Thinking Out Loud

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.

 

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August 1, 2017

The World of Online Discussion: An Apology

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Missing the Point

The article resonated with me from the moment I saw the headline. It also reminded me of something else, a parallelism to the stated subject worth mentioning. Furthermore, I also had a source I could quote that would certainly make an impression.

So I left the comment.

Not even twelve hours later, I’m looking at the comments which followed mine and realized something: I had completely missed the main point of the original post. I had wandered into the land of the tangents.

The author of the blog is an author, an academic, a theologian. I tracked down his email address through the school where he was teaching at the time. I told him that I sincerely believed I had something to contribute to the discussion but now realized my comment simply didn’t belong and humbly asked him to please delete it.

Which thankfully he did…

The word nuance applies in more locations and situations than we realize. It’s possible to see the surface of something but not really grasp what’s going on. Like Asperger’s kids we can miss the sarcasm. Or perhaps we simply didn’t hear the latest development in an ongoing story and aren’t getting all the references.

On the surface of it, I can be a surface person. One girl described me as shallow. (She lost any chance of a date at that point.) But I also love to go deep. My other blog’s tag line is, “Digging a little deeper.” I love double entendre. I love it when someone writes a word or phrase which is a homage to an obscure book or song or movie. (I was going to write an homage, but it seemed pretentious.)

But there is a time to be Captain Obvious as well.

One of my constant criticisms of my wife’s social media posts is that they’re too cryptic. I get what she means because I was there when it happened, but others might not. I am constantly telling her to, “Put the cookies on the lower shelf.”

But then I will do the same thing, only I justify it in my case because I’m making concessions to certain readers or followers who are in on the thing vaguely cited.

In other words, when I do it it’s right and when she does it it’s wrong…

I’d like to think the theology professor appreciated my candor in requesting the comment’s deletion. It was a reminder that some things, while they may not be above your pay grade, are above your realm of experience and education.

 

 

 

February 11, 2017

Life in the Twitterverse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Occasionally I take a day to simply reproduce Tweets here for those who don’t use that platform. For those of you with slow loading times, we’re just doing text, but you’re encouraged to visit me at Twitter.com/PaulW1lk1nson (change the letter “i” to number “1”) or simply click here and bookmark.

  • Fun car game: Flip the radio to various Christian stations carrying preacher programs and see who can first guess what major Bible story they’re doing.
  • ♫ This ban is your ban |This ban is my ban |From the Syrian desert | To the streets of I-ran… | …This ban was made for you and me. ♫
  • Attn. Middle-aged worship team members: If you wanna do all those songs which come out of youth culture, simply let the youth worship team play ’em
  • [Drew Dyck] When it comes to end times prognosticating, the trick is to change up the antichrist candidates while keeping the 1980s designs & graphics.
  • Buffalo newscaster just said, “If you go out without your gloves, you’re going to have some cold hands on your hands.”
  • The people making Christian giftware do know there are other scripture verses besides Jeremiah 29:11, right?
  • Ever wonder what’s hot and what’s not in Christian publishing? This link takes you to a pdf of the full Top 50 list
  • What does it profit a man to gain the office of President of the United States and lose the entire populace? [Mark 8:36 amended]
  • How tattoos work: Once you chose Option #1, you’ve automatically eliminated Options #2 to 999,999.
  • [Youth Group Boy] Rather than build a wall Trump just needs to talk to my church – they’ve kept minorities and those who are different out for years.
  • Need to rethink the classic Neil Diamond song: ♫ On the boats and on the planes They’re coming to America… ♫  — not anymore!
  • [Diane Lindstrom] “Opportunity is missed by people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

 

January 20, 2017

A Theology of Non-Anger

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:20 am

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re coming up to two years. (You’ll notice my blog hasn’t been reviewing new releases lately; I just share what I’m enjoying.) If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


Order Unoffendable through your favorite Christian bookseller; or get more info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

December 15, 2016

Young Single Adults Looking for a Context to Meet Other YSAs.

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

Three people came to my attention in the space of about 72 hours.

  • A young Christian girl from Canada spending a year in Australia
  • A young Christian girl from Australia spending a year in Canada
  • A young Christian guy in Canada returning post-graduation to his college city

They all have one thing in common; they’d like to connect with other people their age socially but find it tough finding the right context in which to do so.

Yes, I know the obvious: Weekend church services, midweek college and career church groups, doing volunteer work, or hanging out in the Lauren Daigle section of the Christian bookstore. But it’s easy to feel like a stranger in a strange land. It’s a matter of connecting with the right church, the right young adults group, the right volunteer project, etc.

bn234118Some are looking for “the one.” Others just want to connect with a Christian community. Either way, it’s like, “I know you’re out there, and I’d like to meet you, but I can’t find you.”

