Henri Nouwen on the Social Media Cycle

Out of SolitudeReading through Henri Nouwen’s short work Out of Solitude the other day, I came across this wonderful quote that describes the constant temptation to define our worth in terms of what we’ve accomplished and the feedback we receive:

When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers. That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world. Then we become what the world makes us. We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade. We are helpful because someone says thanks. We are likable because someone likes us. And we are important because someone considers us indispensable. In short, we are worthwhile because we have successes. And the more we allow our accomplishments — the results of our actions — to become the criteria of our self-esteem, the more we are going to walk on our mental and spiritual toes, never sure if we will be able to live up to the expectations which we created by our last successes. In many people’s lives, there is a nearly diabolic chain in which their anxieties grow according to their successes. This dark power has driven many of the greatest artists into self-destruction.

This spiral gets can worsen as we age because unlike when we were 18 and everything was open to us, every passing year means that we have fewer and fewer options. But it also seems to worsen as we age because many of us have experienced the elation of success and then find ourselves doing everything we can to recreate that feeling.

I think a similar phenomenon can happen with social media and internet “success.” Just as we learn to crave the kind of evaluation we get from high grades, thank yous, and so forth in our everyday life, the immediate feedback of likes, retweets, and hits leaves the distinct impression that hitting certain numbers determines the value of not only what we do online, but who we are.

It’s easy to mock silly metrics like Klout scores, but even the best of us check our numbers sometimes. And in those moments we must remember that those numbers might in fact be useful as measurements of our job or a task we’ve been given, but they don’t measure anything eternal – like the value of your personhood and the eternal soul that God made and is redeeming through his son Jesus.

But now, by all means, please like this post.

Two Great Technology and Faith Conferences in June 2012

If you’re anywhere on the West coast or have flexible travel plans next months, and you’d like to spend time with some fellow believers who think deeply about the relationship between technology and Christian faith, I’d like to invite you to two excellent conferences.

Biola Digital Ministry Conference – Jun 5-7, 2012

What used to be called GodBlogCon, then Christian Web Conference is now “Digital Ministry Conference” signaling it’s move from specifically focusing on blogging to the internet and now to all forms of digital ministry. They have three tracks: technology, theology, and strategy, and several great speakers in each track. They are even hosting a Hack-A-Thon for coders to band together and create something great. I’ll be speaking late Wednesday, and I’d love to connect with anyone who might be coming.

SPU’s The Digital Society – June 22-23, 2012

Dave Stearns, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, has been instrumental in putting together a fantastic set of speakers and breakout sessions through SPU’s Center for Integrity in Business. This conference seeks to build a bridge between the academics thinking about technology with those in business and engineering creating and using technology. I’m speaking Friday evening, and I’ll be around all day Saturday if you can make it.

Interview with Dan Darling, author of iFaith

Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and the author of several books, including iFaith: Connecting with God in the 21st Century.

At first, I thought iFaith was going to be another volume in the growing list of books that attempt to understand technology through the lens of Christian theology. Instead, pastor Dan has written a book on Christian spirituality that uses our hyperconnected world as its starting point. He doesn’t talk so much about technology as he uses the situations of we all find ourselves in today and then redirects those toward the more traditional spiritual disciplines of prayer, friendship, and communion with God.

If you know young adults who struggle with more classic works on Christian spirituality  you might recommend they give iFaith a try. It’s short and punchy, but I think it’s value comes in starting where a lot of people are today and then drawing them into something deeper.

Friday Five Interview

Dan also sent me a list of questions about my forthcoming book From the Garden to the City. Here’s the first few questions:

A professor in seminary shocked your thinking by saying, “The worst thing you can believe is that technology is neutral.” I’ve always subscribed to this theory. What’s wrong with that view?

When we say, “technology is neutral,” we usually mean that our tools aren’t themselves morally good or evil, because what matters is the way in which we use them. Computers should be used for Bible study, not porn; phones for calling in pizza orders, not bomb threats; and shovels for building orphanages, not axe-murdering.

