Microsoft’s Tragically Unironic Promotion of the 24 Hour Workday

A few weeks ago, the Microsoft Office blog posted an infographic showing how the new  Office 365 products allow workers to get more done since the tools are now available everywhere – in every room of the house, at the kids’ soccer games, in bed, and so on.

I know they are trying to show how good the Office 365 products are, but when you look at the infographic below it really looks like something made by someone with a darkly sarcastic sense of humor, mocking our inability to disconnect.

It seems like it would be better marketing to show that you can get your work done faster so you don’t have to work during happy hour, in bed, at the game, or on the toilet.

microsoft-all-day-work

Update: the great folks at 37Signals seems to have felt the same about Microsoft’s promotion and countered with their own #WorkCanWait campaign.

Check out their tongue-in-cheeck update below and then go to their website to create your own:

work-can-wait

 

Airplane Mode is Gone: Now You Never Have To Talk to a Stranger Again

Airplane Mode

In a long-awaited announcement, the FAA will stop requiring passengers to turn off phones and computers during take-off and landing.  Under the old rules you had to keep them off (“that’s fully off and powered down, not airplane mode, not hidden in your pocket” as some flight attendants used to say) until the airplane rose above 10,000, but that ceiling has now been removed.

You still can’t actually talk on the phone, but you can keep reading, playing games, or writing emails as long as you like. Apparently, while the FAA used to say that phone signals could interfere with the plane, they now that’s not usually the case although carriers must demonstrate that their planes can withstand the interference. Here’s the statement:

Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – i.e., no signal bars displayed—and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones. If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.

faa_ped_flight

So What Does it Mean?

Airline takeoff and landing was probably one of the final places in modern life where phones were absolutely not tolerated. It stood out as the place where you couldn’t readily turn away from an awkward (or interesting) conversation. Now that this ban is gone, it seems a whole line of stand-up and sitcom humor will almost be completely forgotten.

I don’t of course think this is the downfall of society or a major breakdown in face-to-face reality. I personally love working on a plane where I don’t have all the distractions of my office or home, but I have read reports that people today have much less eye-contact with other human beings than they once did and this contributes to depression and other problems. So I do lament what the represents even if, like most of us, I’m glad for the change and what it means for my personal productivity.

Cutting Edge Digital Evangelism in 1984

Although the title of this post might make some recall George Orwell’s famous book 1984 or even the Apple ad shown at the Super Bowl that year, I’m actually referring to much smaller, probably entirely unknown event.

The 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans

As part of my mom’s current downsizing project, she gave me a folder full of old keepsakes. One of these was a little coloring book from Louisiana World’s Fair held in New Orleans in 1984.

Below is the cover and the first few pages:

booklet-11-full booklet-02 booklet-03

If you look closely, you’ll notice a few things. First off, apparently I wasn’t the most gifted “inside the lines” colorer of all time.

But more importantly, you can see that the book was printed in a dot matrix style with my full name “John Dyer” and the name of the person who acquired this for me: “Granddad Dyer.” In the subsequent pages, you’ll notice a few more customizations: my name is used several more times, there is a reference to me as “young man” and my “very special grandfather,” and then on the last page our old address in Mississippi is printed out.

I was only about 5 at the time, so I don’t remember the Fair or how this was done, but I imagine that at the time this was a fairly impressive project. The theme of the 1984 Fair was “The World of Rivers—Fresh Waters as a Source of Life” and the booklet references a special “River of Life” exhibit put on by the Churches of Christ  (wikipedia | equip). The back cover refers to a company called Ideact in Knoxville (there is a still a YellowPages reference to them, but when I called them the number is no longer valid) which was evidently tasked with producing some kind of live printing system for the exhibit.

My guess is that they had a walkup computer terminal of some kind that allowed people to enter their name and a few details, and then it “magically” printed a booklet right on the spot that recalled the exhibit.

Imagine how cool that would be in an era before most people had a computer in the home.

30 Years Later

Today, believers around the world are experimenting with ways to use technology to communicate the Gospel, and I find examples like this to be great reminders that we stand in a long line of men and women who have been doing this a lot longer than us.

By God’s Spirit, I hope they succeeded in reaching a few.

