3 Years Ago Today

Did you know that on this day 3 years ago I was writing a blog post?  I didn’t know either.  Yet Facebook, Timehop, and Google Photos want to make it impossible to forget what we ate for breakfast at that super cute brunch place 6 months ago.

I’ve been earning money for the last 5 years as a social media specialist.  I’m the person who’s hyper-targeting the ad so it reaches you: the recent home buyer with a birthday in the next month who is friends with someone who just got engaged.  

So I’m confident that social media and information giants like Facebook and Google never do things without a reason.  And that reason always comes down to their bottom line, as it should.  The currency of all things internet is views, impressions, and active user counts. More Millennials sharing photos of their lattes on Facebook = better active user statistics = more advertising $$.

There’s an intrinsic motivation for social media networks to keep people addicted to sharing every mundane moment.  What better way to do it than to become your scrapbook, time capsule, and memory?  They’ll keep track of the details of your existence so you don’t have to.

But you better have a life worth remembering.

Since Timehop first introduced the concept of constantly being reminded about what happened on this day in your personal history, I’ve started to see a change in the way we take photos.  We must always snap some representative shot of what that day entailed because otherwise, there’d be nothing to reminisce over in a year. 

And if we must take a photo every day, then we must be doing something fantastic with amazing people every day to photograph.  Or at least some latte art.

But  life isn’t always #darling.  Sometimes it’s #painful and #unphotogenic.  And sometimes, we miss the real moments of life, even the gritty hard ones, when we’re constantly on the lookout to find today’s best picture.

This is just a PSA that Facebook and Google Photos and Timehop know what they’re doing.  The more they addict you to seeing a younger version of yourself every morning on your phone, the more you’ll feel the need to keep photographing and posting so you can remember THIS EXACT MOMENT next year.  Just be sure it’s actually you who is in the picture.

Rituals of Reticence

“Quiet time” might be one of the most confusing words in the Christanese English Dictionary.  It’s revered, insisted upon, and I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for not doing enough of it, but it’s hard to know what it actually is.  Quiet time involves Bible reading, of course, and definitely some praying.  I hear whispers about worship songs and something about a special chair in a corner with a quilt.  Not to mention #CoffeeAndJesus.  Or should that be #JesusAndCoffee?

I’m an ex-seminary wife, but I’m no theologian so I won’t attempt a dissertation on the means of grace.  However, I think it’s fairly clear from the Bible reading I’ve done that we are called to read God’s Word regularly and come to Him with our prayers, thanksgivings, and worship.

When I think about those activities, they have a common theme of requiring a great deal of attention.  It may or may not be audibly quiet but to be still before God requires, well, being still.  And reading the Bible well requires time, an attention span, and the mental space to reflect.

I still feel like my 5 year-old self who was constantly getting scolded in Sunday School for playing with the Velcro on my shiny patent leather shoes during prayer time. I continually find it a struggle to sit still for long enough to read Scripture well or to place my attention on God instead of myself for more than 10 seconds at a time.

But why should I expect myself to be able to be quiet before God if I’m not quiet any other time of the day?  If I can’t carve out times to think or reflect about anything without obsessively scrolling through my Instagram feed, why would my time with God be any different?

Our attention is so often misplaced, refracted by the prism of technology into infinite beams of distraction–red inboxes, blue newsfeeds, yellow snaps, and rainbows of images–all stealing my ability to focus on just. one. thing.

The habits we allow to rule the majority of our lives will naturally spill over into the times we set aside to intentionally grow in our faith and relationship with God.  If I lose my literacy by skimming online articles and headlines, my ability to read the Bible suffers as well.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Luke and I often remind each other of this quote from Blaise Pascal. The bad news is that it’s harder than ever nowadays to be quiet and alone. The good news is that replacing the rituals of distraction with intentional attention will not only make being quiet before God more natural, it will smooth out some other wrinkles in the rhythm of life.

And sure enough, when we begin to prioritize thinking over texting and listening over “liking”, we find our problems smaller, our hearts calmer, and our minds clearer.

Living in Russia without a traditional 9-5 grind has provided me with the opportunity for more mental space.  This fall, I’m going to focus on growing my attention span and creating rituals of reticence throughout my day.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on misplaced stuff (not the lost luggage variety) next week! Same place, same time.  You can sign-up for an e-mail notification in the box below.

 

RSI of the Thumb

I’ve officially diagnosed myself with thumb RSI (thanks, WebMD).  RSI = repetitive strain injury where fine repetitive movements in the thumb cause tiny tears in the muscles and tendons.  The tendons run out of lubrication as there is insufficient time to rest and recover.

I blame Instagram, but I mostly blame myself for making scrolling on my phone my default posture when I’m not doing anything else.  This post will be brief, because I’m down a digit.

After several days in an existential crisis, I realized that my sore thumb was a symptom of a much larger problem.  Not only am I abusing technology by wasting time on my phone, I am actively seeking those dopamine rushes when a new e-mail, text, or notification comes through.  I’ve silenced all phone notifications and quit Facebook, but that doesn’t help much when you’re checking your phone every 5.8 seconds.

My first solution to this general feeling of emptiness is to find more hobbies.  If I’m looking to my phone for entertainment too much, I should probably pick up oil painting. My husband gently reminded me that I’m already an aspiring baker, fairy gardener, recipe organizer, writer, crafter, reader, runner, and QuickBooks novice, so perhaps my problem was not too much time on my hands but a misplaced hope.

We live most of our days with a vague longing that something will come in the mail one day that will change our lives forever.  It’s not just my phone I’ve been looking to for fulfillment.  I keep hoping my life will provide me with an unexpected excitement that I know I’d despise if it came because the anticipation is greater than the realization.

