Tag Archives: Technology

“Always on”

A brand-new iPad!

 A few days ago my friend Elmo (no, not the one one From Sesame Street) posted this article on Facebook about the power of Introversion.  It’s a thought-provoking piece and, coming from the Philippines, one which spoke to my friend about the nature of Western Civilization (particularly the USA).  The scales in this culture are set up for Extroverts to thrive, and Introverts to adapt.  It’s an astute point.  In fact the article actually quotes a pastor who believes that God isn’t pleased with him because he “likes spending time alone.”  That’s just twisted.

Being a Geek, however, I immediately took the contents of that article and pondered how the spectrum of Introversion to Extraversion might impact the way that we interact with this “always connected world.”  I’ve come accross several blog posts over the last year which attempt to wrestle with the our digitially connected world.  All have spoken of being chained to their phones, laptops, tablets – slaves to the digital world.  They speak of the stress hearing the notifications for e-mail, text messages, and phone calles because it feels like they are trapped at work.  Invariably, the articles speak of turning off their devices and learning to take a sabbath from tech.  When I read them I tend to be confused.  There are times where I turn my phone on vibrate or my IM client off because I just need some time to collect my thoughts or read and there is just too much going on.  These are usually during crunch-times, like rolling out a new web-site or the final stretch before Annual Session, when I’ve got too many pans in the fire and multiple people are asking me when their food is going to be done.  Most of my time, however, my tools are generally left on – and I don’t stress out about recieving a notification or letting a message wait until I’m ready to process it.  To me, being “always connected” is what frees me to be alone to think, read, process, and create.

I used to think this was a generational divide.  The posts I read (and comments I hear) about the negative pervasiveness of technology come, almost invariably, from Boomers.  They grew up in, and remember, a time before these tools were pervasive – and so tend to lack the instincitve filters that their children and grandchildren tend to possess regarding our communications tools.  As I read the linked article, however, I began to wonder if introversion and extraversion were an additional factor in the way we related to our personal communication devices.  I think perhaps it is.

Extraverts tend to crave stimulus.  Crowds and racous gatherings not only don’t phase extraverts, they thrive on them.  Their instinct tends to be surrounded by such.  Yet, whether introverted or extraverted, human beings need both quiet and stimulus – this is what makes being “always connected” potentially disasterous for extraverts.  They lean away from quiet and crave stimulus – and so they jump whenever they hear their devices beep, chirp, and (for the truly retro) ring.  It is their instinct to do so.  When I read posts of people who are crying to be free of their digital chains, I’m wondering if this isn’t the cry of the extravert.  They feel their lack of quiet, but can’t find it when they’re always being connected.  For an extravert, unplugging for set times may be essential for their well-being.

Introverts, on the other hand, tend to crave quiet.  Loud parties and crowds wear them out.  For an introvert like me, then, our digital tools appear to be a God-send.  Like all people, I need both quiet and stimulus to be healthy – by my instinct is to be quiet and alone.  I could easily spend hours reading, watching a movie, or playing a game and never feel the need to talk to another human-being.  I notice, however, how being in such a position too long is detrimental for me.  After hours on my own, I often have a difficult time relating to people when I have the chance to be out in community.  The digital tools at my disposal, however, mitigate some of the negatives of my instinctual tendencies.  I can be alone with my thoughts, ideas, and writing – yet while I do so I can check in on a person preparing for an operation, comfort someone who is grieving, or get a “life-update” from someone I haven’t seen in a bit.  I can even see some of the goings-on of the people who are in my social circles on sites like FaceBook and Google+.  What I find in these digital connections is a bridge between my need for quiet and community stimulus.  I get to interact in a way that doesn’t immediately stress me out, and when I then find myself in a situation which does stress me out, I find myself better prepared for the experience.

Like all things, however, how we deal with digitial technology isn’t (ironically) “on or off.”  There are extraverts who don’t feel like these tools are a chain around their necks becuase they know how to carve space out for quiet.  My daughter is one of these people – extraverted though she is, she’ll spend hours reading books closeted in her room (Heaven help the introverts when she emerges in need of community stimulus).  There are also introverts who view digital tools with mistrust because they feel pressured into turing “always connected” into “always responding.”  Some of the introverted pastors (who will remain nameless, but you know who you are) I work with have expressed as much to me.  Still, I’d like to see some work done on how the combination of generation and introversion/extraversion affect the way we relate to our digital tools.

