Rip Van Winkle Waking Up In a “Post-COVID World”

by | Jul 1, 2020 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

“Post-COVID World”

“Post-COVID World” is a phrase that slipped into our vocabulary. It gives voice to our longing for the COVID crisis to be over. It is also a phrase that means different things to different people.

For some, it triggers a nostalgia for the world we used to know in the days before the pandemic. For others, it triggers a concern about what “the new normal” will look like. For me, it evokes the American classic “Rip Van Winkle.” Rip Van Winkle, as Washington Irving tells it, fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.

It is not so much that we have slept through the Digital Revolution. It is more that our efforts to cope with COVID 19 are waking us up to the much broader implications and possibilities of living in a digital world.

Becoming consciously aware of a digital culture

For over twenty years we have been living in the very early stages of a “digital revolution.” We are just now beginning to realize how this digital revolution is impacting every facet of our lives.

Sure, most people have learned to use some of the now ubiquitous applications of email, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Instagram, TikTok, etc. But we haven’t been awake to how digital technology is changing the landscape of our lives. In my opinion, one application is beginning to help us up to envisioning new ways of communicating, learning, how we use space, etc.

In the midst of the devastation of COVID 19 “Zoom” has become a frequently used word with many people even recognizing a new illness – “Zoom fatigue.” “Zoom” is just the most accepted form of technology that is changing the way we communicate, learn, the place where we work, and how we relax and interact. (Oh, to have had stock in Zoom last year!) It is opening our eyes to different forms of presence.

Ecclesial and Vincentian perspectives

A nearly 20-year-old document from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications saw the broad outlines before most people. 2002 The Church and the Internet laid it out boldly…

“the Internet, which is helping bring about revolutionary changes in commerce, education, politics, journalism, the relationship of nation to nation and culture to culture—changes not just in how people communicate but in how they understand their lives.”

A separate but complementary document released the same year, Ethics and the Internet, catalogued many of the issues we are concerned with today.

Over 20 years ago ago the Final Document of the 1998 Congregation of the Mission General Assembly stated:

“We are entering into an era of information technology which brings with it unrecognized, and therefore even more insidious forms of poverty. If the poor remain without access to information technology, they will be further marginalized and locked into a cycle of poverty.”

I submit that we have just begun to become aware of how the digital revolution is changing our lives. As Vincentians we need to recognize this revolution will reinforce the already existing structures of poverty.

Vincent is reported to have said “Give a person a sandwich and you feed him for a day. Teach that person to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.” But what if that person has no access to a lake to fish in? We are already seeing a two -tier education become solidified. For starters… how can distance learning reach those who have no or limited internet access?

Structural information poverty should be a concern of all the followers of Vincent.


  • Am I aware that the “digital revolution” is much more profound that just using technology as a tool of communication or entertainment?
  • Do I have a vision of how technology can foster our mission as Evangelizers of the Poor?
  • How conscious am I of the long-term consequences of the structural dimensions of information poverty?


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