Thinking Out Loud

December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… 

[the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

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December 7, 2017

Free Open-Source Worship Lyric Projection Software

When we’re asked to lead worship at another church, I try to get as much information as I can about the congregation and which songs they have been singing and what a typical service looks like. However, on a more practical level, we also need to know what type of piano/keyboard they have and which presentation software they use for worship songs (PowerPoint, EasyWorship, etc.).

The church we’ve been asked to assist this coming weekend introduced us to something new in terms of software, and my wife was impressed with some of its features. Furthermore, it’s free. I asked her if she’d be willing to share this discovery with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

As a worship leader in my home congregation and occasional “guest worship leader” here and there, I enjoy writing, arranging, creating and sharing music and images that help people engage with Scripture and the God who gave it to us.

Over the years I’ve found no shortage of people wanting to sell me stuff to help the process. And fair enough.  A workman is worthy of his wages, after all.

But as a volunteer, I must say it’s lovely when, now and then, I come across a freeware or open source piece of software that has a lot to offer.  Most of the programs I use week to week fall into this category.

Most recently, we were introduced to VideoPsalm, a presentation program that describes itself as “missionware.” As with many freeware programs, this seems to be a labour of love (I didn’t even see a ‘donate’ button on the website). The terms of use simply ask the user to support a missionary/organization financially or in prayer and to “take a little more at heart the evangelical Christian mission.”

The functionalities are comprehensive — images, text, video, PowerPoint, scripture, announcements, countdowns… — with one particular addition I really like: It’s ChordPro friendly.  Which means that, with some editing, chord charts can be projected along with lyrics. (Now if only someone will develop a ‘lead line’ option to make teaching new songs easier. (Dear Santa…)) But this is definitely a nice feature.

As with any program, there is learning to do (for example, how to import a particular song from CCLI.) Video tutorials are available through the website.

For smaller churches or home groups, VideoPsalm could be a real God-send, considering the cost of the commercial presentation software.

…And for what it’s worth, a few other budget friendly (ie free) programs:

OpenOffice –  Word processing, spreadsheets, “PowerPoint” with thorough format compatibility

MuseScore – Music notation software with pdf, midi and mp3 exporting

SoftChord – ChordPro editor

Gimp – Image editing (like photoshop) with a lot of tools and options

OpenShot – Video editing software.  I haven’t used this one myself, but I’ve heard good things

StudioOne Prime – Nice audio editing program.  This is the free version, fully functional but lacking some fancier features

Audacity – A more basic editing audio suite, but quite user friendly and good for recording sermons and whatnot

 

November 23, 2017

Broadcast Television’s Diminishing Influence

Watching the evening network news, each night this week the run-up to Black Friday has contained samples of deals being offered by retailers, and without fail, in each selection there has been at least one large-screen television which will be on sale. The demand for screens is obviously large, though the application might vary from home to home. Gaming and home theater are probably the primary uses.

Last week at this time we were out of town so we could see our youngest son appear in a live theater production. Traffic driving through Toronto was the worst we’ve ever encountered even though the weather was perfect. I would describe it as my worst-ever experience with traffic congestion in Canada. It left us arriving late at the hotel, and we didn’t back into the room until late. The next day we had a bit less time pressure.

Even so, it was the first time I can remember being in a hotel room where the television wasn’t used at all. (The key word is remember, hopefully it wasn’t on in our honeymoon suite all those years ago!) As more and more people are now watching original programs on cable channels or streaming movies on services like Netflix, it’s difficult to find people willing to discuss something that happened on a old-school, network prime time show the night before.

I can also imagine that Millennials might also shun the hotel television, the same way they shun newspapers. My youngest, when he lived at home, would ask me about something I liked to watch, and I would say, “It’s on ABC;” and that information would be useless to him. Much different for those of us who grew up with TV sets which occasionally required us to adjust the ‘vertical hold’ and ‘horizontal hold.’

