2010 – A Decade in Review

I actually intended to post this prior to the new year, but the holidays were hectic and I’m only now sitting down to my keyboard. As we moved through Advent and into the Christmas season this year, I was largely oblivious to the fact that January 1 would not only roll over a new year on our calendar, but a new decade. I usually go about setting at least cursory new year’s resolutions for myself (I’m still deciding what this year’s will be)…well, except for one year when Karen and I were entirely oblivious to the fact that it was even New Year’s Eve…but a new decade seems much more significant when you think about it. Then, I read another blogger’s post in which he recapped the decade, and began thinking about just how much has occurred in our life over the course of ten years. So, inspired to do the same, here’s a glimpse into what the decade of 2010 held for us. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was life-altering.

2010

Karen and I were “living the dream” in 2010. We were four years into our marriage, young professionals in a nice apartment in the city where we met in grad school. Karen had moved away from teaching middle and high school and was a professor, and I was writing while not in my day job in the non-profit world. We did theatre together. Not everything was perfect – not by any stretch. And certainly we were spread thin financially at times. But I look back on those days now, with the freedom and creativity that we had, and I miss them.

Me and Karen, living the dream

2011

Our oldest daughter joined us unexpectedly in 2011. We were in labor for 24 hours prior to a C-section delivery. Our friends were praying for us, Karen’s mother came and stayed with us for nearly a month. I remember how my world changed – I literally saw things differently when Karen told me that we were expecting – and how speechless and stupid I felt when my daughter’s cries first echoed from the delivery room walls. The night before we went to the hospital, I remember sitting in our living room with Karen and her mom and reading Salinger out loud because we chose one of our daughter’s middle names from his story, “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”

It's a Girl! A balloon from our first baby shower.

2012

My focus shifted from writing (I still haven’t finished the novel with which I was so nearly finished when our first daughter was born) to the web. As I was pushed out of my first career as a result of legislative changes, I began to make my hobby into a living. With our daughter only just a year old, we moved to New England so that I could return to school in Boston. We had determined that there are two types of education: really cool education in things that matter, and education that earns a living. We both had a lot of the first, not as much of the second. The goal was to remedy that situation.

2013

One of the high points of our life in New England was a job that I had with a group that used theatre programming as a treatment modality for adolescents who were on the spectrum. I lead a team of other clinicians, and this became my ministry. I loved every second of that job…I couldn’t wait to go to work. I have missed it painfully ever since.

2014 – 2015

It was surprisingly more difficult to rebound in my new career in New England than we had anticipated. The company I was with wasn’t working out, and we needed some freedom. We packed our lives once more and moved into a house that we still owned in North Carolina. We would spend the next two years fixing up that house and getting it ready to sell while I was freelancing and Karen was teaching as an adjunct. Our daughter was just coming out of her love for Thomas the Train and moving into Wild Kratts (animals are still her fascination). These were great years for me professionally, but I lost so much focus spiritually. I longed to be as firm in my faith as I was when I was in seminary, but I was working such long weeks. My relationship with our daughter was strained during this critical time, as well. As successful as I was professionally in those years, I wish I could go back and reclaim some of that lost time.

Interest in Daddy's work

2016

Surprise! Our second daughter joined us unexpectedly (see a pattern here?). A highlight of this time was having both sets of parents with us, overlapping for a few days, to help with the baby, all together in our home. As stressful as it was (you’d think that we would have a grip on things having had one child already), having our family together was priceless. We had been praying to return to New England during this time also, and, shortly after our second daughter was born, I received a sudden offer from a company in Boston that was just what we were looking for. So, with our new daughter not quite a year old (seriously, do you see a pattern?), we packed and moved in a month, back to New England.

2017-2019

Along with getting used to winters here again, we also began to get some answers to our oldest daughter’s academic struggles. The diagnosis of Nonverbal Learning Disability answers so many things, but has been so difficult to absorb. We’ve entered the new decade attempting to navigate this, with all of the logistical, financial, and emotional difficulties that it brings. Before I set those New Year’s resolutions, my goal for the new decade is that our daughter is equipped with what she needs to have a successful and happy life, and that we are able to grow into being the parents that she deserves. I love that little girl so much, and previous resolutions seem so empty now….


On New Year’s eve, Karen and I watched a movie. She fell asleep on the sofa, and I poured a glass of wine and did something that I hadn’t done in many years…I watched the ball drop. I used to be into this tradition, and it seemed so flippant now. I feel my age, more weary than I should feel at times, and, to paraphrase a Wall Flowers song, I haven’t changed, but I know I’m not the same.