 

Thanks for the Memories

“To do what I do well, I need a Mac.”

It was with those words that I requested to have a MacBook purchased for me by Central Baptist in the next year’s budget. I explained how, with the media creation and presentation we were doing at the Church, a Mac would make the work-flow easier. To my fellow geeks who wanted to know why I’d leave Linux for OSX I simply said, “I got tired of needing to recompile my video editor every time an upgrade came out.” The Church graciously accepted my request, and in January of 2008 I made the move to the Mac platform. I’ve never looked back. In fact, with the recent purchase of a MacBook for my wife, our entire household is now on the Apple platform (well, with the exception of two old Linux laptops I keep handy – just for fun).

What’s impressed me about Apple products is the attention to simplicity, power, and beauty as being compliments instead of competitors. These must mesh together for an apple product to get out the door, and when Apple gets something utterly wrong (like the hockey-puck mouse) they move forward towards an iteration no one else had thought of quite yet. Two days ago, the heartbeat for much of that passion passed away. Cancer sucks.

Steve Jobs was arrogant, passionate, demanding, playful, acerbic, and entertaining. He could hold a grudge like few people I’ve ever encountered (poor Leo LaPorte still can’t get an invite to an Apple event and don’t get me started on Google), but he also inspired loyalty like few people I’ve ever encountered. His internal contradictions far from made Steve Jobs a detriment to the company he loved. Instead, his highs and lows and intimate involvement on projects were a breath of fresh air a world too often filled by distant, stoic, corporate executives. He really believed that the beautiful things Apple created could, and would, change the world. From this belief sprung the outpouring of his intense personality into the world – and more often than not, Steve was absolutely right. Apple was rarely first to market, but when they jumped in they frequently figured out where people wanted the market to go before anyone else (does anyone else remember when they saw Steve demo inertial scrolling?).

I don’t agree with all of Apple’s business practices, and there are quite a few things about Steve’s personality I wouldn’t want to emulate in my own leadership style. The man, however, had style and passion – he absolutely believed in what he was doing, and it showed. How many of us can say the same?

From the Garden to the City – Week 3, Reflection

Note: Two weeks ago I had a massive project to finish for my denomination’s annual meeting – because of this, I’ve lost time to read, much less write. I’m slowly getting back to a decent equilibrium, but it’s taking time. I must demand that people stagger their “start-up” events so that September ceases to be an annual nightmare!

What struck me in this chapter is John’s reminder that language is, in itself, a tool. By use of language we identify and categorize the world around us, but at the same time our identification process turns back, as all tools do, and shapes us. The instinctive recognition that language shapes reality is probably behind the frequent push to make English the official language of the United States – because, it is believed, the values and attitudes of citizens of the United States are tied into the way our dialect of English interprets the world. It’s an understandable instinct, which falls short in it’s lack of self-awareness – after all, perhaps there are destructive blind-spots in our interpretation of the world which are exposed by the way another language works!

I agree with John that language is an important tool which structures the world and transforms our own perceptions, nor is it limited to the words which we speak. The images, symbols, and rituals through which we communicate have are deeply influential in the way we perceive the world around us. We should probably keep that in mind the next time we’re tempted to say, “Oh, that’s just a symbol!”

From the Garden to the City: Imagination

Note: If you’re interested in checking out From the Garden to the City before you buy the book – you can help unlock chapters by clicking here.

When the assignments came out for this blog tour I have to confess that I saw my name next to “imagination” and did a little jig. As you can see from this blog post I wrote two years ago, imagination is where my heart, mind, and soul dwell. I realize a tendency towards imaginative play may put me in the minority as an adult (it certainly gets me into trouble from time to time). As John puts it so well in chapter 2,

It’s commonly held that adults have lot the propensity for imaginative play. While kids have the ability to look past the world as it is and see the world as it could be, adults are only able to see the real world.

