Questions to ask Yourself about Electronics

Michael Combs, second from left, with his family using electronic devices.

Many in our culture act as if electronics, social media and TV are neutral. They are simply there. That is naive at best. Electronics are not neutral. They dictate our lives, pump us with more desire for approval, and often help us waste time and miss out on relationships with family and friends. They can keep us from work and ultimately, run our lives and ruin our lives.

Below are some helpful questions from Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers to ask yourself about your relationship with electronics:

Attention: What is the primary and ongoing focus of our awareness? Screens and virtual relationships? Family and neighbors? Voyeuristic television “reality shows”? Nature and our surrounding environment? Is our capacity to pay attention, dwell, and be aware diminishing? Are we so overwhelmed with information and stimulation that our ability to respond is affected? Are we moving from receptivity to expecting to control what we perceive?

Limits: What guides our sense of what is appropriate? Do we have the moral strength to recognize when something is beyond the pale and that we need to say no? Or does technology, which makes more and more things possible, including voyeurism, pornography, and gambling, also make all things permissible? Which taboos are worth guarding? How does technology free us from moral constraints and accountability? What is the relationship of technology to addictions? How does technology reinforce addictions? How is technology itself addictive?

Engagement: How are we coping with life and its challenges? Do we approach our day and those we love with calm anticipation, eager to be and work together? Or do such rushed and harried attention spans lead us into being demanding and curt? How does technology speed encounters, making conflicts and misunderstandings more likely? Does planned and perceived obsolescence contribute to eroding commitments?

Relationships: Do our lives include rich networks of loved ones, supportive friends, caring confidants, and casual acquaintances? Are there people who know us in our fullness, care about our hardships, and challenge us to grow in virtue? Or are our lives characterized by growing isolation and loneliness, our relationships dispersed and fragmented? What are the implications of having relationships increasingly mediated by technology while opportunities for face-to-face conversations decline and in-the-flesh friendships decrease? How does technology reinforce casual approaches to relationships, ones that are easy to enter or exit but do not necessarily sustain? What kinds of communities are created by our technology use?

Time: Do we have a sense that there is enough room in our lifestyles for the things that truly matter—work and play, rigor and rest, love and laughter? Or are we too busy to live according to our deepest and highest priorities? Do distracting demands and pressures lure us away from our highest values? How does engagement with technology make us busier? And how does technology erode and displace opportunities to pause and determine, reflect on, and honor ultimate priorities? Space: How well connected are we with the geography and places where we are located? Are we rooted in neighborhoods, connected to the earth and our environment? Or is much of our life lived abstractly in “virtual” reality?

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Book Notes | Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions

bookI read Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers as I prepped my sermon on balancing life, work, school and family.

To say I was challenged by this book would be an understatement. While I found some of his suggestions for decompressing and living (birding and gardening) not realistic for me, I loved his writing style. He did have other ideas of connecting in life, which I found helpful.

What I appreciated most about this book was the hard look he took at what electronics do to our brains and relationships. Many act as if electronics either do nothing to us or are neutral, but as Boers points out, nothing is neutral. Everything does something, positive or negative.

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • We live in a society that has achieved a standard of living that surpasses the wildest dreams of most of the people in the history of the world; the most conspicuous result is that far too many of us live poor, thin, trivializing lives.
  • Our culture has a prevailing sense of being too busy, having too much to do, without enough time for things that matter and priorities that really count.
  • Study after study shows that numerous daily realities contribute to declining happiness and growing depression: commuting watching television spending time online being cut off from nature not having enough friendships living out of sync with natural and biological rhythms insufficient sleep feeling distracted.
  • When we allow devices and machines to reside at the center of our lives, we displace values and practices that once enriched the quality of how we live. We end up serving our gadgets instead of using them as tools to support our priorities. Technology itself becomes the center and purpose of how we live.
  • Too often our interactions with technology follow a predictable trajectory: because it is available we use it, then we think it is normal, and finally we expect or even demand that others employ it as well.
  • Many of us overlook that simple day-to-day choices—about cars, microwaves, cell phones, email, internet, television, dishwashers, communication options—have great and detrimental impact on our quality of life. If we do not pay attention to these effects, then chances are that devices will shape us in ways that we would not consciously choose.
  • One of the most significant challenges of contemporary technology is how it shapes our awareness, where it attracts our attention, and the ways that it sometimes—perhaps even often—draws us away from the things we value most.
  • Our lives are shaped by our focus. The direction of our attention not only shows values, but it also forms character.
  • We now live in “a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner.”
  • The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.
  • Technology often defines choices, sets priorities, and determines values.
  • Connectivity becomes a craving; when we receive a text or an e-mail, our nervous system responds by giving us a shot of dopamine. We are stimulated by the connectivity itself. We learn to require it, even as it depletes us.
  • We once thought that email meant easier communication and a lightened workload. Instead it increases expectations.
  • Busy lives, long work hours, and the desire to accomplish so much leave little time for deepening relationships or meeting new people. No wonder many are interested in online romance and “speed dating.” In touch with growing numbers, our contacts grow shallower even as they multiply. Time gets divided into smaller and smaller increments as we share it with more and more people.
  • Evidence shows that we are growing more isolated. Yes, there are certainly ways that people connect via technologies, but such connections tend to be tenuous, issue- or hobby-specific, and limited. Less and less are our relationships complex, ongoing, face-to-face, year-after-year.
  • The connection between consumerism and busyness is not accidental or coincidental.

If you find yourself struggling to have focus, limit electronics or connect with others relationally, this is a great book to read.

To see other book notes, click here.

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Tuesday Morning Book Review || Give & Take

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to success (kindle version) by Adam Grant.

I’ll be honest, I had a hard time getting into this book. But once I did, I was not disappointed that I read it.

