Horcruxes, technology addiction, and the search for personal wholeness

Filed in Media by on November 25, 2013 6 Comments

by mindfordesign from http://mindfordesign.deviantart.com/art/HP-Punny-328672570

Just in case you don’t know what a Horcrux is:

Slughorn: “Well, well, it can’t hurt to give you an overview, of course. Just so that you understand the term. A Horcrux is the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul.”

Riddle: “I don’t quite understand how that works, sir.”

Slughorn: “Well, you split your soul, you see, and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But, of course, existence in such a form…few would want it, Tom, very few. Death would be preferable.”

Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Voldemort) had to try hard to find out about horcruxes, but now any Harry Potter fan could tell you all about them. They are objects which guarantee immortality, but at a cost: the soul is split and lives on in its two locations (the body and the chosen object) in attenuated form. Professor Slughorn knew how awful a thing this was: ‘you must understand that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation, it is against nature’. In short, horcruxes are not good news…

At this point you’re probably wondering why a Dominican is writing about horcruxes… Well, I was in the university library recently, daydreaming about nothing in particular, and I noticed the enormous proportion of my fellow students who were more engaged with hi-tech devices – phones, tablets, laptops – than with the books laid out in front of them. It’s possible that some of them were genuinely studying, but most seemed to be either texting or tweeting or facebooking. Nor did any of them seem to be particularly content or comfortable in their multi-tasking – rather, they flitted anxiously from the task in hand (study) to gadgets and back again.

I’ve noticed this same phenomenon in all sorts of places: a conversation between friends in a café, punctuated by quick phone-checks; laptops in a lecture theatre bringing their owners’ attention away, again and again, from the words of the teacher;  even prayer can be interrupted by tech-anxiety (‘I wonder whether anyone commented on my status’). It was only last week in the library, though, that I made the connection with horcruxes.

Think about it: by means of our phones and our social media profiles we effectively ‘split’ ourselves. There is the ‘I’ who inhabits my body, who walks, talks, smells flowers and listens to music. Then there is the ‘I’ who inhabits my phone or facebook page, who engages with his world via a different protocol. The ‘body-I’ has a limited perspective on the world, and is subject to chance encounters, while the ‘virtual-I’ has an all-seeing perspective on its social universe, and carefully controls the content and audience of its self-revelations. Importantly, the body-I follows a daily rhythm of activity and rest, but the virtual-I never sleeps.

The soul-split involved in this technological horcruxing brings with it, I think, considerable anxiety. The natural desire for the soul to ‘remain whole and intact’ (to use Slughorn’s words) is frustrated by the perpetuation of this split, and so the social media user is driven to bring the body-I and the virtual-I together into a unity as often as possible, and for as long as possible. Is this why social media addiction is so powerful? Is this why so many of us spend so much time engaging in what is an essentially unsatisfying activity? If we were to describe our online activity to our ancestors, they might respond with Slughorn: ‘existence in such a form… few would want it, very few’. And yet, they’d be wrong – technological horcruxes, even with their attenuation of human experience, are surprisingly popular.

What do you think? Is the split-soul analogy a bit over the top? If not, how should we heal our divided hearts? Does the Bible, with its constant emphasis on wholeness of heart (Deut 6:4-5, Ps 86:11, Ezek 11:19), offer some help? Comments below!

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Br Conor McDonough

About the Author ()

Br Conor McDonough OP is a student in the Irish Province of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Some of his posts were first published at http://dominicansinteractive.com/ They are re-posted here with permission.

Comments (6)

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  1. Brendan Vaughan-Spruce says:

    I think it was my ‘virtual-I’ that read this!

    Anyway, I checked to see what Aquinas thought on the matter: ‘But a form which requires variety in the parts, such as a soul, and specially the soul of perfect animals, is not equally related to the whole and the parts: hence it is not divided accidentally when the whole is divided. So therefore quantitative totality cannot be attributed to the soul, either essentially or accidentally. But the second kind of totality, which depends on logical and essential perfection, properly and essentially belongs to forms: and likewise the virtual totality, because a form is the principle of operation.’

  2. Tonia says:

    We’ve moved from a ‘glued to the TV’ (Plato’s cave style) generation, to a generation that does more than one thing at once. Splitting is a good way of describing it. Daniel Goleman has a new book out called Focus about the benefits of paying attention.

    The horcrux analogy is a good one but I think it’s the natural desire to have the full attention of the people you’re with that causes considerable anxiety rather than trying to remain intact. Who wants to share a meal with someone who is only partly there?!

  3. Karen Marguerite OP says:

    Thanks, Conor, I think that is a really helpful analogy. Partly because those who are suffering from the effects of the split are, in many cases, members of the Harry Potter generation. That is a most creative analogy and certainly made me sit up and think. Of course, had I not been looking at FB, I would not have found it!
    God bless you!

  4. Anne O'Connor says:

    An interesting analogy – it’s certainly frustrating being in the company of someone, especially over a meal or a coffee, and have them continually checking their phone for messages. They are with you but not with you and perhaps would rather be with whoever’s on the other end of the phone.

    Having said that, by responding to this on a social media network I’m doing exactly what he describes in his post! And I’m spending time replying to this and posting it on Facebook when I have plenty of more pressing things to do – maybe it’s a way of avoiding the humdrum aspects of our busy lives.

    Thanks for another good post!

  5. Philothea says:

    The monastics stop at the sound of a bell for the reality check of prayer. Perhaps we should do something similar?

  6. Damien says:

    Referring to Tonia’s comment concerning “who wants to share a meal with someone who’s only partly there?” Well there are many people who will post a picture of their meal (even if they’re on their own) probably so that they could satisfy the desires of their “virtual-I” to have company at dinner-time(i.e. anyone who likes or comments on their photo).

    Also, something that came up in conversation recently that I couldn’t fathom was if Jesus came to Earth in this generation, would He have used technology and social networking to spread His good news? It’s very effective for spreading messages and I’m pretty sure he would have had a lot of followers on Twitter. I presume I’d then be able to justify any time I spent on social networks.

    I wonder if in times where there was next to no post office and where reading and writing were not common or even before the existence of the phone, that there could have been a general consensus that reading was a waste of time and people might have said “if I want to tell someone something, then I’ll say it in person, why would I need to be able to read and write?” Even though I myself have recently deactivated my Facebook profile and feel so much more free from it’s grip, it’s very possible that these new technological formats of communication are simply the way forward. Who could have predicted that we would constantly be in touch using phones. Although all these technological advances may distract us and use up valuable time, maybe we need to adapt and simply become more productive, disciplined and careful in our interaction.

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