I hope that your new year…and your new decade…is blessed in whatever life sends your way. Who knows what adventures I’ll be able to write about in 2030? Time will tell…

Quote

Merry Christmas 2019

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not

The love-song which they bring;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing.

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, public domain

May your Christmas be blessed, and may we all cease our strife in the new year and hear each other, carrying with us the beauty of the Truth of the season.

Disruptive Traditions

A Christmas basket created by an former colleague and gifted to my parents years ago.
A Christmas basket created by an former colleague and gifted to my parents years ago.

During our first year of marriage, Karen and I began sorting out what the family dynamics would look like as we approached the holidays. Thanksgiving has always been the big event for her side of the family, and Christmas for mine. The thing about our families is that they live far enough away that we have never been…and never could be…close to both of them regardless of where we live. As we moved here and there over the course of the last ten years, we basically split the difference and focused on spending as much time as possible with whichever set of parents was closer. Until we had our first daughter, we decided that the equitable thing to do was to simply alternate. One year we traveled to my parents for Christmas and hers for Thanksgiving, the next year we switched. This served us well until it was three of us instead of two.

After our first daughter, we decided that we would designate holidays. Since Thanksgiving is more important to her side of the family, we began traveling to her side then, and always to my side for Christmas. This arrangement seemed to work for everyone involved, and it has stayed that way until we moved back to New England a few years ago.

The interesting thing about how we handled the holidays is that spending one at home really wasn’t something for which we were ever prepared. We never gave it much thought, with the exception of one year that Karen was in a new job and didn’t have the vacation available to travel. Otherwise, when the holidays arrived, we were out of town. When we had our oldest, we decided she would learn to travel early (she did great, by the way).

When we were still living in North Carolina and were pregnant with our second daughter, though, this shifted in an epiphanic way. Karen was too late in the pregnancy to travel that Christmas, so we had been planning one at home for several months. We put effort into the event, planning food and stockings for our daughter in ways that we just hadn’t before. How would we intentionally integrate our Christian tradition? How would we eschew materialism? We hadn’t had to be intentional about these things before.

That Christmas morning, our daughter awoke so excited she literally forgot how to climb out of her bed. Having breakfast together, opening gifts, playing and being together through the day…yes, we missed being with family, but we felt like a family of our own in a way that we hadn’t prior to that Christmas. This waypoint shifted the way we look at how we celebrate Christmas.


Since settling back in New England three years ago, we’ve had mixed success in traveling for the holidays. This year, we had our first conversation around what traditions we would bring into the marriage for Christmas celebrations. What will our children grow up with in the way of traditions? Ten years into our marriage, this is the first time we had entertained this discussion. It was difficult. While we share a common faith, our family backgrounds and solidified preferences in how we practice that faith are actually quite different, and this is at its most obvious when thinking about the holiday season.

We currently have a somewhat working arrangement for Advent and Christmas, which we’ll re-assess again next year. I think that it will take some time get this right. I am not a fan of tradition or routine, but I find that I crave them at Christmas. I was even defensive of some things that my family did during my childhood that just wouldn’t translate for ours. Moving past that, it’s important to have these traditions, especially faith traditions for the holiday. What it teaches, the depth that it cultivates within the context of our rampant consumerism…it is so important for our children to grow up with a foundation.

When it comes to Christmas, I don’t exactly know what that foundation will look like. At least not yet.

When we arrive at a decision, though, it will be our tradition.

I just wish we hadn’t waited so long.

A Review of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”

A screenshot of the cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” was recommended on a podcast to which I regularly listen, but without much detail. I suppose it was the title that grabbed me, and persuaded me to brave Zuboff’s lengthy treatment on the topic. That said, my itch was primed for scratching on this subject, as I’ve read more and more information regarding how our privacy is carelessly disregarded by tech firms as they build ecosystems for us….and with us.

A turning point for me and how I approach technology was the first time that I heard the phrase, “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.” Unpacking that concept will make anyone, I think, increasingly wary of the services that they use each day. Zuboff expands the concept further. We are not the product, she insists. Rather, we are the raw material that big tech companies are using to create profit in a new form of capitalism, and, as such, we are not only not being compensated, but are essentially being used until we are no more.

