On Social Media Arguments in the Trump Era

What an interesting time to be alive. We've just been through a rancorous election, and the election of a president whom more people voted against than for---some 8 million, to be exact.

We are divided. And cranky.

In the wake of this, I've been thinking a lot about social media, and how we engage with one another around disagreement--or don't.

jackson-im-just-here-to-read-the-comments-72I have friends who are frustrated by the proliferation of fake news and "alternative facts," and who see no utility in trying to talk to people who are convinced that their version of reality is correct. Whether it's the size of Trump's inaugural crowd, or the reality of climate change, there's no convincing people, so why try? Our time can be used more productively in other ways.

And I have friends who believe we still need spaces where people who don't see eye to eye can come together and hash things out. That deep down, many of us want the same things for ourselves. That we all have our bubbles, and we need to be disciplined in breaking out of them whenever possible.

As I think about where I stand, I know there are things on which I'm not willing to concede ground in order to keep the conversation going: the full personhood of LGBT persons, for example.

With that said, however, I fall more in the latter camp. I know that like the Apostle Paul, I see through a mirror dimly. My vision is imperfect. And I'm a big believer in polarity management, which means that traditional struggles such as left v. right can never be fully resolved. Rather, the two poles need to be managed so that they inform and complement one another in a healthy way. For that reason, I don't root for the ultimate destruction of the GOP. Rather, I root for a sane, reasonable, fact-based conservative party to emerge out of the mess we're currently in. I resonate with the words of Jack Shephard on LOST: "If we can't live together, we're going to die alone."

80bAnyway, I think about all of this as it relates to online interactions. I'm interested in engaging, and I try to enter conversations with people I disagree with from a place of good faith. The person may quickly show they're not willing to engage in honest, thoughtful exchange, but I at least want to give them an initial chance. (And I'm sure I miss the mark on this myself sometimes--it's soooo much easier to make assumptions and respond with snark than with authenticity.)

But many times we have to cut our losses and call it a day, either because the conversation isn't going anywhere, or we just have other things we need to do. I've been trying to figure out how to do that gracefully.

Brian McLaren has suggested that one close with a simple "I see it differently." If the person wants to pursue it, offer to have a face-to-face conversation. You've registered your opposition to the view being presented, but stewarded your time well enough not to get into a back-and-forth that is not going to go anywhere.

It's a decent way of bowing out. But it has its limitations. For one thing, when someone presents a falsehood as truth, then doubles down on it, saying you "see it differently" implies that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and that there's no way to know what's right.

So lately I've been trying on this phrase:

"Thank you for helping me understand you better."

I like it because we can understand one another without agreeing. I like it because it grounds the interaction in terms of relationship rather than rightness. I like it because, in situations in which I've used it, it has disarmed the person I was talking to--they felt heard. And I like it most of all because it's a way of holding myself accountable to how I want to be online. Yes, I want to be a voice for the things I believe in, but ultimately, the only person I can ultimately change is myself, and if I've learned something, that's a fruitful thing.

What do you think? How do you handle difficult conversations online?

I Hope to Read More Books in 2017. Here's How.

Cooking expert Alton Brown has a thing against unitaskers in the kitchen. These are gadgets that exist for one purpose only, and accumulate like crazy and clutter up your kitchen. (Why do you need a special maze-shaped brownie pan that creates brownies with edges on every piece? Just use a muffin tin.) He claims that the only true unitasker you should have in your kitchen is the fire extinguisher. I've been a smartphone user for almost ten years. The beauty of the smartphone is that it's a master multitasker. I don't have to name all of its possible functions here--you get it. Suffice to say that I may use two dozen different apps on any given day. It's made my life better in countless ways.

untitledBut the beauty of the smartphone is also its downfall. Because while kitchen gadgets and smartphones are great multitaskers, the human brain is a terrible one. In fact, people don't actually multitask, but instead switch rapidly between tasks, losing efficiency and effectiveness with each switch. I think about this every time I unlock my phone in order to check my to-do list and end up on Twitter, or go to read a book on Kindle and get sucked into blogs instead.

This year I'm setting the intent to immerse in art, and especially to read more books. I read about 20 last year, which is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering I was writing one. But that number was way down for me. In 2017 I'm diving into Taylor Branch's gargantuan three-volume series on the civil rights era, and I'll be supplementing that with other books for allies, plus plenty of reading for pure pleasure. I don't have a goal other than "more than 20."

