Distracting gifs

Prompted by this annoying little gem

I know that many people love to use animated gifs in blog posts and web articles, but I find them extremely distracting. The ones that bother me are those which keep looping endlessly while I’m attempting to read a web page. The movement grabs my attention away from what I’m trying to read and frankly the image cheapens what is otherwise a good article. Just my opinion, and I do have ways around it.

My iPhone use

Over the last four months I have been consistently using the Moment app every day to track my phone use and what apps I have been using. The idea is to use this information as leverage to cut down on how much we use our phones, but I have simply been recording the data and not paying much attention to it until now.

The app has to be constantly running in the background in order to record every time the screen is unlocked, recording each unlock as a pickup and every second the screen is active. This is the most automatic aspect of the app. Because of Apple’s sandboxing in iOS the app cannot eavesdrop on how long you use apps directly. Instead it asks you to take a battery use screenshot every week (or daily if you want more accuracy), which is then sent to Moment’s server an parsed to determine how long each app was active. The app designer (Kevin Holesh) acknowledges that this is an imperfect solution, but it is the best currently available on iPhones.

A hiccup I encountered is that sometimes the app records all the time I have been asleep as me using the phone. The FAQ explains that this is caused by using Sleep Cycle which can keep the phone unlocked while asleep. Usually I turn the screen off once I activate Sleep Cycle but obviously forget sometimes. This causes inaccuracies in the total screen time so I exported the data and the anomalies were easy to spot and correct (how often do you use your phone for 550 minutes in one sitting?).

My Screen Time

Average screen time: 1 hr 38 min per day (max 202 minutes; min 7 minutes)

Average pickups: 20 per day (max 49; min 5)

App Use

These are average values for my most frequently used apps.

Safari 19 min per day
Toy blast 13 min per day
Micro.blog 10 min per day
Facebook 10 min per day
Mail 6 min per day
Home & lock screen 3 min per day
App store 2 min per day
WordPress 2 min per day
Settings 1 min per day
Waterlogged 1 min per day
Last Pass 1 min per day
Sleep cycle 1 min per day
iMood Journal 1 min per day
Weather 1 min per day

Conclusions

Overall I would like to reduce my phone use to less than an hour per day, which is probably an attainable goal if I refrain from using my phone as a ‘boredom buster’. I have deleted the offending game (Toy Blast) and also the Facebook app. I’m mildly surprised that Facebook got as much screen time as it did because most days I only use it for 2 or 3 minutes. However there were some days when I sat watching stupid videos with the kids and that clocked up over an hour a day then. It remains to be seen whether Micro.blog continues to enjoy as much of my attention as it has recently, the novelty may wear off.

Another interesting consideration is whether I’m even justified in having an iPhone. There are apps that I always use every day but these are generally for logging details of my life which I’ve decided to keep track of for various reasons. This sort of thing could just as easily go in the notebook which is always in my back pocket. I could buy a lot of notebooks for the $20 a month I currently pay for my phone plan. My counter argument for this is that I often use my phone to check my blog and email due to computers being a scarce resource in our home. I would prefer to use a laptop to read blog articles or reply to comments or email but often the kids are using our only functional laptop.

Devotional reading in the digital age

I was sent a link to this article: Devotional Reading in the Digital Age today by my friend Chris.

I could anticipate the likely conclusion of the author before I began reading, but was pleased to see a subtitle ‘Let’s not be luddites‘ towards the end of the piece. Overall, the argument is that a smartphone is designed for communication and makes this so easy to do that remaining undistracted while using one to read a digital bible is quite difficult when compared to reading a paper version.

Personally, I do find this to be the case for myself. Sometimes I purposely leave my phone in a different room to avoid the temptation to fart around on social media instead of reading the bible. However, I disagree that meditating on the word of God is better with a paper bible. What I actually find is that I meditate on God’s word when I have no bible in my hand – this is when I think about what I have read or remembered and try to understand it. I may refer back to a bible, but that is often on my phone while I am walking, so a case can be made that having the bible on a digital device that’s always with you enhances meditation.

Anyway, it is a good article and a topic worth being mindful of. There are also some interesting looking links at the bottom of the article that I will get around to reading some time.

