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.

Temporal Anomalies

A Lego clock.

Recently, one of my colleagues unexpectedly announced his resignation. This was actually his second resignation in a couple of years…he had left and then returned…but this time was moving on for good. This happens with some frequency in today’s world, and not just in my field. These days, anyone with a marketable skillset shifts jobs with some frequency.

I think of my father, who worked for the same company throughout my childhood, finally retiring while I was in college after decades of “service” to the company. The idea of this is foreign in today’s vocabulary. Workers just don’t do this anymore. As soon as something becomes too irritating with the setting of one’s employment, one moves on.

In a way, I think that this is a sign of a positive change in the power dynamic within the workforce. Those with in-demand skills ultimately hold more power in the employer-employee relationship, because they can (often quite literally) have a new and competitive job tomorrow if they suddenly decide that this one isn’t working out. The burden of performance lies with the company to take care of its workers and keep them happy, and this is a good thing. I wish that it were more widespread.

All the same, I’m convinced that the lack of permanency in our culture is damaging, because it makes our human interactions more fleeting. When we lived in Raleigh, I did a contract gig in which I worked with a completely remote team. I really liked all of the people with whom I worked, but I never met most of them. We were spread out all over the world, and, despite some great conversations and a lot of commonalities between our different cultures (parents just understand each other), you never form the sort of connection that you do when you interact with someone face-to-face. I feel as though I came so close to forming a real relationship with some of those colleagues, but never really achieved a connection.

Synergy is one of those things that just happens with a team, something that’s either there or not. Despite what organizational coaches try to teach, you can’t force a creative spark and camaraderie. When this connection happens, it’s great. I’ve experienced it profoundly in ministry groups and professional settings, and it’s motivational to keep going back and doing the work. The issue is that, in the business world, these groups are almost always, in my experience, broken up because of some organizational shift that is perceived to have a greater potential for profit.

Or, as happened a couple of weeks ago, because people just simply move on. The resulting impermanence breaks the connection.

I think that this is why marriage is intended to be permanent, and also why parent-child relationships are so strong…because the permanence is just hard-wired in. There is no choice in that relationship. My child is my child, and I am her parent, forever.


I’m left with the thought that I need to make more of an effort to remain connected with people in my life. I exchanged contact information with my colleague, but we haven’t spoken since he left. I don’t want my friendships to become victims of this impermanence. Even with some of my oldest friends, the act of remaining intentionally in touch with each other is more difficult because we have moved to different geographic locations. Essentially, we’ve introduced yet another type of impermanence in doing so. Is it possible to keep these friendships intact? I have to think so. Before emails people wrote letters, and many friendships endured for years over great distances.

Yet, we’ve moved on. I still recall a theatre group with which I volunteered years ago. We were a ministry group. They were my close friends. I still wonder at times today what advice they would give me for situations with which I am confronted. I can almost hear their words to me…they echo in my head. Yet, I haven’t spoken to them in so long.

The relationships withered because I moved away, because there was a greener grass on the other side, because it was what had to be done. There was motivation, there was dissatisfaction, some valid and some otherwise. This created impermanence, which drew my friends and I apart.


When my colleague moved on, I sighed, adopted a “chin up” attitude, and kept going through my day. One can’t let oneself become sad about these sorts of things. People move on…it’s what we do. Just as I have moved on from so many friends, from so many places, in search of the next thing.

I’ve gained a lot. Yet, I’ve lost so much.

A Review of “Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology”

Screenshot of the cover of Digitzed: Spiritual Implications of TechnologyThis book intrigued me because I’m always fascinated by interdisciplinary explorations, especially when the thoughts surround theological implications of how we live our daily lives. As I’ve always been a bit of geek, and now make my living in technology, thinking theologically about that technology and how it impacts not only what I do, but how I live, is an exercise that I do regularly in any case. Hearing someone else’s thoughts on this is always welcome to me.