More broadly, though, I'm taking to heart what Andrew Sullivan wrote last year in his incredible piece, I Used to Be a Human Being:

The engagement never ends. Not long ago, surfing the web, however addictive, was a stationary activity. At your desk at work, or at home on your laptop, you disappeared down a rabbit hole of links and resurfaced minutes (or hours) later to reencounter the world. But the smartphone then went and made the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing. Information soon penetrated every waking moment of our lives.

As Sully points out, the content itself often isn't bad. On Facebook, I'm connected to people I genuinely care about. My daughter communicates with me via text, and at almost 14, it's often the best way to get her to open up (yes, even in the same house). I read blogs and news in order to be an informed citizen--that's deeply important. Many of us are thinking about activism during the next administration, and many of those connections will be made via social media.

However:

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

In order to accomplish this book goal--and to read and think more deeply in general--I realized I needed a unitasker.

We have an old iPad mini that has gotten way too slow to be useful as an all-purpose tablet. But it's just right for what I need. I wiped the device and installed the barest of apps on it:

  • Kindle
  • iBooks
  • Goodreads--so I can keep track of what I'm reading
  • Washington Post and New York Times apps
  • Music player
  • iMessage--this is the one app that allows for two-way communication. But the idea is to not have my phone with me all the times, and this allows family to reach me in case of emergency.

In the less than 24 hours since getting this set up, I already feel different, and have gotten lots of reading done.

I'm fortunate to have an old but functional gadget lying around that can meet this need. I post this not to suggest that everyone can or should do the same thing. Rather, this is an example of how we get our systems in place in order to accomplish our goals. (Read this article to learn more about the relationship between systems and goals.)

I wonder what hopes or goals you have for 2017, and what processes or tools you might use need to set yourself up for success.

OK... back to the books.

Conversation Can Be Inefficient and Boring. We Need More of It.

reclaiming-conversation-sherry-turkle-1024x784 I can't wait to read Sherry Turkle's latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Dr. Turkle is one of the best thinkers and writers I've found on the impact of technology on human life. She's neither an alarmist nor an apologist for technology, which makes her just the catalyst we need for a nuanced discussion about this stuff.

Here's Turkle's latest thesis, according to the New York TimesOur rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.

That sentence hit me hard this morning. I've been so disheartened by what passes for intelligent discourse on the Internet lately. I'm not talking about comments on news articles--we all know how those are: sad buffet tables full of deep-fried lizard brain, liberally spiced with references to Hitler and "Obummer." No, I'm talking about Facebook threads--friends, and friends of friends. So many words. So little reflection and understanding.

From the article:

Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”)

Ouch. [If you haven't seen Louis CK's bit about this on Conan's show, go, do it now. Rated PG13 for mild language and one crude gesture.]

Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them. (Turkle believes that regular family conversations help “inoculate” children against bullying.)

This is one of the reasons family dinner is so important--and why it's best if family dinner is a screen-free zone.

When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.

I heard Sherry Turkle interviewed on the Note to Self podcast last week, talking about how texting is replacing conversation in ways that can be concerning. We are increasingly rejecting conversation as an outmoded technology because it is so inefficient. It meanders and is sometimes boring. By contrast, texting happens when it's convenient for us. We can craft our responses so they are "perfect" (her word, quoting numerous people who saw texting as superior to conversation).

I think she's absolutely right. AND I appreciate that she too is a user of technology--she's not suggesting we give the whole thing up. (Though seriously with the bad Facebook arguments. I'm about one week and a blood sugar crash away from nuking my account.)

Caroline has been taking an old iPod Touch to school to read Kindle books during her study period. But I also get texts from her sometimes during lunch. She has block scheduling, and on "grey day" she has no friends to sit with. Having someone to reach out to gives her a sense of comfort, and we've had some deep interactions through text.

I remember what it was like to be the new kid in the middle school and not have anyone to sit with at lunch. I would have killed for a smartphone! Not only does it give Caroline something to do, it also connects her with her larger tribe, so she can remember there's more to life than the cliques in the lunchroom. And on "blue days" I'm happy she's with a group of friends, and I don't hear a peep from her.