Given my aversion to violence on TV, if we’re home I usually try to relax and watch one or two sitcoms, Monday to Thursday. This year The Mayor has been notable as it gives the average person an inside look at municipal politics. But for best new series this fall, I would need to award Me, Myself and I for the brilliance of the writing which revolves around one character at three different times in his life; past, present and future. (For my Canadian readers, I’m trying to catch the second season of Kim’s Convenience, but the national broadcaster no longer as a reliable off-air signal in our area. I can get U.S. networks consistently each evening, but not the network which receives a subsidy from my taxes.)

Basically, it’s the 6:30 PM network news — ABC with David Muir being my program of choice — that justifies the tall aerial standing next to our house. Watch any awards show however, and you’re going to see little statues given to programs whose electrons never traveled through the air.

With cable shows, YouTube and the rest of the Internet’s diversion, nobody really has the time for what CBS, NBC, ABC et al have to offer. You can only slice the leisure-time pie so thin because there’s only so many hours in the day.

November 7, 2017

The Downside of Sermon Podcasts

My name is Paul, and I’m a sermon podcastaholic.* On Sundays I’ve been known to listen to as many as five of them, though that doesn’t happen often. But three is not unusual.

Read Schuchardt, a professor of media ecology at Wheaton College was a recent guest on The Phil Vischer Podcast. He has ten kids, no TV, no cell phone, and no internet. After discussing technology and culture, at the very end of the discussion, Skye Jethani asked Read about the implications for the church with respect to the things they had talked about…

Skye Jethani: The basic economy of why people go to church, or why people have gone to church for five centuries, has changed. Most pastors I talk to about this don’t want to change that model. But they’re angry or upset or frustrated that a generation is now around that doesn’t show up on Sunday.

Read Schuchardt: Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with various pastors. One of the things I say is, “Look if value really is a function of scarcity, why are you giving away your weekly sermons for free on the internet which is just an invitation to not come?” Why not just say, “It’s live, it’s here, it’s one day of the week only. You’ve got to be there to get it.”

Skye: It’s the same reason your students won’t read a book.

Read: In other words, if you’ll camp out all night to get those tickets to see that concert of that one singer live…

Skye: Don’t you think that it’s because most pastors know they’re not that good?

Read: No, I think it’s because they are sincerely trying to help further and spread their message and also reach their elderly and shut-ins out of Christian love and concern. But they don’t realize that it’s also simultaneously under cutting the over-all “Why would I go there?”

Skye: Yeah, but when I talk to a young person, they might admire their pastor, think they’re great, whatever. But they also realize, “Well, I’m going to listen to these other five celebrity pastors because they’re so entertaining.” And the average pastor, as faithful and good and doctrinally sound as they may be are not as entertaining. So they’re competing in this media environment in which they can’t really compete.

Read: Yeah, but as soon as you say ‘entertainment’, that’s not a focus on Scripture. That’s a focus on television.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that. The words, “If value is really is a function of scarcity…” leave me asking if we’ve devalued sermons and preaching by making them ubiquitous.

There had been some earlier discussion about how modern Evangelical church now consists of simply singing some songs and listening to the sermon. Little or nothing else. There is no particular compelling need to be physically present for this if you can buy or download the worship team’s album and listen to the messages at home.

I reminded my wife, who was getting ready to lead worship on Sunday** how important it is for her to continue to provide the interactive worship elements that she always incorporates in her part of the service. I thought of another area pastor who always includes a weekly discussion question where people break up into groups of 2-4 people. Or maybe you still are in a smaller church that takes prayer requests, or at least as a “pastoral prayer” for needs in the congregation and the community.

Absent those elements, you’re left with just the sermon and, like the man said, you’re giving “an invitation not to come.”


*We prefer the term sermon junkie.
**She also typed today’s interview transcript for me.

August 20, 2017

Google Now Provides the Information instead of Referring

Like many of you, I couldn’t help but notice that increasingly, Google was giving me the answers I was looking for right on their results page, without my needing to make a second click. Appreciating the convenience I didn’t really pay much attention to this, until publishing and media watcher Tim Underwood linked to a piece at Mashable titled, Google is Eating the Open Internet.