So, Bernard Bull’s Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology popped out to me as a must-read. I’ve never heard of Bull prior to this book, or read any of his other work, though he is published elsewhere. What I expected was a theological treatment of technology and daily life. What I got, to my disappointment, was a more religious recommendation of how to utilize technology in practice.

Bull’s examinations are of a very surface level. Spread widely through his book are definitions of basic concepts, such as social media and blogs. While establishing definitions early is important in any scholarly work, Bull dwells on these definitions at length, targeting readers who are not technically savvy at the expense of those who are. As a result, he manages to alienate readers such as myself (who are drawn to what the book appears to be about) in his earliest chapters. His recommendations at orthopraxy are low-level, extremely basic, and backed by views that smack of the very legalism that Bull insists he is trying to avoid.

That said, the book is not entirely without value. Bull spends time discussing the spiritual perils of a cultural obsession with efficiency, emphasizing that a Christian theological worldview insists that people are created in God’s image, and thus are more than the numbers to which the business world attempts to reduce us. He also includes thought-provoking discussion on the concept of identity and how this is effected by our digital presentations of ourselves, the implications of which are a relative concept of our true selves and how that relatively is, by definition, untrue.

Continuing on this concept of relativity, Bull speaks a timely truth in regards to how digital expression impacts our perceptual filters of the world in which we live:

“We are inclined to believe that which is presented in the most persuasive manner rather than that which is true. We celebrate social and political commentary that appears in 140 characters…We grow disinterested in lengthier explanations. We turn to ad hominem attacks on those with whom we disagree instead of respectfully debating the issues. We value news as much for its entertainment value as for its accuracy and information. If we are not careful, such practices breed skepticism about truth.”

Bernard Bull, “Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology”, p. 152

While Bull attempts to give us practical applications at the conclusion of his book (most of which I forced myself through as they appeared to be targeting those of an unrealistic level of technological illiteracy), his best practical take-away, perhaps ironically, comes from someone else. He borrows from Neil Postman and his contribution to the field of media ecology. Bull encourages the reader to answer the following questions when adopting any new technology (taken from pp. 130ff):

  1. What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
  2. Whose problem is it, actually?
  3. If there is a legitimate problem that is solved by this technology, what other problems will be caused by using this technology?
  4. Am I using this technology, or is it using me?

Personally, the answers with which I found myself after asking the final of these four questions were…troubling….in regard to some pieces of technology that have a place in my life. Despite the large percentage of the book that was disappointing to me, there was much value in this application, though I question whether it is more Postman’s application than Bull’s.

Altogether, this book is worth reading for the 10% that is thought-provoking, assuming the reader is willing to either skip the rest or force themselves through it. Digitized is far from what I expected, but not completely without value.

Travel Log: Seattle

The strange thing about visiting Seattle for the first time is that I had dreamed that I already had. I dreamed that I visited an office there for my day job, and had been surprised by how sparse the surrounding neighborhood had appeared. In my dream, it was essentially a suburb of L.A. Obviously, that couldn’t have been more wrong.

I arrived in the wee hours of the morning after a grueling 13-hour travel day that was the result of my airline “accommodating” me for a cancelled flight. There, at 1:00 a.m. local time in SeaTac airport (while my body was convinced that it was actually 4:00 a.m.), came my first experience with Seattle’s peculiarities with Lyft: the drivers always call or text to confirm your location (they also never seem to arrive on the same side of the street as you).

Welcome to Seattle sign at SeaTac Airport

I was in Seattle for 4 days, and experienced about 5 hours of sunlight during my stay. The stereotype of the city being all rain all the time certainly seemed to hold true for my visit. I was also surprised by the fog. I awoke on two mornings (always insanely early as my body remained stubbornly on East coast time) to find myself barely able to see neighboring buildings to my downtown hotel’s window for the fog.

When there is sun, though, the waterfront and Pike Place market are busy and fun. I also saw Seattle Pacific University, which I knew from listening to the Kindlings Muse in its prime, and had always wanted to see in person.