So it's not an all-or-nothing thing.

That said, conversation is powerful precisely because it's unscripted. (Improvisational!) I was walking James to school this morning, and he was in a bad mood and complaining about everything. I was tired and bored by his constant carping and just wanted him to stop. I was ignoring him as best I could, then I paused a minute and really listened to him (the most important skill in good conversation--and the one I often forget when I'm being too task-oriented).

He said, "Why does this street have so many leaves on it?!?"

I stopped walking and said, "Seriously? You're complaining about the leaves??" He put his head down in his sweatshirt. I thought he was pouting, but then I saw he was laughing. So then we made it a game, to see how many ridiculous complaints we could come up with. "That house is TOO BLUE!" "That street lamp is labeled 157. That's my LEAST FAVORITE NUMBER!" "The sun is so bright on the trees it's making my EYES HURT!"

By the time we got to school he was in a fantastic mood. And so was I.

I love technology. I'm a heavy user of it. And conversation can be inefficient, tedious, or just plain dull. But it's also full of unexpected surprises. Much like life. And love.

What Parents Wish Teens Understood about Social Media... and Vice Versa

4175247254_0d1d063004_o_0I've recently had occasion to spend time with groups of teens and parents talking about spirituality in the smartphone age--how we set good boundaries and habits, how we bring our healthiest selves to that endeavor, etc. I started out asking each group, "What do you wish your [parents/teens] understood about your feelings about technology and social media?" I had this idea that I'd write one blog post from each perspective. But as these conversations went on, I realized that was the wrong approach, and unnecessary. Because generally, teens and adults would say the same thing to one another. Here are a few themes:

Both think the other spends too much time online. Parents are worried that their teens are interacting more and more through a screen and not building healthy habits for face-to-face interaction. But youth are just as likely to say that their parents are on Facebook too much, or can't get through a meal without checking email or responding to a text.

Both were worried about the tech world being a "burden" for the other. You can see why parents would worry about how all this screen time is affecting young minds (and sleep cycles). But youth talked about this too. One young person said, "At least for us, a lot of our screen time is social. But it seems like my parents are always working and having to check in."

Both see the value in tech-free times. One of my conversations was with a church youth group, and it was the youth themselves (in consult with their advisors) who came up with the tech-free policy for their meetings: they turn in their phones at the beginning and get them back at the end. They also listed many of the same "sacred spaces" where phones and tablets should be off-limits as their parents did: the dinner table, whenever an important conversation is taking place, etc. One parent who heard the teens' comments about this quipped, "If you value tech-free time so much, why do you holler when we tell you to turn it off or take away your devices?" Touche. Then again, complaining about parental boundaries is a time-honored task of the teenager. What's more, young people don't like being interrupted in a task any more than we do. Take a phone out of their hand mid-text and they will complain, just like we testily respond "Just a minute!!!" when someone demands our attention while on our phones.

Both admitted an impact on attention span. This expresses itself a little differently in different generations---like teens before them, today's youth have multiple "inputs" going at once, much more than adults do---but both teens and adults feel the effects of "monkey mind."

Both understand the difference between the curated persona and the fullness of life. The youth talked about their parents "bragging about us on Facebook," and in turn the parents lamented the litany of selfies their kids took in order to get the right one. In a sense, though, we all understand the rules of the game: what we put online, and see online about others, is not the complete story. Then again, both groups said there's a difference between knowing that intellectually and feeling it in our gut. It still hurts when other people seem to be living their lives better than you are.

Parents worry how this affects a child's emerging sense of self and self-worth--rightly so, I think. But while this is just a hunch, I wonder whether young people will actually be better at handling this as adults than we currently are, because they've had the time and the mental elasticity to learn how.

~

I know there's a difference between what people say and what people do. We all know the "right answer" to this stuff--whether we take it to heart in the heat of the moment, when the text is calling to us, or when we want that shot of affirmation from Instagram, is another matter. I also know that kids who attend a church youth group aren't necessarily a random sampling of teens. But I found it comforting that the puzzles and struggles of the digital age are pretty universal across generations. Ultimately it highlighted the need for good communication. I firmly believe that teens will be much more likely to embrace norms that they're a part of negotiating. Here's a set of good resources to start that work, from the Note to Self podcast.

