An Italian archdiocese has warned people locked down over coronavirus against the dangers of digital “drugging”.

– “Total overexposure to the digital”

“During this dramatic pandemic, the digital allows us to maintain some fundamental elements of our daily life, such as work, study, prayer – all the elements that define us as people”, priest of the Turin archdiocese Luca Peyron acknowledged to Vatican News.

“However, have we ever thought about the risks of a situation in which digital is almost ‘drugging’ us, making us think that it can replace everything?”, asked Peyron, the director of University Ministry and coordinator of the Digital Apostolate of the diocese of the northwestern Italian city.

“We’re in a total overexposure to the digital”, lamented the priest, where “we risk the collapse of our ability to choose”.

“We have more time available and easier access to certain platforms and this has multiplied our connections to saturation point. What are we doing with our relationships?

“I think that we should use the time we have and also these [digital] tools to ‘connect’ with others, not to fill the void we feel with any old thing”.

– “The digital should help us to be more human, not give an alternative to the human that we can’t be”

Peyron showed himself convinced that the coronavirus lockdown in Italy and in many other countries around the world shouldn’t be just “a time to look for hobbies and fight boredom, but instead a time of ‘grace’ that allows us to reflect on ourselves, to be with ourselves, to look into our hearts, precisely because we’re not now all the confusion that usually exists”.

As well as an opportunity to mend broken family relationships and friendships, the priest continued, the coronavirus quarantines can also be a stimulus to prayer.

“I also think of the liturgies that today obviously are all digital.

“We shouldn’t turn them into the ‘entertainment’ of our days, but instead, perhaps, into an encouragement to try again, or to try for the first time, to pray together in our homes.

“The digital should help us to be more human, not give an alternative to the human that we’re not capable of being”.

– Online “we’re giving into the vigilance of our entire existence. And this has consequences”

Peyron, furthermore, invited Catholics currently experiencing coronavirus lockdowns not to live their realities as the Japanese hikikomori – the adolescents who choose to shut themselves in their homes and live exclusively through the digital – but instead to live like “cloistered nuns who live in a confined space with a heart open to the world”.

In that vein, Peyron and his apostolate at the Turin archdiocese have set out eight digital “beatitudes” for Catholics to live out their COVID-19 ‘sheltering in place’, and that much as an invitation to the faithful to seek true Christian joy in these days instead of just fleeting digital pleasure.

An important part of the online spirituality of Catholics, Peyron added, is to “reflect on the fact that all the platforms we’re using, from social platforms to e-learning, are all private platforms to which we are transferring part or all of our data.

“Right now we’re really giving into the vigilance of our entire existence. And this has consequences”, the priest warned.

“The very idea of telecommuting in some way means that someone is checking where we’re working, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, at what speed.

“It’s a huge ‘Big Brother’ that’s in the hands of private companies that are not even national or European companies.

“We don’t even have a European ‘cloud’, a cloud to put our data on.

“We’re doing everything we share with someone who is across the ocean and has their own interests.

“All this from a legal point of view is legitimate, but sooner or later we should reflect seriously on it”, Peyron cautioned.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.