Booklet Gallery

How Google Hacked Our Imaginations with #IfIHadGlass

htgo_banner

In just about every James Bond and Batman film, there is a segment where Q (or Morgan Freeman) introduces us to a few new gadgets. At first, the hero looks over the objects quizzically, but then the handler demonstrates how to use them, unlocking their mystery and inviting both the hero and the audience to imagine how the tool might become integral to the story about to unfold.

Google Just Made You Batman

If you’re a tech junkie like me, you might have noticed that Google is attempting to become our own personal Q in its efforts to promote Glass, the futuristic/super-nerdy looking eyewear that present a user with a heads up display and an always-on camera.

Just like Q, they first showed us the strange looking device (pictures of impossibly good-looking people wearing the hideously unfashionable glasses), then they demonstrated a few basic uses (queue the demo video with spunky music below), and finally – and most importantly – they created a social media campaign inviting people to use the hashtag #IfIHadGlass and imagine how Google Glass might become integral in the story of their life.

The Importance of Imagination for New Technology

Google recognizes that the success of Glass has very little to do with how many features it has, and everything to do with embedding the product in our collective imagination. They know that if you want to get the entire world to buy something that no one is asking for, you can’t start with specs, you have to start with story.

Before people buy things, they have to “see themselves” with the product. For example, if you try on a new cardigan and you look ridiculous, you probably won’t buy it. But if the mirror reflects a more awesome you, then you’ll probably bring it home. With technology, we too need to “see ourselves” using the device, and the image we create in our minds needs to show us overcoming some obstacle that would be difficult without the gadget. Without that story in place, we’ll never feel compelled to buy.

Creating an Alternate Ending

Tell Me a StoryIn his great new book Tell Me a Story, Scott McClellan writes, “A story is progress, action toward an outcome. Characters without a pursuit do not make for a [good] story” (29).

The problem for Google is that when we first look at Glass, we’re not quite sure what the “outcome” is or how Glass gets us there. My life seems fine, we say, why would I want to look like a cheesy character from Argo?

Google is saying, “Yes, yes. Ask that question. Ask it again and again and again, until you find the answer. Once you do, you’ll love it.”

If we try to imagine what it will be like to use Google Glass, and we can’t come up with anything, Google looses big time. But if they can coax us to keep imagining and keep trying to tell and hear better #IfIHadGlass stories, then one day the once strange product will become a normal, unquestioned part of our larger cultural myth and we’ll consider it as necessary as a microwave or mobile phone.

Reclaiming the Narrative

There is nothing particularly troubling about all this. But as always there is a danger lying around the corner, and that when we spend a lot of time focusing on what the product can do for us, we sometimes allow the product to takes over the story we were originally trying to tell. Instead of using Glass toward some larger pursuit, the acquisition and use of Glass becomes the outcome.

We’ve probably all caught ourselves doing this on occasional. For example, we all bought cameraphones to remember those great moments in life, but then we found out that sometimes the goal of “capturing the moment” gets in the way of the moment itself. Or imagine a pastor who wants to tell people about the surpassing beauty of Jesus, but then becomes enamored with bigger and bigger screens and more and more downloads.

The goal of this post is not, of course, to bash on cameraphones, podcasts, or Glass, but to give us the chance to rethink on the place of technology in our lives and in the stories we are trying to tell with our lives.

What is the true outcome toward which we are striving? Do our tools help us overcome conflict to get to that goal, or somewhere along the way did acquiring new toys become a chief pursuit?

Awesomely Awkward Technology Poses

Curious Rituals, an new ebook from the Art Center College of Design (by Nicolas Nova, Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon, and Walton Chiu) does a fantastic job of illustrating some of the “new” poses we make with modern technology products. They start the book with gestures like swipe and pinch, but then quickly move into the social behaviors we’ve unconsciously adopted.

Download the book (PDF), and see the blog here.