On the other hand, John asserts that this propensity for imaginative play is awakened even for adults through the presence of our tools. If a person looks at a tool and embraces it, they have done so because they imagined it’s usefulness to shape the world around them. Equally true, however, is the imagination needed to see a tool and reject it. After all, even a rejection of a tool is done by seeing how it might impact our interactions with the world. Perhaps the greatest example we can see of this today is with Twitter. Many have used their imagination to see how twitter can be useful for spreading short bits of information. Others, however, imagine what life would be like with this tool and reject it. Both take imagination, and it’s to John’s credit that he’s pointed this out to his readers.

The bulk of this chapter, is spent on exploring the impact a tool has on us when we take it up and actually use it. When we do so, John asserts that we see three separate narratives in play:

  1. The story of how we human-beings shape this world through the use of tools
  2. The story of how our tools end up shaping us
  3. The story of our our shaping, and being shaped, finds it’s way into our souls

Rather than write an abstract on each of these narratives, I thought I’d write about how I’ve seen these stories playing out in my own pastoral ministry. Writing about a narrative with a narrative makes sense to me.

Story 1 – Reshaping the environment

As I mentioned above, I put a strong emphasis on imagination in my life. I enjoy playing with a new “toy” – be it a book, device, web-technology, or anything else that comes my way. As I explore the aspects of each new toy, I imagine how the tool can be used to help me in my various callings – pastor, teacher, husband, and father (just to name a few). As I’ve grown up post television, my imagination tends to gravitate towards visual and narrative outlets rather than analytical and spoken. In other words, in my first story my imagination is already spiraling out from the way I’ve been transformed by the other two narratives!

To help fulfill my calling as pastor and teacher, the congregation I pastor has implemented various new(ish) communications technologies to maintain a connection with one another. Facebook, texting, and e-mail are now primary means of communication. In worship, I put my visual affinity to work though use of a projector – “painting” my sermon with images as I go through. This means that every point that might be made with a bullet, has an image placed on the screen instead. The combination of these two tracks has allowed the congregation to communicate better (not very well, as of yet, but better) than it had in many years. Information is passed on, and the use of visual metaphors in a sermon ties in well with a congregation which has already had it’s minds re-wired by TV and other visual media.

Story 2 – Being reshaped

The use of these various communications technologies has had an impact on the way the members are connected with one another.

First, it’s almost turned the church office into an unnecessary appendage. In the congregation’s previous communications model, the office was the clearing house for all information. Now that the communications style is more distributed, however, the office has almost become a residual appendage. The phone is largely silent, and the “relay” function the office used to serve as is now limited to activating the prayer chain and updating the web-site. The office isn’t even needed to update the congregational calendar anymore, as we update it with our events the moment we make a decision to hold them.

Second, the combination of visual stimulus in our teaching and the persistent stream of small blocks of information has accelerated the sense of frustration many have with the way that events are managed in the congregation. As a new wave of disciples, who are used to visual and rapid-fire communication, have come into the fellowship many of the long-standing ministries of the church have not been able to offer a compelling reason to participate. Two long-standing Sunday school classes have folded due to this inability to draw in new participants, and our venerable women’s missionary society has suffered a similar fate. Another tradition, the Sunday School Opening, has likewise failed to draw people in – despite efforts to make it more dynamic. “This is the way we do things” is no longer enough to compel people to participate – people are encountering a faster-paced and more dynamic way of “doing things” within the congregation.

Story 3 – Into our souls

The transformations illustrated above, however, beg the question, “Is rapid-fire and dynamic communication something which will inevitably lead to a good outcome?” The answer is, of course, no. For example, Twitter has helped people stand up to oppressive regimes around the world – but it was also used to help the recent London riots avoid efforts to contain the violence. Rapid-fire and dynamic communication is transforming us, but how can we make room for the Holy Spirit to shepherd that transformation into something which accentuates our presence as God’s image in this world? In answer to this question, our congregation has turned to yet another venerable tradition which was on the brink of extinction – the prayer meeting.

