Imagination and Reflection in Modern Communication

QUESTION 1: To Fr. Nicolas, imagination requires going to the depths of reality and recreating (re-imagining) it. Do social media and instant communication pose obstacles to such reflection and serious thinking? How can college students practice serious reflection in our always connected and instantaneous world?

The advances of modern technology and social media are effective tools, allowing for immediate access and mass communication while fostering human imagination. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas purported one of the central tenants of Jesuit education: imagination grasps both the reality and introspective thought, which he characterized as “a refusal to let go until we get beneath the surface”. Fr. Nicolas worried that the invents of modern society would impede a flourishing imagination, self-reflection, and serious thinking. In a world flooded by mass communication systems such as the television, the Internet, the news, the radio, magazines, books, and other mediums, how can imagination exist when things are explicitly portrayed rather than experienced in reality?

Inadvertently, the widespread exposure to social media and instant communication has allowed convenience and accessibility to concepts and places that would otherwise be unknown of. The transmission of information through media and communication, a practice that modern society has adopted, is very powerful and convenient. Bookshelves of outdated encyclopedias are less and less used and have become relics, as technology keeps updating the new information that is found. Every day, the more that is discovered, the more it is to be shared with the world.

Media and mass communication do not impede the fundamental learning process of imagination. The fruits of modern technology can enhance serious reflection and introspective thought. For example, pictures captivate scenes, memories, and places that would otherwise be unknown. Many have not traveled to Antarctica, as it is very cold and expensive, but through photographs and videos, people are able to experience the weather, the ecology, the animals, the cold, and other the land. Although a not direct experience, media enables an easy way to access what can only be wondered about; media erases the separation from the foreign by employing a close-to-real experience.

The play of imagination is freed by the plethora of ideas, notions, and thoughts that would otherwise be unknown without media. Vivid imaginations are ones that are stimulated by a great deal of different subjects, in order to employ those ideas, and create new ones. The compositions of Mozart were inspired by his predecessor Bach and his Classical style. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity drew on previous work on electricity and magnetism from Maxwell’s equations. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s innovative “I Have A Dream” speech was influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, among others. Some of the greatest works and icons have been inspired by prior ideas, sparking a zealous imagination for deep thought.

Existing ideas, perpetuated and kept alive by the media, have served as a muse for new thought. Nevertheless, imagination can be found in any circumstance, even without inspiration and in the most unfortunate of circumstances. Hiding in a small attic in an Amsterdam apartment during the Holocaust, Anne Frank wrote in her diary of the perils of her existence. Even in a sad predicament, without access to the world, Frank was able to harness her imagination, helping her survive.

Imagination is an undeniable element of human nature. Fr. Nicolas feared that the social media and mass communication would cloud human thought but in fact it has not. It seems as if imagination and the human spirit is so strong, that no obstacles or challenges can impede its incidence.

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