And for our part, we adults can do a better job of modeling healthy behavior. It reminds me of a parenting class I took years ago. We were asked to write down the attributes we wanted our children to have when they were grown up---maturity, generosity, compassion, etc. After sharing our lists with one another, the facilitator said, "Great--that's your list to work on. You want them to have a spirit of service? Cultivate that in yourself."

If you want your children to have a healthy relationship with technology--and have healthy relationships through technology--we need to start with ourselves.

~

Photo by Lauren Randolph for On Being.

Say It with Flowers... Or a Text?

Trådtelefon-illustration A couple of weeks ago I led a workshop at the Festival of Homiletics called The Word in a 140-Character World: Faithful Preaching in the Digital Age. It was a variation on the Spirituality in the Smartphone Age material I’ve been presenting for a while now.

I speak and write a lot about technology, and at the heart of much of my work is discernment—discernment around questions like How much social media is too much? Am I presenting an authentic picture of myself to the world? Does this interaction build community or tear it down?

One piece of the discernment we don’t talk about enough is how we decide which medium to use for various communication tasks. Back in the olden days, you pretty much had in-person or the Pony Express. Now we have in person, phone, text, letter, email, direct message, posting on someone’s Facebook wall, tweeting “at” someone, SnapChat, etc. How we say it is almost as important as what we say. (The medium is the message, still and always.)

I’ve had several experiences recently that reinforced the power of good discernment. They are all quite simple, but really speak to how powerful it is when you get the medium right.

  1. Following the workshop, I got an email from someone who suggested a word change to one of my slides to make it clearer. The person made a joke in his email: I’m sending you this while sitting in the same room as you, and could probably tell you in person but I’ll do this instead. It would have been splendid for him to stay and offer his comment face to face, but email was better because now I have a written record of his feedback so I won’t forget. Also the writer sensed, I think, that the suggestion was an emotionally neutral one, which makes email an appropriate venue for it.
  2. By contrast, a woman waited in the “chat line” to let me know—in a very constructive but pointed way—that the images I used in my presentation were not representative of the fullness of humanity, racially and gender-wise. “What you are saying is important and you don’t want your message to be undermined,” she said, by predominantly male and white images. She was right—and I realized, while I think a lot about what I say, the images are often the last (and sometimes, sadly, last-minute) addition to the presentation. While it was not easy to hear her feedback in person, it was so much more constructive than emailing me, or even worse, tweeting it, which is what often happens at conferences when people are rankled by something a speaker says or does. I’ve rarely seen that go in a constructive direction—in fact, folks ending up jumping on the bandwagon to the point that the speaker can feel attacked, even if the initial criticism was valid. Incidentally, this person also took the time to wait until the crowd had died down, which was not necessary but certainly disarming.
  3. My grandmother passed away a week ago. I have received a ton of condolence messages from people, and believe me when I tell you I appreciate them all. But I also received a phone call from a college friend. He left a wonderful, compassionate voice mail that comforted me greatly. I wouldn’t call his phone call a complete surprise, since he and I have stayed in touch in recent years. But the message was exceptional because I was not expecting to hear from him in person. I share this, not to make anyone feel bad who sent me an electronic message instead of calling. Rather it was a lesson for ME. How often do I choose the easy, expedient way, rather than the way of deeper connection?

We really are in the guinea pig generation. We have more ways to communicate than ever before. As a result, we must be attentive to the how, not just the what.

How have you seen the right medium enhance a message you sent or received? And how have you seen a message get undermined by the manner in which it was conveyed? I'd love to hear.

Solving the "Trouble with Hubble" -- An Exercise in #Improv

The Hubble Space Telescope in a picture snapped by a Servicing Mission 4 crewmember just after the Space Shuttle Atlantis captured Hubble with its robotic arm on May 13, 2009, beginning the mission to upgrade and repair the telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. Goddard is responsible for HST project management, including mission and science operations, servicing missions, and all associated development activities. Our family's Sunday night tradition is pizza in the basement and a TV show together. We mix it up between Mythbusters, So You Think You Can Dance, Dirty Jobs, and nature/science shows. Sunday it was NOVA's episode "Invisible Universe Revealed," commemorating the Hubble Space Telescope on its 25th birthday.