The rather opened my eyes to the present situation: Instead of being a site which refers you to people who have the answers, Google is now seen as provider of those answers.

But the affect on the websites from which the information is culled — the creatives and researchers who do the actual work — is devastating. Example:

…Brian Warner, founder and CEO of CelebrityWorthNet.com, understands perhaps more than anybody the power of Google’s wall-building.

Warner started to notice the content from his site appearing directly on search results pages in 2012. Two years later, he got an email from Google asking to scrape all of his data, which he turned down. Another two years after that, Google did it anyway, and the impact was catastrophic.

“It was extremely painful, it was extremely devastating,” Warner said. “We got to a point where our traffic was down 85 percent from a year or two earlier.”

Search for the net worth of any celebrity at random today—let’s say, James Earl Jones—and you’ll get the number ($45 million) and a short biographical blurb pulled from CelebrityNetWorth.com with credit and a link…

And later, the broader application:

…There’s also a steady stream of more subtle indications of Google’s inward pull appearing every day—features like on-site hotel booking, restaurant menus, spa appointment tools, and dropdown recipes to name just a few.

These tweaks might sound minor, but Google’s position as the web’s central nervous system means they can have a big impact on smaller businesses that orbit it.

In the long run, though, there seems to be a pretty glaring hole in this plan. That is, as Google likes to reassure wary publishers, it’s not in the content business.

The company ultimately relies on reference sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, Fandango, and the CIA World Fact Book to compile and update the information it uses.

If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along? …   (emphasis added)

   Then early this morning I caught up with my Saturday print edition of The Toronto Star and columnist Heather Mallick was saying the exact same things about Facebook in a piece titled, Like it or not, Facebook Owns You. For her it gets personal:

…We donate to the Guardian to keep it free for everyone, but remember that we do this because former editor Alan Rusbridger made the numbers clear. In 2016, Facebook “sucked up $27 million (U.S.) of the newspaper’s projected ad revenue that year.”

Facebook was the interlocutor, the middleman who slipped between readers and journalists and siphoned off the money. When I step onto the thing for even a moment, I make money for Zuckerberg. I work for him, not the Toronto Star.

I wouldn’t mind being followed for weeks by ads for the hand vacuum (designed in England, made in Malaysia, which is why I despise Dyson) I ordered five minutes ago from an online retailer with no discernible connection to Facebook.

But I do mind that my salary was effectively lower this year because Facebook knew this, its targeting having destroyed the print and online ads on which the Star itself relied.

I take a dim view. With less money, I’ll buy fewer things advertised on Facebook, but it doesn’t care. It’s in the business of attention, not retailing. Its hands are clean.

Of course they’re not. They’re loaded with lucre, and they’re taunting people individually and en masse, damaging quality of life and eating freedom. You are owned…

For my Christian readership at this page, this is important. Obtaining the “answers” or “results” one is looking for without clicking through to see the full context of the page from which the mighty search engine derived them could be devastating, especially as the field of material offered grows to include things of religious or theological interest. At best, all of our online sites are somewhat subjective, including this one.

But I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

 

March 20, 2017

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

Whether it’s Facebook or internet pørn, it’s really easy to spend sections of your day staring at your device, be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. There are general principles from scripture I think we do well to remember; these can give us guidance regardless of which type of addiction you’re dealing with.

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

click image to orderSelf-Control

It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit so it deserved to be listed first. We each have this in varying degrees, though some have noticeably less than others, and all of us have times when we wish we’d exercised more. At the slightest impulse that you’ve spent to long on Facebook (or whatever) you need to close the browser and walk away from the screen. (Translations use either temperance or self-control when listing these fruit in Galatians 5, but the Wycliffe uses continence, the opposite of which is…well you know.) (See what I mean? Better self control would have left that alone!)

Mind, Thoughts and Heart

As we’ve written a number of posts here concerning out thought life, let’s just say that it is so important to guard our minds, guard our thoughts and thereby guard and protect our hearts. (See especially this post and the section dealing with our media diet.) We’re told in scripture to take captive the stray thoughts which can do damage. Previous generations contended with this in terms of television and theater. We have such a greater barrage of ideas and philosophies being thrown at us online.