But what we often forget is that whether we use a shovel for good (building an orphanage) or evil (axe-murdering) either way we end up with blisters at the end of the day. And as we continue using our shovels, those blisters will turn into calluses and our arms and backs will get more muscular.

In other words, tools and technology are not neutral because while we use them to transform the world, they transform us in turn. And they don’t just transform our bodies. They also transform business and culture. We acknowledge as much when we say, “iTunes changed the music industry,” or “Kindle has transformed the way we buy and read books.”

If you buy that, then the bigger question is, “Can technology change my soul?”

You say that we often consume technology without fully understanding its impact. How is this dangerous?

About ten years ago, when I got my first job as a youth pastor, I bought a video projector so I could show passages of Scripture onscreen for kids who didn’t have Bibles.

After a few months, I noticed that even fewer kids were bringing Bibles, and those who did bring Bibles never opened them. At first I worried that I was the world’s worst youth pastor, until I realized that there was no reason for them to open their Bibles if I was projecting it onscreen.

Clearly, the projector was not “neutral” in the sense that using it transformed the way my kids and I encountered the Word of God. I’m not saying that I know whether it’s better or worse for kids to read from their own personal copy of the Bible versus reading projected text, but I do think it’s important for us to recognize these kinds of changes that technology brings.

Technology has given unprecedented opportunities for the church to expand the gospel witness in the world. Has technology has been a net plus?

Ever since Adam and Even invented clothing (Gen 3:7) and God gave them a free upgrade (Gen. 3:21), humans have shown incredible ingenuity in creating technology that can (partially) overcome the effects of the fall. It’s almost like we really were created in the image of someone who himself is really good at creating! Advances in medicine over the last century have greatly reduced infant mortality and significantly increased life expectancies. Communication technologies offer tremendous opportunities for spreading the gospel. I am personally involved in writing online education software for a seminary, and Bible software for distributing the Scriptures in closed countries.

But I’m not so concerned with whether or not technology offers us a “net plus” as I am with helping us recognize that technology always brings a “net change.”

Cars have changed where we live, microphones have increased the sizes of our churches, microwaves alter family mealtime, and video projectors reconfigure our experience of the Word. Focusing all our time on whether technology is “bad” or “good” tends to blind us from all of these other very significant changes that technology brings.

Read the rest here:

Christian Web Conference, Exponential Conference, and ECHO Conference

Just wanted to let you know about a few conferences that I have the pleasure of speaking at over the next few months.

Christian Web Conference – The Virtualization of Culture

April 14-16, 2011 (Los Angeles)

Begun as GodBlogCon back in 2005, CWC has morphed into a great conference that specifically addresses web technology in ministry. Some sessions are how-to’s and others are aimed at more reflective discussion.

I’ll be doing a session called “The Virtualization of Culture” where we’ll talk about how we derive meaning from our interactions with cultural goods (anything from chairs to food to cars to gyms) and how those meanings are reshaped when we move our interactions online. CWC asks speakers to talk for 20 minutes and then open up the room for discussion in the remaining 40 minutes which should be great.

The conferences is only $99, and if you register by Friday it’s only $79!

Exponential Conference – Preaching on the Power and Peril of Technology

April 26-29, 2011 (Orlando)

Exponential is a big church planting conference for pastors looking to start new churches, so most of the speakers are more in the leadership and strategy arena. But they’ve added a media and technology track and I’ll be doing a talk on “Preaching on the Power and Peril of Technology” to help pastors think through areas where they can help guide their congregations on using technology discerningly without relegating it to a specialized talk. I’m really looking forward to their feedback on what’s helpful to them.

ECHO Conference – Helping Your Ministry Understand Technological Change

July 27-29, 2011 (Dallas, TX)

Born here in my hometown ECHO Conference is, as far as I know, the only conference that focuses on church and media. There are lots of great conferences on the broad subject of leadership, but ECHO is really unique in addressing media, technology, and ministry.