I had no idea how much scientific knowledge I take for granted was made possible by Hubble: the age of the universe (13.7 billion years), for example, or the fact that black holes lie at the center of galaxies.

I remember the Hubble debacle. It didn't work when it was first placed in space--the images were blurry and useless. I also recall lots of self-satisfied comments about how it just goes to show that "the government can't do anything right." According to the NOVA program, however, it was a government contractor, a private company, that made the flawed mirror, that did not let NASA view their manufacturing process since it was proprietary, and that certified the mirror as flawless and ready for installation on Hubble. That's not what this post is about, but ahem.

Anyway, I was struck once again how much improvisation is at the center of problem-solving. (We think of improv as something musicians or actors do, but see the movie Apollo 11 for a master class on improv in engineering.)

First, the woman who helped spearhead the project, Nancy Grace Roman, the so-called Mother of the Hubble, wasn't even supposed to be on that project. She began her career in academia, and as a woman in the 1950s, couldn't get tenure. Instead, "In 1959 when NASA was formed, one of the men there asked whether I knew anyone who would like to set up a program in space astronomy. And I decided the idea of influencing space astronomy for 50 years was just more than I could resist, so I took the job."

What Roman demonstrates is what theologian Samuel Wells has called overaccepting---of taking what is offered and adding to it. Instead of beating her head against the wall of academia to try to get tenure, or accepting the crumbs from their table in the form of less prestigious positions, she pivots. She pursues a job at NASA... and the rest is history.

Nancy Roman, now 89 years old. Respect!

What I like about improv as a metaphor is it doesn't fall back on some chintzy-cheap theology that says "See?! It's a good thing she didn't get tenure, otherwise she wouldn't have gotten a job at NASA! It was all meant to be." Sorry, sexism in the academy is not and was never "meant to be." After listening to this interview, I have no doubt she would have kicked butt and taken names in a university setting, because that's the kind of woman she is. Instead, what Roman demonstrates is a posture of overaccepting one's circumstances (aka saying "yes-and"), even if they aren't ones we might have chosen. Just because we say yes to something doesn't mean we like it. It means we've faced reality and refused to let it be a "No" that defeats us.

Second: There's an improv game I've done as both a participant and as a leader, called "What Else Could This Be?" The premise is simple: you pass around an object--a pool noodle, or an eggbeater--and ask people to pantomime another use for it. (The pool noodle can be a set of horns; the eggbeater, a very tiny unicycle.) Indeed the church I used to serve turned its underutilized sanctuary balcony into a worship space for children because we asked the question "what else could this be?"

I was reminded of this game when optical engineer James Crocker described a breakthrough--THE breakthrough--in fixing Hubble. They had discussed all kinds of scenarios and solutions, most of which stunk, and the ones that didn't stink weren't feasible because of the logistics of working in orbit, which means they stunk in a different way. After a long discouraging day in meetings, Crocker went back to the hotel to take a shower--and noticed one of these:

pACE3-6391923dt

The shower head can be raised and lowered on a bar. And that's where the idea came from to put corrective mirrors on robotic arms that could be extended into the telescope and retracted again.

That story is so amazing, it may be too good to be true. But in any case, it's a great twist on "what else could this be?"

Third: Improv is a process of letting go and taking risks--which may be the same thing when you get down to it. Astronaut Mike Massimino was one of those charged with giving Hubble some final tweaks in 2009. Unfortunately, a handrail got in the way of some of their repairs, and they realized they'd have to pry it off. Folks back home did a simulation, and the astronauts on the Shuttle did what they could to cut down on the number of shards that would fly when they removed it, and then... they let 'er rip.

The handrail had to go, but what a chance they took! But it was their only option.

It should also be said--improv is not the same as spontaneity. Astronaut Story Musgrave (what a name!) and the team that did the original Hubble repair spent 20 months preparing for their mission, including 400 hours underwater simulating zero-G. Musgrave called their process choreography, a "ballet." But that, too, is part of improv, and life. You prepare, you do your work, you think through different scenarios, and you practice, not because you expect everything to go according to plan, but because you know it won't, and you'd better be ready.

~

For more writings on improvisation, click here.