You wouldn’t want to try this in my town. Located about an hour east of Toronto, our little part of the world is a place where people stay until the end of high school and then they go off to college and never want to return, except for family gatherings. Our population of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings is rather anemic. So moving to a busier, urban center is a given. But even there it can be bewildering.

It’s no wonder people turn to online sites to make a connection. A couple generations back, putting an advertisement in the personal section of the classified adverts was seen as an act of desperation. Now, posting a profile online is the norm. Further, it must be said, some great relationships have been forged in the transfer of those pixels, but it often involves a greater investment in travel, unless you set your geographic limit as ten miles or less.

So I know there are a few in that age bracket who read this blog. Or maybe you’re the parent of one such young adult. How can someone make a connection in 2017 with someone who shares their Christian values? What other not-online contexts exist for finding a Christian community of people in the same demographic?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 27, 2016

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts and the Stewardship of Your Time

podcastsIt started about a month ago when my friend Martin pointed out to me that my new smartphone had a feature whereby I could bypass the keyboard and simply dictate messages and email responses. I quickly became aware that it’s easy to be verbose when you’re talking compared to finger-typing, which is often more concise.

But it also started several months before that when I realized how many of the bloggers I follow have simply switched over to doing podcasts. Why write it all out when you can simply press the record button and start rambling?

So for obvious reasons, today’s blog post here will be shorter.

I think we’re all really getting sucked down a giant hole where too much time is being spent on social media to the point where other things are not happening or getting done. The time it will take you to read this if much, much less than it would be if I decided to do this as a podcast. I know that because I’ve seen the comparative length of emails and texts that result from the speech feature on my phone.

As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV, Ephesians 5:16 was rendered using the phrase, “Redeeming the time.” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media, but even more into addictive online behavior such as porn-related and game-related activity.

But the podcast thing is important because many of these run 50 minutes to two hours and have become very trendy. So here are some podcast-specific suggestions:

  1. Be really discerning which ones you want to invest your time with
  2. Don’t do every episode, choose the one with guests and topics of interest
  3. Fast forward through banter and sections of lesser concern
  4. Limit daily or weekly consumption
  5. Keep a balance between spoken and written content you consume

…Keeping this short, as promised! Go make the most out of your day.


This discussion continues today at Christianity 201.

February 23, 2016

Deconstructing is Easy; Building Takes Skill and Time

Filed under: blogging, issues — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Blog Birthday 8

This was actually the 4th item posted when I launched the blog eight years ago, not the first, but I think it reflects what online opinion writers should strive for, especially when it is so easy to write and post critique. The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.


Builders and Wreckers

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

 

February 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Morality in the 21st Century

Morality in the 21st Century

 

  • Mama Mea Culpa? – Ravi Zacharias on President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast: “For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this…Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear…
  • When You’ve Lost the Calvinists, You’ve Lost the Battle – Justin Taylor at no less than The Gospel Coalition is not on-side with ‘literal’ six day creationism: “It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors…So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation…I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons…”  (Of course, not everyone agreed.)
  • When It’s Time for a Time Out – A look at what it means to be “disqualified from ministry” and the related issue of restoration. “My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than denying Christ [or] adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice.”
  • If a First Century Christian Time Traveled to Your Church – “If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel…If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.”
  • Essay of the Week: What Makes a Movie/CD Christian? – “[William Romanowski] argues, when [Amy] Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer? The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between Christian Grant and secular Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.”
  • Reinventing The Christian Bookstore – Even as the Family Christian bookstore chain enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a former university textbook store has been re-purposed as a center for the Christian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is part retail, part library and includes many other parts: “Materials from the lending library, owned and operated by Mennonite Church Canada, sit in the middle of the spacious store, with catalogue stickers indicating the items are for loan, not for sale…” The university president adds, “We didn’t want to build only a library, but we wanted to build a public gathering place.”
  • Missing the Moment – We’ve all seen the pictures where people are so busy with their smartphones they miss something awesome taking place right next to them. Tyler Blanski addressed this and many other social media challenges in a November article that we just discovered: “…Mixing social media with daily life diminishes daily life. When I’m with my son, I want him to be able to take for granted that I am there. And no matter how often I might look up from my phone, if our time together is material for social media, I will never be more than half there. I want him to grow up in a home that is a safe haven, not a stage.”
  • Lost in Translation? – The NIV, ESV, Amplified, KJV and several others get together for a dinner party. (I hesitated to title this link, ‘If Translations Could Speak.’) A great premise if you’ve always wondered what they all think of each other. [NIV to ESV] “Look, I know you’re the new kid on the block, and that a bunch of pastors are all like, ‘Rah, rah, ESV, our study Bible can beat up your study Bible.’ But just because you’re new and polished doesn’t mean you’re better. Some of us have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of things.”
  • The Vanity and Toxicity of Conversation Toppers: “We may not realize it, but there is an art to making good conversation. Such artistry is not simply the goal of talk show hosts and salesmen but should be something that each one of us practices, especially those who serve as pastors.”
  • One for the Road – Next Sunday’s worship: Looking for something new that is both hymn-like and chorus-like and also lyrically deep? You could do this song with a driving rhythm section or a classically trained choir.