Below are a few of my favorites:

 

Side-Laptop

I’ve never done this one, but now I must try it.

side-laptop

Nintendo Wisper

If you remember this one, you’re awesome.
nintendo

 

Baboon’s Face

I think we’ve all done this utterly useless one at Starbucks once.

mouth-cover

Share a Bud

The social commentary in Curious Rituals is spot on this one.
earphone-share

Tired Arm

Sometimes you just have to switch ears, but not hands…driving

Social Media

Sharing funny stuff is the new small talk.conversation

Phone Trace

Pacing around like you just don’t care.cell-trance

 

Download the book (PDF), and see the blog here.

This Christmas “Browser History” is the New “Shaking the Box”

Google Christmas

I tried to muster a look of disapproval, but I couldn’t help but smile when my 4-year-old picked up a present, sized it up, shook it a few times, and proclaimed, “I fink it’s LEGOs!” Like father, like son, another generation is carrying on the tradition of trying to figure out what’s inside those beautifully wrapped boxes.

But a few days ago, I heard a new take on the old tradition.

Standing outside her house as our kids played in the front yard, my neighbor was telling me how difficult it is to keep the legen of Santa Claus alive with her kids. She figured it would be other kids at school that would let the secret slip and ruin it for her kids, but it turned out our old friend and foe technology almost did her in this year.

Apparently her son is pretty good with computer and looked at what she called her “Google history” (I’m not sure if she meant her Google searches or something like Chrome’s History, but either way the point is the same) and he noticed that he was seeing many of the things he had written down in a letter to Santa. He asked his mom how the computer could know all the things he had told Santa he wanted that year.

Evidently, even Santa needs Amazon now and again.

Merry Christmas!

5 Human Experiences Modern Technology Makes Impossible

fiveWhen a new technology arrives we tend to focus on what new things it makes possible, but a recent trip to Taco Cabana and another to an Apple store reminded me that of equal importance are the things technology makes impossible, or at least extremely uncommon.

Below are five formerly everyday human experiences that modern technology tends to hide.

1. Limitation (or inability to acquire)

First, the trip to Taco Cabana. When my hungry family arrived for dinner, my wife and I suddenly realized that neither of us brought our wallets.

Our initial feelings were that of embarrassment and a little frustration, but then we experienced something else, something new and entirely foreign yet quite interesting. All of the sudden, we found ourselves out in the world with no way of acquiring food.

This made me realize that our normal experience of limitation is very artificial. We are limited in the sense that we can’t buy a jet or a mansion, and we want to limit any credit card debt. But if we are hungry or want something under $5,000 there is nothing other than our will that limits our purchasing power.

What I learned at Taco Cabana is that there is a profound difference between limitation in the sense of, “I probably shouldn’t spend my money on that” and, “I’m hungry, but I have no means of getting food.”

2. Loneliness (or isolation)

On to the Apple store. My phone recently broke, so I upgraded to a fancy new iPhone 5. Then a few days later, I needed to contact someone only to realize that his number didn’t make it on the new phone.

I was by myself in my car at the time, and the experience caused a strange feeling of isolation in me. I felt helpless because I really didn’t know how I would reach him, and yet I realized that I was not in any real sense. He could still reach me, and I could contact any number of other people if I wanted to.

Reflecting on this, it seems that the presence of a mobile device puts us in constant state of accessible-but-unconnected. Rather than being truly unreachable at some remote location and perhaps reaping the benefits of solitude, we find ourselves perpetually with a machine capable of connection, but not currently in use. This state of limbo can result in a heightened sense of emptiness and “non-placed-ness” all without experience the kind of true aloneness that happens when you don’t have a device with you for several hours or days.

3. Lostness (or directionless)

Like loneliness, as long as you have a computer or a phone on you, you can’t experience being truly lost.

I have regularly hoped in my car, started going in the general direction of my destination and only then pulled out a phone to get exact directions. At first I loved the flexibility and spontaneity of not need to plan a trip, but lately I’ve found this more stressful than charming. The almost humorously bad new Apple Maps made my strange dependence on digital maps and GPS even more apparent.

With GPS, I find myself often feeling “lost,” but then realizing that – like loneliness – I am really experiencing a strange hybrid state of lost-but-with-GPS-that-should-stinking-work-better. The connection between me and the world is not truly a state of “lostness” because it is mediated by the device and what it conveys about being lost.