My thumb needs time to rest and recover from my anxious scrolling and so do I.  Instead of finding another distraction, my goal is to more fully participate in the hobbies, relationships and rituals I already enjoy.

 

The World’s Most Stressful Noise

The most stressful noise in the world is not, in fact, the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, even though I cringed just typing it.  It’s the ding of your e-mail notifications.

According to psychologists, the steady stream of emails filling up your inbox is a “toxic source of stress.”  The best thing you can do to eliminate this stress is to turn off your email notifications.  


The second best thing you can do is commit to an “inbox zero” approach to e-mails.  For some of you, the last sentence was at best laughable and at worst stress-inducing.  Even if we could find a virtual backhoe to dig us out of the bottomless inbox pit, how can we avoid getting buried by tomorrow morning’s mudslide?

Achieving inbox zero can actually save hours each week and is more about the way you view your emails than stressing yourself out with having to maintain a pristine inbox.

Step #1: Repeat “My inbox is not my to-do list” 3x each morning.

Just kidding.  But ditching the habit of using your inbox as your to-do list is the only way to achieve inbox zero plus it has all sorts of cool side effects: (1) empowers you to prioritize tasks (2) ensures you never accidently delete forever that e-mail with super important information ever again (3) breaks you free from the tyranny of the urgent

Step #2: Create 3 folders in your inbox

Name one “Read”, one “Answer”, and one “Hold”.

Step #3: Start implementing the 2 minute rule

When you’re sorting through e-mails, use the 2 minute rule to determine what to do with each e-mail.  If it takes:

  • Less than 2 minutes to read and respond to the e-mail, do that immediately and then delete the e-mail
  • More than 2 minutes to respond to the e-mail, put it in the “answer” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to read the email, put it in the “read” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to retrieve information needed to deal with the e-mail, request that information or add it to your to-do list and then put the email in the “hold” folder

Step #4: Master that right-click to save move

Did you know you can save e-mail files?  If an email has information in it that you’d like to keep, right click and hit “save as” to save it into your file system.  This insures that the information is cozy and safe while leaving your inbox clear.

Step #5: Sort through all other folders using the 2-minute rule and then delete them.  Do the same to your inbox.

Don’t worry, they won’t be gone forever.  See next step.

Step #5: Set up an auto-archive system for your deleted & sent folders

Every e-mail server under “settings” should allow you to set up an archive schedule.  Personally, I prefer archiving items that are over 60 days old.

Step #6: Rinse and repeat

Set up times each day when you’ll be answering your e-mail.  Go through your inbox with the 2-minute rule in Step #3 and then once or twice a day, go through read and answer the emails in your “read”, “answer”, and “hold” folders.

If you feel lost without your inbox as your to-do list, I’d highly one of these to-do list and project management apps that will keep all of your to-dos in one place and keep them from getting buried in your inbox.

But what happens to all those deleted emails?  What if I need to go back and look at one?

Here’s the beauty of achieving inbox zero–you still can!  Remember, your deleted and sent e-mails are getting backed up automatically into your archive folder so they are never more than a few clicks away.  If you need a recently deleted email, simply search for the email in your deleted folder with the name of who sent it and a keyword.  This might sound scary,  but you’re already used to using the same search techniques in your inbox.  Your e-mails are just as safe in your deleted folder, and also wonderfully out of sight and out of mind.

Bonus Tip: It takes almost the same amount of time to unsubscribe as it does to delete an email.  If you’re never going to read those promotional emails, unsubscribe and over time, your daily email sorting will get way easier.
Give yourself grace.  I don’t always finish the day with a crystal clear inbox and neither will you. The journey to inbox zero has changed my perspective towards emails and loosened their chains on my stress levels.

2016 Is The New 1984

I’ve been reading my way through the “English classics I probably should have read in high school but somehow didn’t” this past month and slowly working my way up (or down?) to a 12th grade reading level.

Summary: Animal Farm? Good. The Scarlet Letter? Excellent. Catcher In The Rye? Didn’t get it. To Kill A Mockingbird? In progress but loving it. 1984? Yikes.

I just finished George Orwell’s dystopian novel from the mid 20th Century and rank it pretty high on my list of  “terrifying glimpses into the future” books.  It bypassed The Giver with a wide margin, barely squeaked past Anthem and sits squarely underneath Atlas Shurgged and Brave New World.  Overall, I still agree with Postman’s thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death that it is Huxley’s world of brain-numbing entertainment that is more probable than Orwell’s Big Brother brainwashing in 1984 but there was at least one striking similarity to Orwell’s world and our own that made my heart skip a beat.

The telescreen.  If you haven’t read 1984 yet, it’s a two-way television that monitors your every word, movement, and facial expression.  It’s used by the Thought Police to identify and exterminate potential traitors.  Terrifying, right?

Yet we are pre-ordering them as fast as we can type in our credit card information.  Today’s telescreen is known as Google Home or Amazon’s Echo. Or to hit closer to home, Siri.

The appeal of this virtual assistant (robot?!) devices is obvious.  You can look up information, set timers, manage your to-do list, cook spaghetti, decide on where to go out, order take-out, ignore your spouse,  play music, etc… with just a few words.   As someone who is in love with all things centralized, the idea of having one device with many purposes is extremely alluring.

But there’s the flip side.  How do these devices know when you’re talking to it?  You say, “Ok, Google” or “Alexa” or “Siri.”  Which means it’s ALWAYS LISTENING.  Right now, it might not be recording everything you say.  Right now, the government might not be allowed to subpeona those records.   All I can say is that I’m going to wait and see how these play out before inviting a telescreen into my home.

All right, now that you’re fully convinced I’m a conspiracy theorist, let me know what you think. Does two-way technology freak you out at all?  If you need me, you can find me in my bunker (just kidding…for now).