~

Hubble photo credit: Hubble Space Telescope via photopin (license)

Tips for Getting Started with #Evernote from An Unapologetic Fangirl

hero_evernoteThe other day I posted on Facebook:

Scanner, Shredder and Evernote: the holy trinity of home organization.

A few friends responded that they'd like to use Evernote but haven't quite figured it out. I wish I could sit side by side with each of these people and offer a tutorial--I love Evernote just that much. (I love it so much I have the water bottle!) It has made my life easier and more organized in countless ways.

What I can do, however, is try to capture some general getting-started ideas and offer some examples of how I use it in hopes that others will be inspired to give it a try.

GENERAL THOUGHTS

  • It may not be your thing. If you've really tried to use Evernote and just not gotten anywhere, it could be that it just doesn't work the way your mind works. No sense in banging your head against the wall.
  • Know your options. Some people use Pinterest in the same way I use Evernote---to collect things in notebooks (or in Pinterest's case, boards) for easy access. The problem with Pinterest is it's mainly built for web pages, and it's public... so private information and info you get from non-websites are hard to store there. Similarly, many people use Dropbox as a repository for their stuff. Also a good option, except Dropbox doesn't have the sophisticated tagging and thumbnail capabilities that Evernote does.
  • Understand Notebooks v. Tags. These are the backbone of Evernote. Notebooks are self-explanatory---they are collections of common information, such as Recipes, Travel Destinations, Tax Receipts. Tags are searchable and are good for labeling things across notebooks. So for example, maybe I have a great article about raising tweens that's in my Articles notebook, but I also wrote a journal entry about my experience that's in my Personal Writing notebook. Both can be tagged with "parenting."
  • Start where you are. I think people get stuck because they've got lots of paper files and the thought of putting all of that into Evernote seems overwhelming. It definitely is. I feel the same way about all these photos I have in albums. It stinks to live between two different technologies. My advice? Don't worry about your backlog for now. Just move forward using Evernote instead of a paper filing system, then get to the historical data some other time. (Or not--do you really need all that? The stuff you do need, you'll dig up and use, and that will be your cue to put it into Evernote.)
  • Start with one topic. One manageable way to get going is to choose one topic and start putting all of that into Evernote, then put other stuff in there later. So start with a Recipes notebook, for example, or financial stuff.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • An Evernote account--premium is best, but start with the free version if you're not sold yet.
  • The Evernote app installed on your desktop and, ideally, your phone/tablet.
  • The Evernote web clipper for the browser of your choice.
  • A scanner, although you can take pictures of documents with your camera for a lower-tech alternative. Photos in Evernote have character recognition, and there are plugins that will straighten and clean things up too.
  • Your own unique email-to-Evernote address. When you sign up for Evernote you are given an email address that you can use to forward email messages straight to Evernote. There's even a complicated system where you can tell it in the subject line which notebook to sort it into, but I can never remember the syntax, so I just send it and sort and tag manually later.

USE CASES

A big sticking place for people (I think) is getting into the Evernote mindset. The more you use Evernote, the more useful it is, because it'll become your go-to place to find stuff (as opposed to that pile on your desk... or was it in email... or in that blog post you read three weeks ago, where was that again?).

So here are some of the ways I've used Evernote in just the last week. Hopefully this will spark your own ideas. (I also wrote a post a few years back specifically for pastors.)

  • While traveling this week, I got a receipt when I checked my bag. I took a picture of that receipt with my phone and filed it in my Tax/Expense notebook so I can forget about it until next spring when I want to write off that expense on my taxes.
  • Along the same line, I emailed a receipt for that flight to my Evernote account so when I need that receipt at tax time I won't have to hunt around my email for it.
  • Evernote is my digital scrapbook, so I scanned the bib of a recent race, as I do for all of my races. I can look at these later and, if I wish, can get them professionally printed and do one of those artsy-crafty bib display projects. (But let's face it--I'm not going to do that, so why keep them lying around?)
  • I scanned an article from Runners World on "healthy evening snacks for runners."
  • I did menu planning using an Evernote that lists the most common recipes we make, which helps jog my memory of what we've had recently.
  • I wrote a blog post for my contract gig. Evernote is great for composing early drafts because it's faster than Microsoft Word, it saves automatically, and there's even a note history if you end up liking a previous version better. Once you get to the track-changes phase you can save that Word document into Evernote too.
  • A friend posted this article on my FB wall and I clipped it from Chrome into Evernote and gave it tags like "courage" and "kindness" so if I'm preparing a sermon or other presentation on that topic I can find it.
  • I scanned all of our bank statements, bills, and other financial items we've received recently. I do this every month or so. (Again I refer you back to the "it may not be your thing" bullet point. If the thought of doing this gives you hives, don't do it.)
  • I scanned an essay Margaret wrote for school about swimming across the lake in Maine last summer. Each of the kids has their own notebook containing my favorite artwork, schoolwork, and letters.
  • I input statistics from the girls' latest doctors appointments so I have them all in one place.