Again, it is only when my technology failed to provide a normal experience that I was attentive to the kinds of profoundly human experiences that technology normally covers up.

4. Ignorance (or not knowing)

One of the fun things about getting a new iPhone was being able to try out Siri, asking it all kind of ridiculous questions with my kids (my son, for example, wants to know how exactly it is that crocodiles are so good at eating people).

This infinite knowledge in my pocket again creates a unique hybrid state. As with credit cards and GPS, as long as I have a computer or phone on me, there is no fact that is unknowable or inaccessible to me. Virtually any question about history, numbers, dates, functionality, and so on can be answered instantly. I might not know something, but I exist in a state where things are knowable.

And yet facts, the kind of data that Siri knows about is quite a different thing from wisdom or knowing what to do in a difficult situation.

5. Boredom (or nothingness)

Finally, the state of being that kids around the world hate – boredom.

The new phone I got didn’t come with Facebook, Twitter, CNN, or Instagram. It didn’t have any games, banking apps, or Bibles. It just had the same built-in apps that its great, great, great grandfather had in 2007. This emptiness reminded of all the times I’ve used my phone while waiting in a line or at a stoplight. I tend to fill all downtime with phonetime.

The problem is that all kinds of research shows that our creativity is triggered, not by looking at stuff on a screen, but by boredom. Apparently, our minds are built to make something out of nothing, and when we don’t have any nothing lying around, we have trouble creating.

Epilogue

So what difference does any of this make? Why are things like limitation, loneliness, lostness, ignorance, and boredom important? Isn’t it good that technology does away with these things?

As with most things, the answer is usually a both/and and a yes/but. Like many parents, I’ve noticed that my kids seem to have more fun when they make their own toys than when we buy them another thing that requires batteries. How, then, should I shape their environments to create the kind of nothing required to nurture their creativity? I don’t want to deprive them of good things, but I have to remind myself that depriving them of nothing is perhaps more damaging than depriving them of more stuff.

Could it be that the other human experience are like that, too? Would the metaphor of “lostness” in passages like Psalm 119:176 and Luke 19:10 be more impactful if we’ve experienced life without GPS? Could a bit of unconnected solitude could draw us closer to God?

One can only hope.

Of Cars, Community, and Church: Families vs. Facilities

A Counter-Cultural Choice

The church community of which I am a part is coming up on its 50th anniversary this month, and it has been creating videos that are meant to represent the congregation as a whole. Some of them have been quite touching, but I was particularly struck by this past Sunday’s video because of how counter-cultural it is.

Did you notice the phrase they led with? “They haven’t agreed with every decision IBC has made.” Isn’t that an amazing statement?

Today we have unprecedented choice in churches which means Gerald and Bev could have easily driven to a church that didn’t make some of the decisions our church has made in the past decade.

(One of) The Most Powerful Technology in Church History

But notice that their choice would be somewhat dependent on a technology we don’t normally think of in ecclesiological terms: the automobile. Without cars, we would be limited to choosing a church that was within a reasonable distance. The absence of cars also limits the number of people that can attend a church, and the number of people limits the kinds of ministries it can have.

The presence of cars, on the other hand, gives us unprecedented access to various kinds of worship communities, ministries, and preachers. It allows for large churches with the resources to do some amazing ministries (like Tapestry, my church’s adoption ministry) . But those same large churches prevent congregants from knowing everyone in a congregation much less their pastor. Cars also remove the sense that a locally proximate church is our only option.

So in the culture of the car when a church does something disagreable, it only makes sense to try one of the myriad options within driving distance. After all, why would you keep driving to the same facility if you don’t agree with its choices?

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Well, the answer from the video is Gerald and Bev have chosen not to view church merely as a facility to which one drives. They have replaced that metaphor with that of a family who share a bond stronger than individual choices even though not everything will be according to one’s preference.

Of course, there are good reasons to leave a church (just like there are sometimes good reasons to avoid a family). Doctrine and practice matter, and sometimes a church crosses a line that requires us to break fellowship. And yet, in the culture of the car, there is a temptation to leave over smaller issues simply because the car makes it possible to leave.

So thanks Gerald and Bev for making a choice that runs counter to the technology and spirit of our age.