“Interaction online is more akin to Kabuki theater than genuine human relations.”

From a column in the Wall Street Journal, “A New Saint for the Age of Loneliness,” by John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America:

On Sunday Pope Francis will officially recognize as a saint the British clergyman and Oxford academic John Henry Newman (1801-90). Nearly 130 years after his death, Newman’s writings still offer readers incisive theological analysis—and practical wisdom….

“No one, man nor woman, can stand alone; we are so constituted by nature,” Newman writes, noting our need to cultivate genuine relations of friendship. Social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter connect people, but it’s a different sort of connection than friendship. The self one presents on Facebook is inauthentic, someone living an idealized life unlike one’s daily reality. Interaction online is more akin to Kabuki theater than genuine human relations….

Newman observes that “nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits” than independence. People “who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety” are unlikely to obtain that heavenly gift the liturgy describes as “the very bond of peace and of all virtues.” He could well have been describing the isolation that can result from an addiction to digital entertainment.

When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he chose as his motto Cor ad cor loquitur. He found the phrase in a letter to St. Jane Frances de Chantal from St. Francis de Sales, her spiritual adviser: “I want to speak to you heart to heart,” he said. Don’t hold back any inward thoughts.

That is a habit of conversation I hope we can revive among our sons and daughters. Real friendship is the cure for the loneliness so many young people feel. Not the self-referential stimulation of a cellphone or iPad; not the inauthentic “friending” of Facebook; not the superficial hooking up of Tinder, but the honest, intimate, lasting bond of true friendship.

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