Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.


Related posts:

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.

Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?

How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.


Image: iStock

Twitter praying

Today Ann wrote about wounds, scars, pain and the beauty of Christ redeeming our lives. Whoever and wherever you are, life will knock you around and wound you in many ways.

This week the scab on one of my own scars was ripped open again. Then someone told me of their own massive wounding, facing eternity and a crisis of faith. Another story came to my ears of deep anguish of soul and uncertainty of how to face the world again.

My own little scab shrunk back into it’s context. I still hurts, it will take time to heal over again – especially if I keep knocking the top off it like this.

For myself I (weakly) called out to God in my hurt, then asked a friend on the other side of the world for prayer via Twitter. When daylight came I rallied prayer from home also. God heard, and helped. I have likewise prayed for these people I know who are struggling through very dark places and others are praying for them too.

Some time after reading Ann’s post today, I read another discussing The Rise of Confessional Media and inappropriate sharing of personal stories through social media. This caused me to pause and consider whether it is wise for me to discuss the struggles of living the Christian life online? Why add to the noise? This had long been a worry of mine and probably should be – there is already a lot of rubbish out there, who wants more?!

But when it is 3am and asking for prayer takes less than 140 characters to type into Twitter, social media becomes God’s hand reaching across the oceans. The people at either end of the keyboards are just as real as my wife praying with me at home. If we remember this we can speak the truth in love and grow together in Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Sharing our pains and struggles needn’t be voyeuristic or narcissistic. We must take care, some stuff is not for the world to read, but the real stories of hurting and healing, wounds and worship – these are our testimony to the work of Christ in us. This is something to share in humility.


Gifts I have noticed recently (#894 – #902):

894) Wonderful, glorious daylight.
895) Technology, even with it’s pitfalls.
896) Not knowing how little time I have left.
897) Patting my smelly old dog.
898) Waking up during the day when I should be asleep – at least I get to see some daylight.
899) Time to think.
900) Finding a refill for my favourite pen.
901) Eleven years of marriage and still deeply in love
902) Craig, the only other man I know of who counts blessings like this.

Image: iStock

Limited edition

God sets the limits for all things. He sets limits for the sea so it does not encroach upon the land. He sets the times and seasons, He determines the orbits of stars and planets. He sets the length of life for all people and the times of rulers and kings.

God also limits each of us, setting the place where we will be born, the parents we will have, and the abilities we will inherit.

I seem to spend much of my life kicking against the limits within which my life has been placed. I’m not entirely sure what I am seeking to achieve, but often I push against the limited time available to me, burning through the quiet hours of my nights in the eerie glow of a computer display. I hungrily read and consume from the fire-hose of information now available through the internet.

Oddly, my ‘problem’ is no longer the difficulty of locating information as it was a decade ago, now I have difficulty saying ‘enough’. I have information obesity (it is even a problem for academics).

Unfortunately most of what passes as ‘information’ is really just trivial. In fact, the best most popular blogs, websites, news outlets and social media sites are primarily experts in entertainment and how to hold a human being’s attention in such a way as to induce clicks, page views or divulging of credit card details.

This evening I read a book instead of opening the lid of the laptop. It felt good, undistracted, a cohesive argument to follow and well crafted words – quality workmanship. I need to read more books and browse the internet less. There is good reason for calling it ‘browsing’ or ‘surfing’ – both capture the skimming, superficial nature of how we interact with the web.

God created me with limits. I need to respect them and use the limited time I have wisely.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

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 out of 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