Last year, Nathan Smith and I did a technically oriented  talk on what ministries need to know about the new buzzword “HTML5,” but this year I’ll be doing something unrelated to web development called “Helping Your Ministry Understand Technological Change.” What I hope to do is give attendees some practical ideas on how to address technological issues (introducing a new technology, parents and kids, etc.) with their ministry staff and the people to whom they minister.

It’s only $199 through the end of March, so make sure you register soon.

If you’ll be at any of these conferences, be sure to let me know – I’d love to hang out!

How To Handle Luddites In The Church

A few months ago I wrote an article for COLLIDE magazine called, “How To Handle Luddites In The Church,” and it just appeared online. In it, I tell the story of the original Luddites and attempt to argue that their reaction to technological change is not too different to how people in our churches react today. Here’s a preview:

As the story is told, during the Industrial Revolution all kinds of new machines were invented that could perform tasks more efficiently than individual workers. Business owners could earn a ton of money by replacing 10 laborers with a single person who pushed a button on a machine. The problem was that the other nine men lost their jobs.

With no way to earn money for their families, many fell into poverty and despair. According to legend, in 1779 a man named Ned Ludd was fed up with the takeover of the machines and went all Sarah Connor on two knitting frames. The news of Ned’s rage against the machine spread quickly, and groups of masked men started breaking into factories all over England. Whenever a machine was found destroyed, people would say in spooky voice, “Ned Ludd did it.” But did the masked men hate technology or were they targeting something else?

Go read the whole thing: How to Handle Luddites in the Church

Around the Web

Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted – Malcolm Gladwell (famed for Outliers, The Tipping Point, Blink, and his wild and crazy hair) contrasts histories great revolutions which involved much personal sacrifice to the easy click-thru activism style change we see online.

This Post Was Too Long To Read, So We TL;DR’d ItTLDR.it (short for “too long; didn’t read”) is a new web tool that attempts to extract the highlights from a long web article into something that fits the description of “a.d.d. appropriate news reading.” Of course, this is super useful, but it also favors “reading” as a mere information transfer rather than anything resembling mind formation and expansion. Let’s be sure not to use it on biblegateway.com, okay?

8 Photoshop Tutorials for Retouching Your Profile Pic – Mashable brings together several videos on how to retouch photos use PhotoShop to make your profile picture look better than you do real life. Graven images!

What Just Happened? – from Stuff Christians Like, Jon’s brief summary of his most recent online fundraising venture in which his readers raised $32,250  in 24 hours for people in Uganda. For all the downsides and negatives listed above, it’s wonderful to see that God is still active through the technology humanity creates.

Around the Web

Here’s a few goodies from this week

  • Only Disconnect – Author Gary Shteyngart writes eloquently about his technological transformation, “With each post, each tap of the screen, each drag and click, I am becoming a different person — solitary where I was once gregarious; a content provider where I at least once imagined myself an artist; nervous and constantly updated where I once knew the world through sleepy, half-shut eyes; detail-oriented and productive where I once saw life float by like a gorgeously made documentary film. And, increasingly, irrevocably, I am a stranger to books, to the long-form text, to the pleasures of leaving myself and inhabiting the free-floating consciousness of another.”
  • Grades don’t drop for college Facebook fiends – Another study wondering whether Facebook usage affects students’ performance in college. My guess would be that in the early days of Facebook, it did make a difference, but over time as students are introduce to social media at a younger age, they use it more natively and it therefore has less off an effect on them – just as it has been with all prior new media.
  • Amazon’s Former Chief Scientist on Influence, Twitter’s Fake Audience, and iPad Sex Appeal – “Why do people tweet? What is the driver of them spending time doing this? I think it’s because they think they have people giving them attention, and they do everything to play with that attention. The reason Twitter works so well is that they don’t have a feedback-loop, where people can realize just how little attention they’re getting. I’m not saying the system was set up that way deliberately, but it’s a very well setup system. People can fool themselves into believing that others are listening, which is not easy in real life. When you’re talking to other people on the street and nobody is listening, after a while you sort of have to stop talking. Not so on Twitter.”
  • Apple’s new ads highlight FaceTime’s emotional connection – I really like the four new Apple iPhone 4 FaceTime commercials. And I find them to be a perfect example of how effective marketing doesn’t advertise “features,” but attempts to create an emotional connection to the experience of using the device. After watching the commercials, it almost feels like it would be better to experience those events over FaceTime than in person.

