A Mobile Culture

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

There is a fantastic scene at the start of the movie Warm Bodies where the protagonist, a zombie named Z, reminisces about what life must have been like before the zombie apocalypse. It must have been wonderful, he thinks as he walks through an airport terminal teaming with the senseless undead, to be able to talk to each other and have a real, meaningful, human connection with someone else. As he thinks this the scene shifts to a time before the outbreak and the terminal is full of living people, each focussed entirely on the tablet or phone they hold.

The Problem

I remember watching the movie and thinking what a poignant commentary it is on our modern, mobile device driven culture and lifestyle. We’re now more connected to each other than ever before, but we achieve this connectedness by isolating ourselves from those around us. We are at a terrible in between time where technology has created a social situation for which there is not yet solidified etiquette.

But we risk more than just appearing rude. We’ve all seen the mother who at the park spends the whole time on Facebook while her child desperately vies for her attention. Or the father who keeps telling his son he’ll play catch “in just a second” while he obsessively refreshes his Twitter feed (I am that father). We continually send messages to those around us, and most strongly to our children, that what is happening out there is far more important to us than what is happening right here. What does this do to a child who cannot get his parents’ attention because they are too involved in the doings of people that, too often, they hardly know? I ask rhetorically. I do not know, but I cannot imagine it helps him grow to be a healthy, well-adjusted person. I don’t want my kids to remember me with my face always buried in my phone screen, feeling like they’re perpetually second on my priority list.

From the perspective of my six year-old daughter there is no difference between me texting my wife to clarify which brand of detergent is the one that doesn’t ruin clothes but also doesn’t cause skin rashes and checking to see if there are any new tweets (even though I checked 45 seconds ago). She can’t tell that one is important and relevant to the task at hand and one is escapist, isolating entertainment. All she knows is that I told her we’d go to the store together for some fun daddy-daughter time and I’m not present with her.

Journaling digitally is similarly troublesome. The benefits of digital journaling make it very attractive to me. I can have my journal entries available anywhere; searchable, annotated with photos, and automatically including location, weather, etc. But journaling is naturally introspective. When you journal it is you and the journal (whatever method you use). One of the detriments of digital journaling, then, is that for longer periods of time you sit staring at a screen. This can also be confusing to those around you.

The Solution

I’m hesitant to call this section the solution because I don’t know that there really is a solution. I can think of some practical steps. But I think the real solution is that we learn to moderate ourselves. We need to learn to quell the FOMO and develop the skills necessary to be present. That is the real solution. It’s learning to use the technologies that we have to serve us in a helpful way.

If I revisit the example at the store with my daughter how can I still get the information that I need while at the same time teach and model appropriate boundaries and behaviors for her. I can think of a couple different ways.

  1. I can make an old fashioned phone call. While this is isolating me from her it is not leaving her in doubt about what I’m doing. She understands the purpose and duration of my distraction away from the time we’re spending. There’s no worry that I’ll float back to the phone call in a couple of minutes “just to see if there’s something new”, the phone call has a definite beginning and end. And when it ends I go back to giving her my attention.
  2. My daughter is learning to read and write and so I can hand the phone to her and together we can set about the task of learning which brand we need to buy. In this scenario neither of us are isolated as we use the technology together to accomplish our goal. It also becomes a learning experience for her as I’m able to help her type and spell correctly.

Or, perhaps, if my son is riding his bike around in the back yard instead of isolating myself from by texting my wife to tell her about it, I can bring him into the conversation. “Buddy, what do you want me to tell mommy about how you’re riding your bike?” We can take photos together to send to her. I need to lead by example to show him that it’s OK to communicate with others who aren’t there. That’s good! But it’s not good to cut off those around us.

For journaling a change of habit is probably needed. For me, at least, it is much easier to remain tangentially aware of my surroundings and disengage with what I’m doing when I am writing in a physical book. It is psychologically less magnetic. So the habit that I need to develop (that I’m not practicing at the moment) is to journal in a physical book when I need to capture a thought around other people so I can still engage with them.

Moving Forward

I want to teach my children to love technology the way I love technology. But I want to teach them to love it in a healthy way. I want them to be able to be excited about the tool while still recognizing it as just that a tool, that you use and then set aside. It exists to serve you, not consume you.

For example, my iPhone has the ability to shoot video at 120 fps. My oldest son and I were playing with some wind up motorcycles. We were winding them up and sending them drag racing down a straightaway made out of blocks. Then we built a wall at the end and sent them crashing through the wall. It was fun watching the bikes crash and tumble. But we made it even more fun by filming it and then watching it back in slow motion. These are the sort of experiences and memories I want my kids to have. Memories where technology enhances our time together rather than detracts from it.

Déjà Vu

I only feel déjà vu with negative experiences, almost never positive.

Our first three children came after completely complication-free pregnancies. Not once in those pregnancies did I get a feeling of déjà vu. Why? Because there’s nothing that sticks in the mind when everything goes as it should. But when something goes wrong the mind latches onto it.