Short Takes:

Sometimes preachers talk about people being "too busy for God..." I found it interesting that in December, when we get busy, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably. When things get hectic, we do put spiritual disciplines on the back burner.

Sometimes preachers talk about people being “too busy for God…” I found it interesting that in December, when we get hectic, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably; some of us do tend to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner at busy times.

September 20, 2014

The Last Post

Filed under: blogging, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

No, we’re not talking today about the bugle call known as “The Last Post,” although there is a similarity of theme.  Wikipedia reminds us about that song which originally connoted the end of day for soldiers and then crossed over into memorial usage: “In all these countries it has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he can rest in peace.”

Neither are we saying this is the last blog post here at Thinking Out Loud, though perhaps some of you were hoping!

Rather, what got me thinking was a Twitter post from Keith Brenton last night:

If I had just one social media post left in my life, to bring joy and wisdom and love to a sad, stupid, hateful world …this wouldn’t be it.

Okay. But what if you had one post left?  In the endless stream of social media history you’ve created on WordPress, on Facebook, on Twitter, on tumblr, on Instagram, on YouTube… and on everything else; what if you had One Final Post. Your own famous last words. The thing everyone would remember you by.

What would it be? 

Note: These words, phrases and sentences are already taken

  • Related: Two years ago I posted the lyrics to a song I wrote as a much younger person. I was basically asking the same question, “What will my life be remembered for?” It’s a fair question to ask yourself periodically.

April 3, 2014

Gaining Platform; Rites of Passage

Platform

I frequently look at Christian leadership blogs which seem obsessed about helping pastors and authors build their platform on social media. If that in itself is a stated goal, then I think the type of advice offered may serve some practical good.

But I also keep wondering if true respect is not also built in what might be called ‘the crucible of affliction;’ that is to say, that various people in various types of ministry endeavors have earned the right to be heard because they faced a great test, or championed a great cause.

The challenge is that not everybody gets to climb Mount Everest, nor does everyone want to. The type of platform that some people want to see built is gained only through some newsworthy accomplishment.

The other side of the challenge is that those who want to enjoy a healthy following and a strong platform are concerned only with what can be measured statistically, and stats alone seem to be a rather hollow way of measuring the worth of an individual.

I think platform is good only if leads you to another objective beyond selling your book or gaining social media followers. Utimately, however, it’s who you are that counts. That’s not something you can engineer. It’s not something you can quantize statistically, either.

Mission Trips

It’s true that short-term mission tourism has become an industry onto itself, and there have been various articles posted online, including some here, that have engaged the sport of mission trip bashing.

But lately I’ve been wondering if it isn’t really some necessary rite of passage; the third point of a three pronged initiation into Christian service: Salvation, baptism, short term mission. Or, “When did you become a Christian?” and “When you were baptized?” followed by “Where did you go for your mission trip?”

It almost seems that to lack this quintessential experience — as I freely admit I do — is to have a personal story that is somehow more shallow. When people ask me to document my ministry experience I find myself sometimes apologetically saying, “Everything you can imagine except third-world missions exposure.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe I’ve had some rich experiences; maybe it’s reflective of a greater spiritual inferiority complex. I’m just thinking that maybe we’ve been too harsh when it comes to mission trip bashing, provided the trip has been designed to be more than a tourist visit.

Although I’ve never done it, my ideal for you, your son, or your daughter would be to connect with the six month Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission bases around the world; each one of which has both a training and a field experience component.

Read more:
Short Term Mission Trips: Yea or Nay?, November 2008
Short Term Mission Trippers as Seen by Full-Time Missionaries, April 2012
Another Critique of the Short Term Missions Movement, June 2012

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