The opportunity cost of social media

An article well worth reading on the opportunity cost of social media: Is social media robbing us of our dearest hopes and dreams in life?

The subtitle ‘The biggest problem with social media? It is designed to give us exactly the opposite of what we truly want in life’, sums up the gist of it. Effectively, there is a clash between the interests of those who provide the social media technology and the interests of the people who use it. Think of what Facebook or Twitter are trying to achieve:

What does technology want? It wants more clicks, more time on site, higher conversation rates, etc. It wants your attention

Then consider what your own goals are:

What do we want? Well, presumably our dearest hopes and dreams for our lives go far beyond spending another 20 minutes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

A personal action I have decided upon after reading this article is to start breaking my lists of stuff I want to get done into tasks that will take only 10 to 20 minutes so I can see the real opportunity cost of wasting time dicking around on social media when I have other things I can easily do in the time I would waste doing that.

I can agree that social media can serve a useful purpose, and it can be used as a form of entertainment. Some people also consider slot machines to be a benign form of entertainment, but when I look at the money that gets pumped into them it’s easy for me to imagine what else could be done with that money. Our time is a less renewable resource than money so I’d like to retain control of what I spend mine on.

Feedback for faith

It is reasonably well established that the spiritual growth of Christians is closely linked to how regularly we read the Bible, ponder it’s meaning for us and engage with God in prayer.

Most of us can verify this in our own lives, the times when we have grown spiritually have often been those periods when we have spent more time in the Bible and praying. There can be a strong feedback loop in this; the more I am engaging with God the more I want to pray and read the Bible. Unfortunately, the converse is also true; the less I read the Bible the less I engage with God and the less inclined I am to continue to read the Bible.

I would not want to be dogmatic on which happens first in this feedback loop, it seems to me that if either factor slips the situation in general either spirals downwards or grows in worship. What matters most is to know that they are indeed linked. Being aware of this link enables each of us to influence our spiritual growth.

Yet it can be frustratingly difficult to maintain a regular habit of engaging with the Bible and engaging with God. I have been a Christian since I was 18 years old and for some reason it seems to be getting harder to maintain these habits as I get older rather than becoming easier which is what my expectation was (most habits get easier the longer you do them – driving is a good example). Several obvious reasons for this come to mind; I have 3 children who are still fairly young, I own a mortgage with a house attached so time is needed to maintain this liability, and I work on a 24-hour rotating roster so do not have a set bedtime or wake up time.

However, there are also increasing concerns that the digital age is bringing new pressures upon our devotional habits. In October 2013 David Murray posted a couple of articles looking at technology-related factors which make it more difficult to spend time with God:

  • Loss of boundaries between work and private life
  • Loss of concentration due to multitasking habits
  • Habitual scanning of text when reading
  • Loss of meditation/deep thinking
  • Loss of memory (as in Bible memorization, not Alzheimer’s disease!)
  • Loss of problem solving
  • Loss of social connection
  • Loss of sleep (definitely a problem for me!)
  • Loss of quiet
  • Loss of friendships
  • Loss of family time
  • Loss of privacy
  • Too much time wasting
  • Loss of purity
  • Loss of patience
  • Loss of wisdom
  • Loss of humility

For more detail on these problems, check out the original post. Multitasking, social media and Google cop the blame in David Murray’s post. I’m not in full agreement with his list as many of these things can be lumped together under the problem of having almost constant access to unlimited information and amusements. But it is good to consider how technology is interfering with my spiritual life. The followup post was a little more practical: 20 Tips For Personal Devotions in the Digital Age. Again, I don’t agree with everything on his list but it is a good start.

For myself, this difficulty in maintaining good devotional habits is a result of several intertwined factors: being much too easily distracted by the computer/internet, lack of sleep, reserving some quiet space in the day, and forgetting that being in fellowship with God is the greatest thing I can have.

At least there are some steps I can take to improve things:

  • Get more sleep
  • Step away from the computer sooner
  • Spend some time with God – even a little bit of real fellowship is a start

Fidgety prayers

fidgety-prayers

There was a time when I used to get up early each morning to spend time seeking God at the beginning of my day. That habit gradually faded as wife, children, work and the internet filled up my life.