We’re now on our sixth pregnancy. Our fourth child, Andrew Paul, was stillborn. After Andrew we had a miscarriage. With this pregnancy I feel déjà vu many times a day. There were so many events that led up to Andrew’s death that I can’t go for very long without having memories forced to the surface.

And in the latest ultrasound there were several uncomfortable similarities to our last ultrasound with Andrew. The baby looks beautiful and very healthy. But it’s still very worrying.

All we can do is pray for God to protect him, and trust Him to hold us. Trusting is so hard.


I am thankful that Adam Ford’s comic today was on trusting God.

This is one of the panels. The whole comic is well worth a read.

Live-Tweeting Despair

Yesterday I watched a man live-tweet the death of his six-year-old daughter. It was horrific. Not because he was tweeting it, he was crying out in pain. It was horrific to watch it unfold.

She had cancer and he knew it was coming. He held her as she lay unconscious fighting for the last bits of life she had left. She was my daughter’s age. She died on her birthday.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

Drinking from the Firehose

I recently changed jobs. I went from being a web administrator in the medical field, working with SharePoint and ASP.Net to deploying and configuring software on Unix servers for a shipping logistics company. By my wife’s description (“He works with computers”) my job hasn’t changed much. In actuality, the only consistent thing between the two jobs is “He works with computers.”

It’s been intimidating to make such a big change. In some ways I feel almost like I’m starting over, learning all new systems. Fortunately, I’ve been playing with Unix for fun for almost 15 years, so I’m not starting from scratch. But at the start I had a few meetings where the only words I understood were the conjunctions. It felt like drinking from a firehose.

My “strategy” (if you can call it that) for learning everything I need to is based on how I’ve watched my children acquire language. This is the human mind’s first task after birth and the process has worked for many thousands of years, so I think it’s worth examining. It’s also very simple. It is natural, it’s the way I would have approached it by default, without thinking about it. And that’s part of why I think it’s interesting, because the human brain is so powerful. It’s natural approach is so effective. By mindfully approaching the subject like a language immersion study I am learning much faster than I anticipated.

When a child learns language she starts with a very simple base vocabulary and let context and usage inform the meaning of the new words as she encounters them. She also isn’t shy about asking for the meaning of some words if she can’t figure out the meaning on her own.

So that’s essentially what I did. I sat quietly and listened during my meetings and listened for how our systems are built and how they relate to each other. I usually waited until after the meeting to ask for clarification on some of the systems or acronyms so that I didn’t disturb the productivity of the meeting. I worried that asking these questions after the meeting rather than when they came up would detract from my ability to understand what was going on in the meeting. Actually, though, I found that steadily, day after day, I was building a more comprehensive mental picture of the systems. Every meeting I understood more and more.

I’m still not there, yet. But I’m now at a point where I feel comfortable, more or less, doing my job. This is really encouraging since I was very stressed about starting a job in a completely different discipline.

My Misdirection in “ Personal Development”

I’ve been so worried about content production vs. consumption this year. It’s been stressful to look at the minuscule amount of content that I personally create, outside of work. “How am I supposed to develop myself into a better person if I don’t have this cathartic outlet?” I’d ask myself. But, I never really stopped to consider that the thing that is the most important is they type of content I consume, not create. And it’s not been enough Scripture.

The key to developing myself personally in the ways I want is not introspection through content creation. That’s just navel-gazing. It’s learning to emulate and trust Jesus more, and more deeply. How? Brought consumption of a Scripture. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4 ESV. As my grandfather has said, “You cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.”

Let’s Talk about Les Misérables

Grace as a Destructive Force
Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved Les Mis. My parents saw it when I was young and bought the recording. I’m not sure when I first heard the music, but that was my first exposure to Les Misérables. As I’ve grown older I’ve sought out more tellings of the story. I’ve seen multiple movies (musical and not) listened to and watched different performances of the music (live and recorded), and a year or two ago I finished the unabridged, albeit translated book by Victor Hugo himself. It is a work of art.

And like all art there’s always more to be enjoyed. But I want to just focus on one point, Valjean and his foil Javert. A foil relationship is where an antagonist is crafted in such a way that his traits highlight specific traits of the protagonist. In this instance (especially in the musical version) I think the foil is actually set up to highlight a third actor in play, Grace.

These are two men who are shown grace and respond in very different ways. Jean Valjean is a hardened convict who hates humanity because hate is the only thing he’s known. When the Bishop shows him grace even though he’s never been faced with it before, he accepts it. It upends his worldview and he becomes a new man. Javert is a strict keeper of the law, he believes that through the structures of law and society we ought to, and do, get what we deserve. He also recognizes the grace shown to him, but it does not fit into his rigid meritocratic worldview and it kills him.

From this we see something about grace. Grace is a destructive force. When we recognize grace it will destroy either our warped sense of self-deservedness or it will destroy us. Which will you let it destroy?