Give and Take looks at who are the most successful people in the world: givers, takers or matchers. What he found from all walks of life, those that are givers are more successful than takers or simply matchers. This is counter-intuitive and what makes the book so good. This book seeks to answer this question:

Every time we interact with another person we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?

While our culture tends to shun givers at the beginning, in the long run according to Grant, “Those who give first are best positioned for success later.”

So what are givers? They are what Grant calls Otherish:

If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests. Being otherish means being willing to give more than you receive but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give.

I particularly found the chapter on why givers burnout very relevant to pastors. Here’s what Grant said:

Principle of giver burnout: it has less to do with the amount of giving and more with the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving. Givers don’t burn out when they devote too much time and energy to giving. They burnout when they’re working with people in need but are unable to help effectively. Givers burnout not because they are giving too much but because they don’t feel like their giving is making a difference.

Here are a few more things that jumped out:

  • When takers and matchers network, they tend to focus on who can help them in the near future, and this dictates what, where, and how they give. Their actions tend to exploit a common practice in nearly all societies around the world, in which people typically subscribe to a  norm of reciprocity: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. If you help me, I’m indebted to you, and I feel obligated to repay.
  • People are more likely to benefit from weak ties.
  • You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody. 
  • Takers have a knack for generating creative ideas and championing them in the face of opposition. Because they have supreme confidence in their own opinions, they feel free of the shackles of social approval that constrict the imaginations of many people.
  • Here’s the definite feature of how givers collaborate: They take on the tasks that are in the group’s best interest, not necessarily their own personal interests.
  • Even when people are well intentioned, they tend to overvalue their own contributions and undervalue those of others.
  • Success doesn’t measure a human being, effort does.
  • Interest precedes the development of talent. It turns out that motivation is the reason that people develop talent in the first place.
  • In roles as leaders and mentors, givers resist the temptation to search for talent first. By recognizing that anyone can be a bloomer, givers focus their attention on motivation.
  • Givers focus on gritty people.
  • When our audiences are skeptical, the more we try to dominate them, the more they resist.
  • In teams and service relationships, powerless speech is actually more influential than powerful speech.
  • Successful givers, it turns out, are just as ambitious as takers and matchers.
  • Takers tend to care more about benefitting personally form their jobs, givers care deeply about doing jobs that benefit other people.
  • The perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress, enabling employees to avoid burnout and maintain their motivation and performance.
  • Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness and satisfaction, and self-esteem goes up a year later (Pastors, use this the next time you vision cast about serving at your church).
  • People who initially give things away for self reasons begin to care about the people they’re helping.
  • Common ground is a major influence on giving behaviors (Pastors, use this idea when vision casting about giving and fundraising).
  • People often take because they don’t realize that they’re deviating from the norm.
  • When we try to predict other’s reactions, we focus on the cost of saying yes, overlooking the cost of saying no (This has enormous implications on next steps in preaching).
  • If many people believe in giving, but assume others don’t, the whole norm in a group or company can shift away from giving (How a church becomes more giving).

I saved this last quote because it has enormous implications on preaching, discipleship and next steps:

According to a study led by NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, people who went public with their intentions to engage in an identity relevant behavior were significantly less likely to engage in the behavior than people who kept their intentions private. When people made their identity plans known to others, they were able to claim identity without actually following through on the behavior.

I found this book particularly helpful because many of the people who are pastors, work in ministry or volunteer at a church are givers. Grant lays out what characteristics givers have, how to encourage them to reach their potential and not burnout. A helpful book for any pastor.

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • I don’t know that words can describe tonight, but I’ll try
  • Awesome night tonight at Revolution
  • We had our second highest attendance ever
  • The band was awesome tonight, love how our church rocks out
  • We had almost 20 first time guests tonight
  • Don’t know how many people realize this but in the last 4 weeks, we have grown by almost 30 people, that is awesome
  • Love when people walk up to me and say, “Hey, I want you to meet my friend that I brought” that means you get it
  • Tonight was one of those nights that makes me love being a pastor
  • I love this church and the people I get to serve and lead with
  • I had 6 people tell me tonight that they found our church because they drove by, saw the sign and came in
  • How cool is that?
  • Did I mention that tonight was awesome
  • Over the last month, we have averaged 8 first time visitors a week, way to go in getting the word out about Revolution, keep it coming
  • Seriously, don’t quit
  • Paul nailed Jack Johson’s song Questions
  • I am reminded every week about how lucky we are to have Paul as part of the team, he is more than I thought he would be and has added so much
  • I’m done with my man crush
  • This week will be 2 years that we’ve been in Tucson, crazy journey
  • Love the first night of a new series
  • Love hearing stories of what is happening in our small groups, if you are not in one, let me know so we can get you in one
  • I felt like I nailed my sermon tonight, just saying
  • The new Kristian Stanfill EP is awesome, definitely worth picking up
  • I got the new John Grisham book, hopefully I’ll get to read it soon
  • I also have to read 6 books in the next 6 weeks for school, the one I’m reading now is the never ending book, interesting, but never ending
  • I am blown away every week by the level of our volunteers
  • Found out tonight that we have some people stepping up in kids ministry, love people who want to invest in helping the next generation find their way back to God
  • After tonight and the super bowl tomorrow, don’t know how much sleep I’ll get
  • My prediction:  My Steelers 27 – Cardinals 17
  • I’m watching the soup right now with Katie, this show is hilarious
  • Hopefully we will have a baby this week
  • I know everyone will agree with this, but is this not the best season of 24 ever??
  • A great way to stay connected to Revolution besides our website is to join our facebook group
  • Click here to join our online discussion blog
  • Get ready Revolution, you’ve seen nothing yet. We’re about to ride a crazy wave from God, it’s just getting started!