been a spike in depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and actions since the domination of social media in the teenage context. According to CNN, “among teens who use social media the most…the study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys, when their symptoms were compared with those who use social media for only one to three hours daily.” Social media allows people to compare themselves to the lives of others which has become an extreme dangerous phenomenon. When our parents got Facebooks to connect with roommate from college and friends from high school, they never dreamed of how our generation would take to social media.
What Can We Do?
Laudato Si claims “the specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful to concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole” (Laudato Si, para. 110). Society has lost an appreciation for the whole. So much of my generation sits and lives in such a state of despair that this is their reality, and they do not know or think that there can be any better. For the sake of advancement and quicker communication, technology continued to develop, but the fragmentation and breaking up of knowledge also precipitated a breakup in humanity, truly the whole and essence of society for which all of this development takes places. Technology has become “the principle key to the meaning of existence” or at least it appears to be (Laudato Si, para. 110). However, we do not have to dwell in despair. We can “limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (Laudato Si, para. 112). We need a “new synthesis” of humanity in the “midst of our technological culture” (Laudato Si, para. 112).
Also, we need to address the stigma that comes from struggling with a mental illness. There are many organizations who seek to educate the ignorant public to what mental illnesses really mean and the scientific complexities that occur in crossing the blood-brain barrier in order to address inadequacies in neurotransmitter production that precipitate so many struggles.
Technology and social media do not have to be the enemy. There are many sources on social media platforms that are trying to help those in crisis and bring awareness and support to those who are struggling with their mental health. You are not alone.
For Information and Guidance: The National Institute of Mental Health
The Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: CONNECT to 741741
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