The Stewardship of Our Time

In an increasingly hectic world, time is a precious commodity. We’re given 24 hours each day, no more, no less; and what we do with those is a large measure of our character. (For my article on “redeeming the time,” read this post at C201.) A good measure of this is to realize the things that you might have done, could have done, or should have done in the time you spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… or worse.

Shifting Values

Without getting into specific social issues that face us currently, all of us have felt the pressure to capitulate to the larger culture, or even to the values shift happening in the capital-C Church. Isaiah 5:20 (NLT) reads, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I can honestly say I have felt the pressure to change my mind on some issues because of internet exposure. On some of the issues, I think readers here would be comfortable, but on others I have realized the need for a reset and re-calibration. Be careful to know why if you sense your worldview shifting.

Misdirected Worship

This may seem a little strong for some readers here, but the things that occupy our time online are really the things we ascribe worth to, and that’s the heart of the word worship. I mentioned internet pørn at the outset, and it’s easy to think terms of people spending hours staring at photographic images, but even those cute cat videos could amount to a case as described in Romans 1:25 (NLT): “…So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself who is worthy of eternal praise!”


David Murray’s outline on media consumption from the book The Happy Christian.

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

June 9, 2016

“We Never Close”

img 060916A

I remember as a teenager walking down Toronto’s Yonge (pronounced young) Street and seeing a movie theater advertising “24 hour continuous showings.” Mornings, afternoons, evenings and middle-of-the-night, there was always a movie playing because there were always customers paying.

we_never_closeAs a twenty-something returning to Canada from California, my fellow-traveler and I stopped at Las Vegas. That is probably best looked at as the subject of another blog post entirely, but one feature of the casino we visited — which I believe is common to all — is that there are no windows and no clocks. There are no visual indications as to whether it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon or 2 o’clock in the morning. No wonder that people keep gambling. Back home, months later, in a flashback to that visit, I realized that while I was nice and cozy under the covers, the casino simply kept humming; not open one day and then the next, but simply opened once and operating as one long continuous day.

In 1974, the band Emerson, Lake and Palmer described it best with the lyric, “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.” I was captivated by the concept of a place that never shuts down; not the idea of the radio station on which I first heard the song, but the idea of somehow being inside the radio, of having physical interaction with something that simply is with no hours of operation posted on the door.

My relationship to the “wee hours of the morning” continued when a friend got a job doing commercial carpet cleaning. Law offices, advertising agencies, and the halls of corporate power in the banking sector all were subject to our rotary shampoo machines. (We looked disdainfully at steam cleaning.) While the offices were as ghost towns after midnight, it amazed me the number of people working those hours, a kind of midnight infrastructure necessary to make the places function in the daylight hours.

Open All NightMore than one stand-up comedian has asked, “If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, why are there locks on the door?” Okay, there are reasons, but once the stores are opened, again, it’s one ongoing day, with many locations not even pausing for Christmas.

Years later, working alongside people in the magazine industry, I proposed something called Night Owls, for free distribution to the people in Toronto who make up the all night workforce, an industry category onto itself. (In those days however, advertisers preferred to place their money with controlled circulation publications, so my periodical never launched.) I still think there’s a common thread that binds all these people and they would enjoy hearing of fellow travelers, not to mention who has the best burgers at 3:00 AM…

Today, I see advantages to the order of things that I believe is God-prescribed and clearly indicated by the way daylight and evening function; but I will admit that our present world requires people to be employed on the overnight shift, even though we know that continued ignoring of natural body rhythms can reduce lifespan…

Which brings us to…

…The internet.