Each of these tasks (except the blog post and updating doctor stats) took less than a minute to complete--often much less than that. As I type all of that, though, it sounds like a lot of work. But for me it's a lot more work not to have the receipts I need at tax time. Or to spend 45 minutes looking for that article that illustrates my point perfectly in the article I'm writing. Or to rifle through a pile of bank statements until I find the one I'm looking for. I've written about how the harder thing is the easier thing. Evernote is a prime example of that.

Again, everyone's temperament is different. But I do hope this inspires people who are "Evernote shaped" to give it a try. You may end up loving it as much as I do.

Are Computers Changing Us or Are They Just Another Tool?

computers_wide-2c506f3892224e70baeaac4e44f59f8cac3fe753-s1300-c85 Sometimes I dream about starting a small group or worshiping community built around listening to podcasts and discussing them together. There are so many provocative ones that are secular, yet lend themselves to spiritual and ethical reflection: The Truth, Radiolab, New Tech City (which I've written about recently), and even certain segments of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The latest is Invisibilia, which sadly has finished its season. But that gives you plenty of time to get caught up if you've missed it. The latest episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, was outstanding and great fodder for Spirituality in the Smartphone Age---both the book and the workshop. If you take a multi-day class with me on this topic you WILL listen to excerpts of this podcast!

The first segment follows Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Tech who's been wearing a computer for decades now. It's like a home-grown Google Glass that helps him record what he's doing, call up thoughtful details about people he's talking to ("how's your daughter adjusting to college?"), and much more. Thad sees his wearable computer as no different than eyeglasses---a tool that helps him make his way in the world. He sees no downside. Is he right? Does this strike some people as creepy just because it's so new? Or is a computer that integrates with us so seamlessly---that helps us think, and on some level thinks itself---somehow different than an inert thing like a pair of spectacles? And is a smartphone really that different from a wearable computer?

The second segment is about a man who started a Twitter account to publish pictures of boorish behavior on the New York subway. At first, the affirmation he received for posting the pictures provided validation and helped him let go of his indignation. Then he began to crave the attention and got snarkier and snarkier... until the N train fought back. A great reflection about the psychology of Internet venting. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't help you let the bad feelings go. Quite the opposite.)

Check out Our Computers, Ourselves on Invisibilia. And tell me what you think.

Image is from the Invisibilia website.

Day 4 of #BoredandBrilliant: Take a Fauxcation

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_ButterflyIt’s day 4 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my reflections on the project. Today's challenge:

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an "I'll be back later" text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

I haven't taken part in today's challenge, since I do something very similar on tech Sabbath days and feel like I get it. But I have lots of friends who use their email signatures to communicate their email habits: "I respond to email only twice a day," "I don't check email on X days."

Then there's the person whose vacation message says "When I return from vacation I will delete all the messages I received while away. Please re-contact me then." I can't decide if that's brilliant or jerky. Or both.

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to unplugging from the constant nag of email. But many more do than we probably want to admit, especially if you're talking about a matter of hours rather than days. And as the podcast makes clear, breaking away from the tyranny of the urgent is important for our thinking and productivity.

One way to dip your toe into this practice if today's challenge seems too hard: take a faux-cation from responding to messages, if not reading them. I check email throughout the day--I've never been able to break myself of the practice. Truly urgent messages are dealt with as soon as possible. But I respond to everything else the following day. I find batching them makes them go faster, and often the issue has resolved itself in the meantime. If someone really needs an answer quickly, I find they're quite resourceful in getting ahold of me.

What do you think? How does a fauxcation, or a tech sabbath sound to you? Check out what people are saying about today's challenge on Twitter.