The book begins with a historical treatment of our current technological landscape, with the invention of the iPhone, and the coming to be of the state of being constantly “plugged in.” She then walks the reader through the process of Google and Facebook evolving into the business models that they use today, made possible by the fact that our technology is always with us, that it knows us. Her research is thorough and organized, her facts compelling. The reader understands the particular confluence of events…some deliberate, some happenstance…that brought us into the age that we currently inhabit.

Next, the author turns to economic theory. I admit to having difficulty following this part of her argument, as this is certainly an academic text in tone, and I think that it could have been “translated” better for the likely large percentage of readers who, like myself, have no background in economics. Her point, however, is to trace the evolution of capitalism and how it functions, and how this traditional economic model has been turned on its head as we move beyond an information economy and into a surveillance economy. The source of profit is now what others know about us, and the goods and services trade that has traditionally accompanied economic models…even the implied consent inherit in these models…no longer apply.

Facebook and Google are the author’s favorite subjects of analysis throughout the book. Each, the author contends, views themselves as above concerns for their users’ privacy because their creators see themselves as building a world and existence that is better, and essentially forcing their users to move into this new state of being. This is a “we know what’s best for you” dystopian scenario that we experience, often unknowingly, and with a growing degree of powerlessness.

Throughout the book, Zuboff returns to a basic point:

“Who knows, who decides, and who decides who decides?”

Shoshana Zuboff

These are the foundational questions surrounding each of our technology choices every day, fundamental questions about the innermost parts of ourselves, who we choose to permit to know this, and what they can do with that knowledge. The author’s point is that technology leaders know more than we would every knowingly permit, and they wield that knowledge in their own best interests, un-checked and free from accountability.

This is a heavy read, not for the faint of heart, but worthwhile for absolutely everyone, because it is dealing with fundamental questions about our age. The facts presented here will change the way in which you interact with technology, with social media, with other online services every day. I highly recommend this book to anyone, as it is well worth the time you’ll invest in working toward its conclusion.

When We Know Too Much

There’s an old adage which claims that ignorance is bliss. There was a point in my life in which I think that this bothered me, assuming that it was an excuse for not wanting to educate oneself on a given topic. Anyone who has worked an unpleasant job, however…you know, the sort of part-time gig that pays the bills while you’re in college?…has learned the truth that, the more you know, the more that is expected, and likely decided that you just didn’t want to know.

This doesn’t stop when we enter the professional world, though. I discovered this the first time that I was in a leadership role. There was a heavy self-examination that took place before I would accept the responsibility. I recall my father coming home and discussing how he turned down, or had no interest in, more leadership responsibilities than he already had at work. He wanted to just do his job and come home. The extra burden was a weight that he chose to live without, and I will always have respect for his courage to make that decision.

Sometimes, I consider this when I think of how much information thrusts itself into my daily life. A few years ago, I used to have conversations, as I’m sure most of us did, around how “it’s never been easier to access the information that we need,” or words to that effect. Now, we have conversations about how information is always there, whether we want it to be or not, like the illegal off-switches predicted in Max Headroom. My phone includes a screen time monitor that, among other data, tells me how many notifications I receive each week. The first time that I saw the number, I was astounded at how many I receive on an average day. The number was huge.

And that number is another piece of information, another data point, which makes its way into my life.

I think that we forget that knowledge brings with it responsibility. Just like that old college job, a truth in life is that the more that we know, the more that is required of us, because that knowledge brings with it a burden as well as a benefit.

“Knowledge is a burden–once taken up, it can never be discarded.”

Stephen Lawhead, from The Paradise War

I thought of this a few days ago when I read about a new service offered by the U.S. Postal Service called Informed Delivery. While it’s a really interesting capability, and while I can imagine use cases for certain people and scenarios, especially surrounding the holiday rush that will impose itself upon our lives all too soon, my initial reaction was that I have no place in my life for this information. This would be yet another notification, yet another data point showing up on a device, something that I would be checking periodically, all for information that I can easily live without.

And that, I think, is the key. What information can we live without? I think that the answer is a greater amount than we think. In a way, the older that I get, the more my view of progress changes, the more that I consider the wisdom that, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. The rapid pace of our digital milieu seems to be based entirely on doing everything that we can, simply because we can.

I’m far from a luddite. I really like new toys. Lately, though, I’ve been working through the clutter and identifying what is too much, keeping what is necessary, and leaving behind what is not. I think that some people have a use for Informed Delivery, as well as for many other new technologies and tools that we hear about every day. I just caution that we don’t all have a need for all of the things that are out there, and that, if you don’t, perhaps…just perhaps…your life might be better off without.

Just a thought.