I was thinking last night about the wonder that is the world wide web. Like the casino district in Vegas, its motto could easily be We Never Close. As you lie in bed snoring at night, people are still looking at your Instagram and Snapchat pages. Twitter followers are coming and going. People are friending and unfriending you on Facebook. If it’s 2 o’clock in the morning where you live, it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon somewhere else. People are filling in contact forms, signing up for newsletters, checking their bank balance, and following a rabbit trail network of hyperlinks. Elsewhere online, people are making purchases from retail enterprises that would never dream (contextual pun intended) of having sales associates working those hours in a physical store. The gamers have lost track of the time, as have the people watching cat antics on YouTube, and like the theater in my teenage stroll down Toronto’s main street, there is Netflix which not only offers continuous showings, but allows you to pick your own start time. Strangers are talking to each other across chat rooms and forums; and trolls and marketers are busy leaving comments on blogs.

Open 24 HoursWelcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

There are no breaks for national holidays, religious sabbaths or even natural disasters. Internet service interruptions do happen depending on where you live, but they cause people to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some people’s greatest nightmares have them landing in a part of the world without wi-fi.

Somewhere back in time, we plugged in the internet and it remains on. Close your eyes and sleep if you will, but not too far from you is a billion-lane highway moving megabytes around the world at the speed of light.

And the show never stops running.

 

 

 

February 3, 2015

We Need a New Search Engine

Filed under: blogging, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

I don’t usually write about the tech side of my work, but I am increasingly convinced that we need someone out there to generate an entirely new search algorithm. I’m tired of being directed to news stories from 2002, sites that have been shut down or superseded, or an endless litany of sponsored sites trying to sell me things it thinks are related (so the search engine can report back that their ad had X number of views.)

But I’ve also done some additional thinking and have decided part of the problem is us. We want our search results now and we pay more and more for increased internet speed so we won’t be kept waiting.

Ask yourself, is it better to get 166,000 results in .03 seconds that are wrong or is it better to wait 30 seconds and get 8 results that are exactly what you’re looking for.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  I think it’s ironic that a company like Google has totally mastered the art of spying on us and knowing our every online move and all of our consumer preferences, but continues, day-after-day, to be a giant failure at the thing they set out to be in the first place: A search engine.

The future of the internet is indeed search. The company that builds a better mousetrap — and there most certainly will be one someday — will be heralded as the most significant enterprise to come along since the invention of computers and the internet themselves.

December 29, 2014

Thinking Out Loud About the Internet

Filed under: technology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

kybd

When I first started doing this back in 2008, I found it frustrating how supposedly faith focused writers would regularly report on the technology itself that allowed them to blog. Every new device, personal organizer or photo processing program was fair game.

Here, I tended to proudly avoid reference to tech. We were all about the Bible, Church and Jesus. Yeah, us! We’re so spiritual. But today I want to give space to what is always an underlying thesis of mine, namely that for all it has done to revolutionize the culture, we are still living in the infancy days of the technology; what we are experiencing is similar to turning a crank to start a car. While increasingly regulation is taking over, these are still the wild-wild-west days of the internet in terms of sophistication, our time-saving devices and programs still cause us more frustration than performing according to expectations.

In particular,

Search – While a massive empire has been built by one company which rhymes with poogle and other companies of its ilk, search results are still not at all intuitive. Refining within searches is difficult, and many links go to dormant or outdated sites. I believe we’re on the cusp of someone coming up with an entirely new search algorithm. The status quo simply won’t do.

Hardware – In an era where we trash printers rather than fix them, it’s hard for anyone to take the hardware industry seriously. Actually, a book about the printer industry would make a far more interesting read than the computer industry in general, since printer obsolescence is a microcosm of the industry as a whole.

Compatibility – We live at a time which makes the VHS/Beta situation look like a minor tension by comparison. While we were promised all manner of backward and forward compatibility, we usually end up wringing our hands over programs that simply don’t work with other programs.

Security – If nothing else, the events of the last year have left people feeling that their personal data, financial information, and even family pictures are simply not safe.

Intelligence – When computers think for themselves, it is often counter-productive. Users spend more hours trying to turn off features that some programmer thought were helpful. Anyone who has tried to format a document where a line begins with a lower case letter, or anyone who suffered through auto-correct knows that computers are more often hindering than helping.

So in broad terms, what frustrates you about the state of the technology we find ourselves using?

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