These days it is generally easier for me to get time alone late in the evenings rather than in the mornings. Yet making constructive use of this time to seek God takes discipline to turn off the computer or TV, to put down my book and pick up the Bible. Just as it takes resolve and discipline to get out of bed early on a cold morning. My problem is not primarily one of having no time but lies in how I am choosing to use what time I’ve got.

I recall my bachelor days when I would get up and enjoy a cup of tea while reading the Bible and praying before getting ready for work. So in order to reactivate some dormant memory cells, last night I made a cup of tea and sat down to read and pray. My mind wandered, I fidgeted and walked around the room. But I was seeking God.

​Something which has encouraged me in my messy, inadequate pursuit of God is a quote I recently read from Henri Nouwen:

“WHY should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?

The answer is: because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.

What I must do first of all is be faithful. If I believe that the first commandment is to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, then I should at least be able to spend one hour a day with nobody else but God. The question as to whether it is helpful, useful, practical, or fruitful is completely irrelevant, since the only reason to love is love itself. Everything else is secondary.

The remarkable thing, however, is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning — day after day, week after week, month after month — in total confusion and with myriad distractions radically changes my life. God, who loves me so much that He sent His only son not to condemn me but to save me, does not leave me waiting in the dark too long.

I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.

So: Be confident and trust in the Lord.”

From The Road to Daybreak, by Henri Nouwen.​ (I read this here)

I can’t drink from a fire hose

Fire-hoseI deleted 52 blogs off my feed reader today. They were all good ones too. Now I have only 10 feeds remaining, one of which is my own blog.

Why would I do that?

I realized that I can only drink from a cup, not from a fire hose.

I was spending a lot of time scanning through numerous pages of blog posts, anxious I might miss something if I didn’t read all of them. Or I would look at my feed reader and read nothing because it was too overwhelming.

I subscribed to all of those blogs because they offered something useful to me at the time. But regardless of how useful they were individually, as a combined fire hose of information they simply generated anxiety.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

The skillset of our internet age no longer has finding information at the top of the most useful list, now we have to be better at filtering information – taking in only what we need. This is something I am having to learn, having been educated in the era when books were the only source of reliable information.

Oddly enough, this situation is a little like the very first temptation – reach out and take knowledge (Genesis 3:5-6). Yet having grasped knowledge we now find that unlimited information is in fact empty and burdensome because we ourselves are finite. Satisfaction does not come from trying to become like God, it is found by submitting to God and trusting in my Creator.

What I need to refresh me is to drink from a cup of still water, something that has had time to sit and allow the sediment and crud to settle out from it. God provides this, He leads me into spaces in which there are restful waters to refresh my soul. Deep, living water bubbling up from His Word.

He leads me beside still waters.
(Psalm 23:2 ESV)


Photo of firefighter by AnnaGreen via iStock

My fragile faith seed

mustard-seed

How does a stumbling, distracted man keep his heart fixed upon Christ?

The world around me ignores Christ and even in my own home there are plenty of distractions drawing my heart away from Him. Worse still, my own heart is bent on straying from Jesus into ambivalence and sin (Romans 7:18).

Having plenty of failed attempts under my belt already, it is clear that the only place to start is with what messy reality I’ve got here today. Fortunately, part of this reality is that I want to live with Christ at the center (Hebrews 11:6). Such a desire indicates faith and so my starting point consists of a sinful heart, faith and Jesus Christ.

No matter how depraved my heart may be, a grain of faith in Christ is all I need – He will do the rest.

This is perhaps the hardest bit – my fragile faith seed appears impotent against the sin in my own heart. What faith does is to cry out to Jesus. In my distractions I ask for His steadfast love. As a little child with arms outstretched and heart tender, coming to the One in whom I trust for everything.


External links related to this topic:

Image of mustard seed: iStockphoto

Quietness and trust

God waits for me to draw aside from the world and its distractions in order to seek Him, then He speaks to my soul.

a fawn lying in grass looking at camera

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

With each year that passes I become more aware of how little really matters. It is also evident how little what really matters gets valued, and how prized is that which doesn’t matter.

While God has the ability to easily get my attention by overwhelming all the other clamour in my life, He chooses not to. He waits for me to draw aside from the world and its distractions in order to seek Him, then He speaks to my soul.


Image of fawn in grass: iStockphoto