During my explorations, I found a fantastic allergy-friendly restaurant for lunch. If you’re gluten-free or dairy free, I very much recommend that you stop by Niche Cafe and Bakery if you’re in the city. I found no need to pack my own coffee and travel press as I usually do on trips, because, being Seattle, you’re never far from a good cup of coffee. This doesn’t just include Starbucks, of course. VoxxCoffee was only a block from my hotel, and a perfect stop before my daily excursions.

Seattle seems to be in a perpetual state of construction, and cranes dot the skyline like dinosaurs stretching their long necks above the treetops. I’ve read that the construction is because of a tech boom in the city. It certainly causes its share of pedestrian headaches.

Construction in downtown Seattle
Construction in Seattle effects the skyline, and the sidewalks below

Of course, whenever I’m in a city with a Hard Rock Cafe, I have to visit. I suppose that I had high expectations for this Hard Rock, given that Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, but I was disappointed. This was one of the least interesting Hard Rocks that I’ve seen.

Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle
Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle

I often don’t go see big tourist attractions because I’d rather see the city (I’ve been to New York City and never seen the Statue of Liberty). True to form, I suppose, I skipped the Space Needle. I did visit the Seattle Public Library on a recommendation though — it’s a stunning architectural achievement in its own right.

Seattle was backward to me. The water felt as though I was facing East (I’ve heard that confusion is normal), and seductive: it’s a downhill walk to reach the water, but you’ll get a good workout on the uphill walk back to the hotel. Seattle struck me as a dirty city, which surprised me. I felt as though I needed the rain for cleansing after I had walked a few blocks. As is often the case, Seattle was very different than I had imagined (or dreamed). I had always entertained the idea that I might like to live there, given its reputation for intellectualism. While I definitely enjoyed my visit, I’ve also crossed that thought off of my list. Seattle was fun, but I just simply need more sunlight in my life.

Syncopation

Image of snare drum with sticks. Used under creative commons.

A week ago from the time that I write this, I was driving home after dropping Karen and our girls off for a week-long trip to see some family. I was in the sort of contemplative mindset that I often find just out of reach lately. I drove past a house with a truck parked in the driveway. The logo on the side of the truck indicated that it belonged to a fire safety business. Because of where the truck was parked, and the time – it was a Sunday night – my mind, crafting stories as always, began to fill in the details.

The person who owned the truck worked for, or perhaps owned, that business, according to this story. This was a local business, and he would go to work the next morning, driving to jobs around the area, into adjacent towns. He likely knows the area extremely well, and is accustomed to the rhythm and schedule. This person would get up and go to work the next morning after the alarm went off at the same time as always, beginning a new day and a new week.

I grew up around that type of work. I understand – if only by close proximity instead of by doing – that rhythm. That rhythm is such a counterpoint to my life now.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a small local restaurant in Seattle and, over lunch, coordinated a complex technical event that was happening in Boston from my phone. That sort of flexibility and capability is exciting, and fun. I still don’t grasp the rhythm of this work, though, perhaps because there isn’t any. Time bends in on itself, loses its meaning. Everything happens with immediacy. I long for a rhythm, for some local work.

A colleague joked a few years ago that she wanted to stop doing our profession and be a barista for a living. I laughed at this, and I also recalled a friend from my undergrad days. He said that, when he finished school, he didn’t care if he worked at a gas station all night for a living. He just wanted to write. I remember laughing at that too, but, honestly, sometimes I wish that I could just serve coffee during the day, read, and finish that novel, the draft of which has been collecting dust since our first daughter was born. I think that, when I want that, I want it not only because it would be simpler, but because the rhythm would be more….defined.

The rhythm of the life that I have now, filled with fast-paced technology and the controlled chaos of two children, is syncopated, wildly unpredictable. There’s a sense that it’s always delicately balanced, just on the edge of being out of control. There’s no real option but to embrace that syncopation at the moment. Like in jazz, those rhythms can have a purpose, even be playful at times. I long for the quiet, though, the purpose of knowing that your work is just your work, and that it is done when it is done.

Perhaps that is a thing of the past.

Image attribution: Vladimir Morozov under Creative Commons.