Prayer meetings at our church, like many churches around the world, used to consist of going around a circle sharing prayer requests, perhaps doing a short Bible study, and then going around the circle allowing people to pray “as they feel led.” It was meaningful for some, but many more (including myself, a confessed ADD-addled geek) chaffed under this format – it was neither rapid-fire nor dynamic. We needed to create a sense of progression, which allowed for people to have time to digest smaller bit of ideas, while making them feel the meeting was moving. To achieve this, we turned to the liturgical and contemplative traditions. The liturgical tradition creates a sense that the prayer meeting is following a deliberate trajectory. We center-down, confess our sins, pray for our town and our congregation, meditate on Scripture (via a community lectio divina), and then share our own prayer concerns. The trajectory creates the type of movement people crave (in a format people are familiar with by transitioning the movement and giving instructions via the projector). Hand in hand with this sense of movement, the contemplative tradition allows us to appeal to the rapid-fire existence in which we live. Contemplative prayers tend to rely less on the verbosity of our words, and more on the power of the Spirit to communicate through a profound lack of speech (or even silence).

We approximate this idea by holding to a common discipline as we pray out loud. As we pray for ourselves, our neighbors, our church, and others we will often lead with the invitation, “As you pray, please pray as you are lead but limit yourself to 1 sentence at a time (with minimal semi-colons).” Other times, we will even limit prayers to a single word! This brings, into moments that are largely filled with silence, a form of the “rapid fire” communication to which we have become accustomed. Most of the prayers people utter are probably no longer than what you can put in a Tweet! We do, however, make room for compulsive semi-colon users. At a prayer meeting several months ago one part of our movement went for nearly 45 minutes – and people couldn’t believe it because they’d been able to actually hear the bulk of the prayers which were offered.

Conclusion

I hope, in the telling of these three narratives, I’ve communicated something faithful to John’s intent. Our church reached out and changed our environment, saw that we were being transformed by the very tools we used, and then moved to direct that inevitable transformation back towards the God who created our desire to use tools in the first place. Have we been successful? I don’t know, you’d have to ask me that question again in a few years to even hazard a guess. I do hope, however, that we’ve moved wisely. All transformations are dangerous endeavors and fraught with spiritual potholes. We’ve tried to keep our eyes on Jesus, who calls us to follow him.

From the Garden to the City – Perspective

Note: Click here to follow the rest of the blog tour on this chapter.

John opens up chapter 1 by dealing with a truth that most of us fail to realize – we are all heavy technology users. HE illustrates his own discovery of this truth through a story of his time as a youth pastor. He was at a Bible Church, and so needed to (rightly) make sure the students were fluent in the Bible. What he discovered, however, was that his students weren’t bringing Bibles with them to the group. In response, he switched to projecting the Scripture on a screen – with highlights and such to make the text more accessible. To John’s chagrin, he found that once the Scripture was projected on the screen even the students who brought their Bibles with them to group stopped opening them. Instead, they would listen, and read, along with the rest of the group. John felt like a failure, almost like he had reduced the importance of the Bible for his students. I have to confess, as I read his account I was cheering that his students had been enabled to read the Bible in a way that more closely approximated the way the Scripture was originally meant to be experienced – audibly and communally. He himself discovered this as it began to dawn on him that the possibility of a owning personal Bible has only been real for a few decades, and the possibility of a family Bible only came into existence in the wake of the Gutenberg press several centuries ago. The truth is, for over a thousand years the way Christians experienced the Bible was in community, and with their ears as it was read among the faithful. As much as we might want to bemoan how projecting the word of God on a screen led students to open their personal Bibles less, we need to accept that technology (cheap printing and binding) had changed the way we experienced the Bible long before digital projection came about. In fact, it would be my contention the shift towards the communal experience afforded by a projector have some benefits in the way we read Scripture together. John puts it well, “By transitioning from print to projector, we had moved forward technologically and yet backward culturally.” This summation fits my ancient-future bent well – my goal in utilizing technology in Christian ministry is always to tie us back into the centuries old story of the Body of Christ.

Why, however, had John failed to see the technologies used in our “ordinary” experience of God’s word? To explain this he leans on Neil Postman, Arthur C. Clarke, and Douglas Adams – essentially, he had a different “myth” surrounding technological innovation. The “myth” is what each successive generation of people sees as “normal.” As I see it, the “myth” of technology are the blind spots we inherit simply by being born in a given time. John picks up a technological interpretation from Douglas Adams which claims that any technology already in existence when we are born is automatically accepted as “normal.” For John, in his youth pastor example, the technology that was so “normal” that it had ceased to be perceived as technology at all was the printed page. Adams further continues his technological interpretation by claiming that any technology that is developed in the period from birth to the time we are thirty (never trust anyone over thirty) is viewed as exciting. Again, in John’s example, the “exciting” technology was the digital projector. Finally Adam’s claimed that anything invented after we turned thirty is perceived as begin against the natural order of things. John’s earlier example can’t speak to this, but as I read this I couldn’t help but reflect on my own annoyance at the push towards 3D everything in popular culture!