Around the Web

In multitasking, more than two tasks do not compute – A report from Science on what happens in the human brain when we attempt to multitask. It turns out that the brain is not too bad at doing two tasks, but when we attempt to add a third, things don’t work out so well.

Kindle and iPad Books Take Longer to Read than Print – A study by Jakob Nielsen found that readers tended to read more slowly on iPads (6.2%) and Kindles (10.7%) than printed books. This seems about right to me since it will probably take some time for long-time readers to transition to a new medium.

iPhone 4 Creator talks about Materials – Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, talks about how important it is to touch and work with materials rather than just model them in computers. The is the chief difference between the formal senses of the terms technology (practical) and science (theoretical).

iPhone 4 and the Art of Self Photography – Interesting post from TUAW on the shift from photography being about capturing the world to capturing the self. The iPhone 4 makes this explicit with it’s front facing camera.

How the Web is Affecting Social Relationships – According to this study, most people self-report that in 2020 they see the Internet having a positive impact on their family and relationships.

A Christian Definition of Technology

In my reading, I have not come across many attempts to define technology from a distinctly Christian perspective. Recently however, I found a definition that seems rather useful which comes from a 1986 publication called Responsible Technology from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship at Calvin College:

We can define technology as a distinct human cultural activity in which human beings exercise freedom and responsibility in response to God by forming and transforming the natural creation, with the aid of tools and procedures, for practical ends and purposes. (Monsma, Stephen V. (ed.) Responsible Technology, 1986, p. 19)

Continue reading A Christian Definition of Technology

The Best of the Web Lately

Here are a few articles from the last few weeks that I think are worth noting.

Why We haven’t Met Any Aliens – Scientists believe that there are several planets capable of sustaining organic life and that organic life evolves fairly quickly. However, if that’s true, then it’s odd that we haven’t met other life forms. The author of this article says the answer is that at a certain level of technological progress, societies stop desiring to explore the galaxy because they enjoy their video games too much.

There’s a Person on the Other End of that Status Update – Social media consultant Jennifer Fong addresses how the technology of social media can urge us to do things we’d never do in real life: “This has been the problem from the beginning of online communication: the anonymity of hiding behind our computers makes us forget the basics of interpersonal communication.  You would NEVER walk up to someone on the street and begin pitching your products and opportunity without at least making an effort at small talk.  Why do we think it’s OK to do that online?”

Clarity and the Technological Society – Anderson argues, “There really are no arguments against technology.  None.  The best and most persuasive reflections focus on how we think about technology, rather than the tools themselves (or even their effects).  For it is that point, and not the tools themselves, that makes our era truly distinct… the arguments change:  they cease to be about technology and its effects, but rather the anthropology that undergirds our technological development and whether, and how far, we ought to protect anything natural from our technocratic intrusions.”

5 Ways to Reduce Social Media Distractions – from Mashable comes a post with some focusing and productivity techniques. I think it’s interesting because under the hood these kinds of articles are essentially saying, “Sometimes you have to use technology against its design to be human.”

Northland Church Launches Facebook Church – A month in and the first “facebook campus” has over 1700 participants and 300 fans.  I couldn’t find any updates from Northland, but here is their original blog post about the new initiative.

Technology can let parents work at home but distract from family time – USAToday reports that telecommuting doesn’t always work out the way families expect. Instead of spending time in their cars commuting, some workers end up working more and cutting into family time.