John points out, correctly I believe, that the shift in the ways we perceive technology is something we need to be aware of – especially given how rapidly technology development is progressing in our current age. Christians cannot afford to either blindly embrace or obtusely reject new technological developments. Rather, technology is always a “yellow light.” It requires us to use caution, while embracing the possibility that a way will open to move forward into the change. I appreciate his perspective – technology is always transformative, and the technologies we fail to actually see are usually the ones which are transforming our perspectives the most.

Technology used well

The Chief of the Suri tribe, located in Brazil, has taken a fascinating tack on how to preserve his people’s way of life. He’s using Google Earth.

The Suri only made first contact with outsiders in 1969, and have struggled mightily since through violence, disease, and illegal encroachments on their land. In response, Chief Almir decided that outreach was his people’s best hope and he became an environmentalist and activist within the modern state of Brazil. When he saw Google Earth in action, he knew that he had found a tool to help his people fight illegal logging. Chief Almir contacted google, who provided equipment and training, and now the Suri document illegal encroachments with geotagged images which they upload to Google Earth for all to see. In addition to this, Chief Almir is using technology to record the stories of his people’s elders so they won’t be lost to the younger generations.

In all respects, Chief Almir is an admirable figure. He realized that contact with the outside world had already changed his people, and decided to use technology to preserve something of his people’s way of life. He is a man who took up tools in the service of his people. He seems to have been aware that doing would further change who they were, and yet accepted that as a better than the alternative of trying to stay isolated. The change was interesting. For a people who only made contact with the wider world in 1969, chief Almir has a global understanding – realizing that his efforts at reforestation will benefit not only his people, but also the entire world. This is an example the type of reflection I’d like the Church to use when taking up technological tools for ministry.

Keeping In Touch


I’m sitting outside enjoying an absolutely beautiful Spring day (and a day off). I am sitting on our swing as I write this, and had briefly considered bringing out our “landline” (it’s actually VOIP). I decided against it, but it got me thinking about the ways I keep in contact with people. As best as I can see it, here are the my rankings of ways to be in communication with me (from worst to best):

  • Call the church office: I’m not there, and if I am I’m usually trying to study.
  • Send mail to the Church Office: Unsolicited mail from people or organizations is vertically filed. In my mind, if it was important, they wouldn’t have mailed it.
  • Send mail to my house: See above.
  • Call my home phone: The only reason I have one is because the kids don’t have cell phones… yet. If you leave a message I’ll listen to it (on my iPhone, but it’s not going to be a high priority.
  • Send me a bulk e-mail: I probably should read it, but I probably won’t. Again, in my mind, if it was important it wouldn’t have to go through others. I manage some small mailing lists, I’m actually conflicted about running them.
  • Call my cell phone: For emergencies, give me a call. If I tell you I want an update and you best communicate through a phone call, call me. Understand, however, that I won’t answer the phone if I’m busy doing another task – voice calls tens to suck away my energy.
  • Send me a direct e-mail: I will respond. I’ll wait to respond at a time of my convenience, but I’ll get there… eventually.
  • Call my Google Voice number: I give that number ti anyone who asks, and will even listen to voicemails (if only to see the hysterical transcription). Google Voice doesn’t suck up my minutes, follows me from phone to phone, and I can set it bounce it around on a schedule (even right to voicemail).
  • IM me: I’m friends with Church members on Facebook for that very reason. If you see me online with an “available” status, that’s a great way to get in touch. If I can’t talk, I’ll let you know.
  • Text me: I actually need to remember to publish my Google Voice number, but anything texted to me on it will be processed quickly. I know a lot of people have my cell, but I tell most to go with Google Voice because it’s free.

So there you have it, my Spring cleaning of preferred communications methods. Let it be known, however, that my preferences meet others half-way. I have quite a few people who are comfortable with only voice calls or email at Central, I will, gladly meet them on a plane they can inhabit. For all others, this list is there to help you (and me).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad