Orthodox Theology and Technology: A Profoundly Gifted Autobiography will attract two different kinds of readers: those interested in orthodox theology and its intersection with technology and personal life, and autobiography readers (especially those with some prior familiarity with CJS Hayward’s weighty, expansive writings and reflections). It includes the kind of work that has drawn from prior readers responses of, “When I read it, I was stunned.”
At a little over a hundred pages, this presentation will prove especially inviting for busy readers with only a cursory interest in Orthodoxy or Hayward.
Orthodox Theology and Technology opens with Hayward’s musings about his life and work. His retrospective on life is explored in a ‘Dear Reader’ letter that moves from his teachings about math’s simple beauty to how he has struggled “to become more human” in his approaches to (and perception of) life, theology, and everything in-between.
It will immediately become evident to readers that although Hayward’s musings are quite accessible, they are also filled with observations that embrace philosophical, psychological, and theological reflection. Thus, they are weighty reading even when they strive for language and descriptions to attract a casual reader. Furthermore, they offer a unique encounter with the kind of mind that most readers encounter only in books written long ago and far away.
Orthodox Theology and Technology is no light collection of life encounters, but a deeply personal inspection of self and the spiritual works that drive relationships with God. Hayward is candid about his admittance of successes and failures in both arenas, as well as the impact of such writings on those who seek wisdom and faith: “I believe there is some merit in these pieces, but not that much: if they say something that needs to be said, they are limited to winning an argument. Theology can win an argument and some of the best theology is meant to win an argument, but the purpose of real theological writing is to draw people into the presence of God. These pieces may say something valuable, but they do not really do the job of theology: beckon the reader to worship before the throne of God.” The effect is, at times, mesmerizing.
It’s important to note that this survey of Hayward’s life focuses on his scholarly and spiritual revelations at different points of his studies. This is no light romp through childhood and adult years, but a thought-provoking examination of the major influences on and developments of his intellectual pursuits. There is something here for everyone to take away, and the reading is meant to be rewarding to many different kinds of readers.
As such, it’s a critical discussion of his involvement in mathematics and Orthodoxy that juxtaposes “a mathematician’s approach to relating” with broader inspections of college studies, interactions with professors and peers, and the overall contributions of his evolving psyche and scholarly studies on the foundations of life perceptions which translated to his writing a series of books inspecting Orthodoxy’s place in his world. This may seem very esoteric, but the book offers a real, live glimpse into such a world of mysticism and brilliance.
Some might deem these discussions wide-ranging ramblings; but for those truly interested in the foundations of Orthodox thinking and the influence of education on the pursuit of God and character, Orthodox Theology and Technology offers a window into how this passion and pursuit evolved against different kinds of obstacles. Readers looking for wonder will find many wonders are to be found in these works.
Additionally, as the end of the cyber-quarantine increasingly draws near, this book offers exceptional food for thought about “Do we really want to live this way?”
Anyone with an interest in Orthodoxy in general and Hayward’s influences in particular should begin with Orthodox Theology and Technology before pursuing his other works. It is fascinating, providing a foundation for understanding, and a sense of his voice that will prove keys to a better appreciation of his writings.
This describes the foundations of what may be my most important collection, an informal doctoral dissertation if you will: The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, in which both my knowledge of STEM and theology come to play.
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina may be in the process of canonization, but I would like to make one further suggestion.
Fr. Seraphim was right to say that evolution, as it is found in the general culture, is not science but philosophy. My own experience in challenging people with anything remotely resembling intelligent design (admittedly, not of Orthodox origins), is that only biologists are socially capable of entertaining a scientific challenge to evolution. Among scientific illiterates, challenging evolution on scientific merits is not conceivable. It’s more or less blasphemy, and I can remember being in a liberal theology PhD program and finding that no other student had any real degree of scientific formation, but my having an M.S. (admittedly, in a discipline far from biology) and saying that evolution is not scientifically satisfying to me was not a conceivably legitimate thing to say.
However, I would take a look back in history at Cyril Lucaris, the subject of the biography Protestant Patriarch: The Life Of Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch Of Constantinople. I have not read that biography, but I have studied his confession of faith… and as a graduate of Calvin University, I honestly find Cyril Lucaris to be more of a Calvinist than John Calvin. In regard to the what happens in the Eucharist, John Calvin actively concerns himself with the question of what St. John Chrysostom said (always in answering questions whose terms are set by the Reformation). Cyril Lucaris does not. He simply adopts John Calvin’s positions.
What was going on historically was that the Orthodox Church was being approached with an alien theology, that of Rome, and in searching for an answer to Roman overtures, turned to… the tools of Protestant polemics and apologetics, ending up further from proper Orthodoxy than Rome. And perceptive readers may have noticed that I refer to “Cyril Lucaris” but not “St. Cyril Lucaris,” because the Protestant Patriarch as he rightly was called was never canonized.
Maybe it is right to canonize Fr. Seraphim, but one of his liabilities was that he turned almost entirely to importing non-Orthodox Protestant theology, including giving a young earth virtual “Article by which the Church stands or falls” status, and the importing of Creation Science, a Protestant belief and praxis whose entirely non-Orthodox origins are documented in Evangelical Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
I have discussed some of this at length. However, here I would like to point out two things:
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was right to observe that in broader culture, evolution is not really a scientific theory; it is philosophy, and I would more specifically state that it goes further than most philosophy. People treat scientific challenge to evolution as inconceivable blasphemy, and while people can understand, perhaps in hostility, that some people do not accept abortion and gay rights as morally legitimate, the concept of scientific dissatisfaction with evolution is inconceivable blasphemy.
While an uncreated or old universe is occasionally condemned by the Fathers alongside other of what were considered philosophical opinions, the position of drawing a line in the sand at a young earth is an entirely Protestant import to the best of my knowledge. I am not aware, nor have I heard, of any patristic document that is primarily concerned with defending a young earth of either six thousand or seven and a half thousand years. It’s a Protestant import worthy of Cyril Lucaris.
Furthermore, Creation “Science” is not science, or even dissident science. Creation “Science” is neither more nor less than a Protestant belief and praxis that was unknown among the Fathers and would only be formed by Evangelicals trying to battle evolution as science. Also, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that anything with “Science” in its name probably isn’t science.
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was by any account a significant figure in the life of the Orthodox Church, and he is right more specifically to say that evolution isn’t culturally a scientific theory; it is deeply entrenched philosophy. However, in my opinion his response was entirely to raid the Protestant armory for Christian weapons against the attack, and in my opinion this is a move worthy of the Protestant patriarch Cyril Lucaris.
Furthermore, it has been observed that attempts to fight heresy have often resulted in heresy. Apollonaris, who has a heresy named after him (that Christ had a human body but the Word simply replaced the soul), was one of the people who struggled against Arianism, and St. Athanasius apparently welcomed him as a fellow warrior fighting against the same enemy and on the same team. (But St. Athanasius was wrong.)
If Fr. Seraphim is canonized as a saint, I would really like to see a verdict that he was right to see evolution as culturally being philosophy and not science, and that it was wrong to raid signature traits of today’s Protestant armory, somewhat like it was wrong of Cyril Lucaris to raid signature traits of his day’s Protestant armory and trying to fight heterodox teaching by fighting out of other heterodox teaching. And maybe that his attempts to fight heresy were rooted in different heresy.
Side note: Some people may ask why I have been open to intelligent design when I condemn Creation Science. I presently recognize that the more recent intelligent design was promoted as a second approach by the Protestant Discovery Institute.
The best I can say for that is that I now have a big question mark for most of intelligent design; however I have been driven away from evolution by attempts to recruit me by evolutionary apologists.
The fossil record does not show, as Darwin would have predicted, slow changes that gradually accumulated to make big differences, but long periods of stability interrupted by abrupt appearance (and perhaps disappearance) of species reflecting major changes, without preserved intermediate forms in most cases. What evolutionary recruiters have told me is that there is little incentive to change when things are steady, but a big incentive when things are chaotic. My response to that is to say that as a math major, it reads as statistical nonsense to me that a breeding population can acquire and sustain beneficial changes at any rate sufficient to meet a perhaps increased incentive to change.
Statistically speaking, any mutation in general has at least a 90% chance of being harmful, and much less than 10% chance of being beneficial. A new species forming in an eyeblink would require the uncommon event happening so rarely that you would be more likely to win the lottery every day for the entirety of a 120 year life. Or even more rare than that. New species happened far more often to make this believable as chance.
What I have been told by people trying to recruit me to evolution is that making beneficial changes is easy, and Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in one generation. (My response to that is incredulity, because this makes about as much sense to me statistically as a claim of young earth makes to a paleontologist.)
As an additional side note, I would mention something that evolutionists have never been brought up in my experience: scientific constants in physics. What I have never heard any physicist challenge is that the physical constants such as the speed of light, the charge of elementary particles, and so on, seem remarkably fine tuned just as we would need for human life to be possible. Again we are talking about winning lottery tickets numerous times in a row, in terms of statistical believability. The best response I’ve gotten is no contest to the possibility of human life being ludicrously unlikely, but no explanation either, just a random ludicrous impossibility.
I had several realizations after a friend mentioned that profoundly gifted individuals are often very, very conservative. (Not to mention suddenly being much more at peace with my three failed attempts at a Ph.D.) What I did not understand was that my being profoundly gifted and being very, very conservative are not two unrelated things in my case; there’s a connection.
It might be going too far to adapt Churchill to say, “Anybody who has an IQ of 140 and is not a liberal has no heart; anybody who has an IQ of 180 and is not a conservative has no stem.” It is possible to be profoundly gifted and be liberal or radical, although here I would suggest that we are not talking about people drinking the Kool-Aid; we are talking about people doing pioneering, radical work on tomorrow’s formula.
There are a range of standard recruiting techniques to make liberals in television and in education, in journalism presenting Hillary Clinton at her most photogenic and in portraying bad, unphotogenic still images for Donald Trump, for making Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin consistently dismissively stereotyped as stupid, and so on and so forth. They work for those not moderately gifted, but profoundly gifted see right through them, at least after enough growth.
This much explains to me why profoundly gifted might not be sucked into even very little liberalism. Why profoundly gifted in general (as opposed to me personally) might be highly conservative is not entirely clear, as the distinction is valid. In my own case, I have homed in to a conservative position in general.
There is a concept of “crank magnetism” that says that people who acquire crank beliefs tend to acquire more of them. Some of them I don’t understand why people would want to associate with them. The “moon hoax” assertion has one objection I’ve never heard anyone answer: the U.S.S.R. had every vested interest, and competency, in exposing a U.S. hoax landing on the moon. I also, having stepped in white nationalism in my Facebook feed (I wondered why there were fantasies that a black felon who brutally assaulted an elderly white woman would have been lynched—sorry, under U.S. jurisprudence, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin themselves are entitled to fair, speedy, and judicial trials; my Facebook feed also sprouted pictures with Nazi flags and a boy about to be hanged), found the presentation of white nationalism as a new thing that deserves new consideration to be a standard liberal-style “Try it again for the first time!” But the flipside of crank magnetism is what might be called “standard model magnetism,” and profoundly gifted are set free from standard model magnetism.
Perhaps looking for more of an explanation is looking for an explanation that does not exist.
Muslims who say “Islam is peaceful” are neither insincere nor sloppy in what they claim, but you do not understand the claim “Islam is peaceful” until you understand what peace means in Islam.
“Islam” means “surrender,” and the peace Islam seeks is also surrender. Some have said, “surrender at the point of a gun.” If you would describe yourself as not religious but spiritual, demanding your forced conversion at the point of a gun would be fitting and appropriate in the peacefulness of Islam. And if you refused, pulling the trigger to blow your brains out would be a proper act of peace. The peace offered by Islam is forever incomplete if there are still people who have not surrendered in Islam, and the one world religion founded in violence, Islam, offers a peace that was rightly and properly advanced in this initial violent conquest. “Islam is peaceful” is quite an honest claim but what it is not is proof that Islam, just much as you, wishes so dearly that we could all☪☮∈✡↑☯☦/coexist.
An Indian woman asks, “Anybody home? Hello?“
An Indian woman, trying to get through to Westerners who are thick-skulled about getting Islam, explained that when Muslim invaders were conquering in India, many Hindu women committed suicide because they knew “Muslim men would rape them in front of their husbands’ eyes, kill their husbands, and [forcibly] take them for wives.” Not, perhaps, that Islam has a monopoly on soldiers raping: in World War II, after D-Day, U.S. military courts hanged dozens of soldiers for rape, and some of both the court members and the soldiers tried had to be Christian. Rape in war happens, is recognized to happen, and in better moments is treated as a clear atrocity. But, unless you are very anti-Christian, a Christian who rapes under any circumstance is acting in an un-Christian way. At least in the Indian women’s perspective that was articulated, it may not be acting in a clearly un-Muslim way to rape an Indian woman in front of her husband’s eyes, murder her husband, and forcibly marry her.
Western stupidity about Christian fundamentalists as nut jobs and Muslims as much more attractive?
One roommate I had talked about hearing something that scared him silly, about the younger George Bush. He didn’t present this as 100% certain, but he claimed that George Bush, in a meeting with several Muslims, had shown the staggering insensitivity to Islam of saying that God had told him to do X. Apparently only one of the Muslim leaders remembered this striking claim, and that one leader didn’t understand what was such a big deal, but then-President Bush had shown a most appalling insensitivity to Islam and Muslims that scared him silly.
I pointed out to him, or tried to, that on his account:
President Bush had done something in the presence of several influential Muslims that was patently offensive to Muslims,
Only one such Muslim remembered it and didn’t see what the big deal was.
And these two do not match.
Really, whatever other things Islam may be accused of, we cannot accuse them of going off in a corner, quietly sulking, and leaving the rest of us to play impenetrable guessing games about why they’re upset and what they want us to do to make amends. But I tried quite in vain to point this out.
Whether in fact George Bush ever told Muslims that God told him something I do not know. But there is a bit of illogic going on. It may scare an academic liberal silly for someone in power to believe there is a God who makes such claims on us. But it is not offensive to Muslims to believe there may be a God and this God could make such claims on us; the basic implication need offend Muslims scarcely more than it need offend scientists to say that it is helpful to test our theories by experiment, or that it need offend coaches to say that athletes should train before they go to competitions.
There is a sense among the people I have known that “Bible-believing Christians” are really not enlightened, and are really nut jobs, but with due charity we should pay Muslims the common courtesy of recognizing that they are basically enlightened and not like Christian fundamentalist nut jobs, and that unlike stupid and dangerous types like John McCain and Sarah Palin, Muslims want to ☪☮∈✡↑☯☦ and unlike those weird Christian fundamentalists, they will ☪☮∈✡↑☯☦ quite nicely. Maybe this is changing; South Park can obscenely mock every religious founder but one, as far as Comedy Central allows after Muslim response, and people in the West are starting to act like saying something vile about Mohammed will get a bit different of a response from those nut job Christians (you know, those dunces who just don’t get that we should ☪☮∈✡↑☯☦). But the way it has changed in the West may not be for the best.
If you find something objectionable about conservative Christianity, fine, but understand that Islam is further, not nearer, to your outlook than such Christianity. It is a capital mistake to worry about some kinds of Christians in power and assume that Muslims, unlike Christians, will be well-behaved and enlightened people we need to understand, and if we only approach them the right way, they will ☪☮∈✡↑☯☦ with us flawlessly. If you find such Christians extreme, be ready to experience Islam in power as going out of the frying pan, into the fire… or rather, into the thermite.
Muslims and Marines
Speaking of “Islamic extremism” reflects a fundamental confusion of ideas, like speaking of “extremism in the USMC”. In matters of faith, healthy Islam does not do things by halves. The idea of being a Muslim “on your own terms”, choosing how far to go and which parts of the tradition to embrace, is like talking about joining the Marines on your own terms, cutting the physical activity to a reasonable level and choosing which orders it makes sense for you to follow. This is fundamentally confused.
It is imposing a foreign understanding on Islam to expect that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, reasonable by Western standards, drawing spiritual inspiration from the Quran without taking it too literally, and then there is that very rare member of every movement’s lunatic fringe, who does things we would find objectionable.
We speak of “extreme” and “moderate.” It would be better to speak of a normal, healthy Islam in full working order, and then of a sickly, half-baked, half-hearted, insincere and inconsistent Islam, the spiritual equivalent of being a Marine when you feel like it.
☪☮∈✡↑☯☦ is in the vocabulary of liberals and of Christians who are rightly or wrongly looked down on. Don’t expect it to be the Islamic voice as well.
Give me my wand and my cloak. He will have his golden sickle.
Now what was it you were saying?
Regarding these Philosophers, words fail me. There is reason that they are called Atheists, but they call us Atheists, we Druids who know a deity in nearly every tree, we who keep the way of the gods from time immemorial.
The Philosophers make a new race, one which anyone can join, in which slave and lord are one, and all eat in table fellowship at one common table.
Now regarding the One: you asked earlier if he is worshiped as a god. I asked you more time to sift words, and words are sifting, but the best answer is incomprehension that we would connect worship of the gods with the reverence paid to the One. And the One is One so powerfully that many of the holy ones are as gods, but more and not less: they make much of the fact that there is no conflict ever among the whole family of the glorified. For there is a sect which affirms One but denies that men have real depth as actors: but the One held by the Philosophers is more fully One in a love poem between One and one.
If we hold the earth as a mother, she has parts and it is the whole collection which contribute to her. The Philosophers’ One is wholly present in every space, or better is more without parts than a needle’s point, and contains all that is made in one act. We remain close to wood and sea: they remain close to virtue and stay alive in circumstances we would find unfathomable. Their Philosophy works in whatever circumstance Philosophers may be in, a rejection of mediating proper function as human in “Oh, I need this,” or “Oh, I need that,” or “Things will really move when such happens.” There Philosophy is a plan for action wherever is Here, whenever is Now, and nothing else.
Do they have spells? In fact they have something greater. However powerful our spells, they are imperfect in this: our contact with the divine is a contact with something greater but domesticates it, and makes it less than our will. It goes under the banner of something greater, but it amounts to something less. Their prayers are not like this. They may be fixed words like spells, but they are meant to be an encounter between the Philosopher and something greater that expands the Philosopher towards the One rather than shrinking the greater to obey a Druid.
You wonder what needs the One has, and how it is that the Philosophers serve him. That is simple, or relatively simple: the One does not have any needs in himself, and the requests that he makes of men are not for his needs but ours. However, the One in whose image we operate has needs in the person of other men, and though the Philosophers see no possibility of benefitting the One in his own person, when you give something to another, it is for all purposes as if you had augmented the One. Though a father be perfect in his craft, if you give his boy a rusk of bread or a bowl of cider, a trinket or a bauble, it is to the Philosophers as if you had augmented the father.
The Philosophers are very difficult to follow on some of these points, but there is not a chink in their Philosophy. You ask, for instance, if they know cauldrons of plenty? The answer is that they find their fulfillment in their Cup of Plenty, by which men are nourished by a food you cannot imagine. Those who are of our College, who are from the Learned Brotherhood, who have gone over to them, have found it nothing other than the fulfillment of Druidry.
In The ??????? Rule, I suggested that a good rule of thumb is to ask, “What do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?” And Steve Jobs, for instance, did not have a nerd’s paradise for his kids. He had walls with big bookshelves and animated discussions. They hadn’t seen an iPad when it first entered the limelight. And employees of technology company chose what might seem some remarkably strict rules, because they didn’t buy into the mystique of hot gadgets. They knew better.
In Bridge to Terebithia, the author introduces Leslie as privileged with a capital P. The biggest cue is quite possibly not that money is not the issue, but that her family does not own a television. Today that character might also be introduced as not having a smartphone, for several reasons.
People know on several levels that Facebook and smartphones suck the life out of their users. That’s old news. This page is about an alternative.
How I tamed my iPhone
I have what might be called a Holy Grail of iPhone usage. I carry my iPhone but I rule it and it does not rule me. It is often at hand, but I have domineered it well enough that I don’t compulsively check it. I get almost all of the practical benefits with none of the hidden price tags.
Prequel: How I tamed television
Before I became a strict iPhone user, I was a slightly relaxed television non-user. I grew up with limited television, one hour per day during the schoolyear and two hours during summer vacation, and I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business and the more book-like Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and also books like Stephen Covey’s First Things First. And I slowly checked out the rest of the way from television. And as an older child and later a young man, I had the vibrancy one associates with an unhindered imagination: the days before television, or something that as might as well be the days before television:
The irony of the Far Side cartoon is that time before television sucked the life out of everything was much more vibrant, not a family huddled around a vacant spot by a wall.
Prequel: Weston A. Price diet
I’m not specifically interested in converting people to Western A. Price or Paleo diets beyond saying that it is my opinion that your body’s engine merits pure premium fuel, but I wanted to comment on something very specific about Nourishing Traditions. As one friend pointed out, some of the ways food is produced are really gross; most vegetable oils besides olive, avocado, and coconut oils have to be extracted under conditions that goes rancid immediately, like popped popcorn, and are then made yellow and clear and not smelling bad by chemical wizardry, or the artificial phenomenon of getting four gallons of milk from a cow per day and then manipulations to make 2% milk (“No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows except for the additional ingredients of blood and pus.“). It overall builds a sense of “This is really gross and unfit for human consumption,” and that’s good.
I check my iPhone at intervals: once per hour, or perhaps once per day. That breaks the spine of constant checking, at least eventually. My phone has three games, all of them for my little nephews, and I’ve come to dodge showing them games on my smartphone, because when I show them a real, physical toy, they can wait turns and share, while smartphone games are addictive enough that when I take out my phone and let them play with it, squabbles consistently follow. In good spirit, when they wanted to play pinball games on my phone, I deleted the pinball game and then made a crude pinball machine out of some leftover wood, nails, rubber bands, large ball bearings, and a plastic pipe. They were initially disappointed, but when they had some time to play with it, they began to be imaginative in a way I have never seen with a smartphone video game.
Returning to my smartphone, I use it for utilitarian purposes, including making bottom-liner use of Facebook and Twitter. Bottom-liner use of Facebook can be constructed, but having it fill the hours is depressing to anyone.
Specific suggestions for iPhone and Android smartphones
On this point I would say that there are few things you must do, but many things you might do. Probably the single best advice I know is to work with an Orthodox priest who is comfortable freeing you from your chains to technology. Good advice is to make a small change to start, and then slowly but steadily build up until what you have in place is working for you.
I would also underscore that these are suggestions, that some people have found helpful. I do not use all the rules others have found helpful, and I’ve found benefit in getting stricter with myself as time has passed. However, you don’t owe a duty to make all of these your own.
Learn from Humane Tech. Humane Tech is a movement to mitigate some of turning people’s brains to tapioca, and it is well worth attending. I don’t believe they go far enough; I believe that Orthodox ascesis and fasting provide a good backbone, but knowing which apps make you happy and which apps make you sad is at very least a good start. Three Humane Tech pages you should know about include the following:
Take control. This gives many concrete suggestions. I’ve thought about all of them and implemented some of them.
Familiarize yourself with app ratings. All apps are not created equal in terms of their effect on how you feel. If you want to get your head out of your apps, this is another page I would at least recommend familiarizing yourself with.
Make a conscious adult decision about what you carry. I would recommend choosing between three primary options:
Keep a smartphone, but be sure that you are the one in charge. This is the option I go with, but only after not carrying a cell phone when they were becoming common, and have less plugged in days of only checking email once per day. I do more frequent usage, and think that checking it once per hour is also a good baseline, but I only check things more frequently when I have a specific logistical reason. The strongest reason for this may be less the inner logic of dominating your technology, than smartphones being socially mandated.
Don’t carry a smartphone. Kings, Emperors, Popes and Patriarchs before the twentieth century lived in great luxury without having any kind of phone access, ever. They weren’t deprived. You most likely don’t need it.
Carry alternate gear. What about, instead of carrying a smartphone, you carry a standalone GPS, an old-school handset that only does talk and text with a numeric keypad, a paper planner or a small paper pad for your scheduling, todo, and scratchpad use, and maybe a book or Kindle? That sounds like a lot, but it fits nicely, with room to spare, in my favorite messenger bag. Admittedly these things are not the same convergence device, but it really may be possible to carry everything you want without difficulty. And by the way, their not including social media isn’t a defect; it’s a feature.
Read The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul, and The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. Pay close attention to the rules in The New Media Epidemic as taken from Silicon Valley tech Moms and Dads. Chapter 13 is rich in practical application, mentions a #1 rule of no phones in bedrooms ever, and “Alex Constantinople… said her youngest son, who is 5, is never allowed to use gadgets during the week, and her older children, 10 to 13, are only allowed 30 minutes a day on school nights.” Not an absolutely different rule from what my parents had for me. Other aspects covered include having the network’s router shut off outside of a certain window of time.
Take an attitude of “Everything is permitted… maybe, but not everything is beneficial.” We are tempted to try to get the most use out of our investment, when a better use might be more sparing. As far as TV goes, I have sought out to see one Simpsons episode in the past five or so years. Somewhere along the way, I stopped seeing as much television as I was allowed. Don’t use as much as you will let yourself use, and recognize that the most beneficial uses are sometimes the ones with the lightest touch. A smartphone in “Do Not Disturb” mode is just as much capable of calling 911 in a bad situation as any other cell phone.
Have an attitude of having a life outside of online activity. When I grew up, I was taught to cast a line with a fishing rod. I didn’t end up catching much of anything, but my father taught me the basics, face-to-face, with a genuine fishing rod. Young people today are far more likely to learn to cast a line with the accelerometer on a smartphone, and that was a deprivation. I did my studies through travelling to campuses face-to-face even if I used email as well. This is a human baseline that is a survival from the Middle Ages, for that matter a survival from the animal world where young wolves are not handed tools necessarily but are taught how to interact with their environment to hunt, face-to-face with other wolves. And I would suggest that traveling to a college campus and also using some email is a pretty good baseline for technology use. And in relation to this, we have:
Take up a hobby and give smartphones some competition. It can be hard to just pull back from habitual technology use. It is somewhat easier, even if it is not really easy, to pull back from the draw of technology and engage in something else, such as candle making. Having a constructive hobby can be very helpful as something else to do instead.
Use your phone for a purpose, and never to treat boredom. A practice of reaching for your phone when you need it to do something, and not much else, can be great. Your phone can be genuinely nice when you use it to contact an acquaintance by any means, or to order a pair of shoes. It’s a trap when you use it to just pass time or make boredom easier to deal with. The most miserable use of Facebook, for instance, is when you’re always on.
Use older technologies and fast from technologies. Fasting from technologies is explored in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, and while it may not be possible, there are times where you can make a phone call instead of sending an email, or drive to see someone face-to-face instead of making a phone call. In general, using older space-conquering technologies instead of newer space-conquering technologies can uncover a forgotten richness. Some have had days of no electricity. A Lead Pencil Society day here and there can produce just a little freedom, or even just write a single hand-written, lead-pencil letter to a loved one, or perhaps buy a single, paper book instead of an ebook.
Treat porn as a real danger, and get help whenever you need it. Porn is the disenchantment of the entire universe; it is our day’s biggest attack on men; it is preparation for committing rape. Take things to a father confessor; use a support group; use xxxchurch.
Don’t look at your phone as a treasure from a magic world. A phone can feel exotic until you’re already hooked, but I think of people in the second world where a smartphone may seem a relic from the wonderland of the first world. In fact the U.S. may have more seeking of escape than Uganda. In fact material treasure may be found much more easily in the U.S.—and with it spiritual poverty. I believe that smartphones have uses, but as an experience they are not really helpful if you’re an American, and not really helpful if you’re a Ugandan friend. There are uses, and you can read ebooks for instance, which is really sweet. However, being sucked into a phone is not really a helpful way of using it. On those grounds I would advise friends both in the U.S. and Uganda to use phones, maybe, but know that God has placed people around you, and a person is infinitely better than a smartphone. Enjoy the real treasures!
All of this may seem like a lot, but it is very simple at heart:
Start walking on the path and put one foot in front of the other.
Someone said that a memo is written, not to inform the reader, but to protect the sender.
There is something wrong when employees receive so much allegedly mandatory reading material that if they were actually to sit down and read it as told, they wouldn’t get other work done. And it is entirely inappropriate to demand that people without significant legal acumen claim to have read and understood a contract. Really, contracts are rightly understood only if you understand the tradition surrounding how they are interpreted. That means that unless (or possibly even if) you are a lawyer (or else a hobbyist who may not legally be licensed to practice but who is fascinated at learning how law works), you don’t understand the contract. This is, incidentally, why there’s the website tosdr.org (“Terms of Service – Didn’t Read“).
That much I still believe. However, I believe there was some nasty pride in expecting the business world to meet what I consider reasonable. The normal way of dealing with things is to not read, or to read just enough. And that is why in my first job with over a quarter inch of daily allegedly mandatory reading, I should just have listened to a colleague gently tell me that I didn’t have to read that.
I’ve worked on humility a little bit since then.
Once upon a time, there was a new employee, hired fresh out of college by a big company. The first day on the job, he attended a pep rally, filled out paperwork concerning taxes and insurance, and received a two page document that said at the top, “Sexual Harassment Policy: Important. Read Very Carefully!”
So our employee read the sexual harassment policy with utmost care, and signed at the bottom indicating that he had read it. The policy was a remedial course in common sense, although parts of it showed a decided lack of common sense. It was an insult to both his intelligence and his social maturity.
Our employee was slightly puzzled as to why he was expected to read such a document that carefully, but soon pushed doubts out of his mind. He trotted over to his new cubicle, sat down, and began to read the two inch thick manual on core essentials that every employee needs to know. He was still reading core essentials two hours later when his boss came by and said, “Could you take a break from that? I want to introduce you to your new co-workers, and show you around.”
So our employee talked with his boss — a knowledgeable, competent, and understanding woman — and enjoyed meeting his co-workers, trying to learn their names. He didn’t have very much other work yet, so he dutifully read everything that the administrators sent him — even the ones that didn’t say “Important — please read” at the top. He read about ISO 9001 certification, continual changes and updates to company policy, new technologies that the company was adopting, employee discounts, customer success stories, and other oddments totalling to at least a quarter inch of paper each day, not counting e-mails.
His boss saw that he worked well, and began to assign more difficult tasks appropriate to his talent. He took on this new workload while continuing to read everything the administration told him to read, and worked longer and longer days.
One day, a veteran came and put a hand on his shoulder, saying, “Kid, just between the two of us, you don’t have to read every piece of paper that says ‘Important’ at the top. None of us read all that.”
And so our friend began to glance at the first pages of long memos, to see if they said anything helpful for him to know, and found that most of them did not. Some time after that, he realized that his boss or one of his co-workers would explicitly tell him if there was a memo that said something he needed to know. The employee found his workload reduced to slightly less than fifty hours per week. He was productive and happy.
One day, a memo came. It said at the top, “Important: Please Read.” A little more than halfway through, on page twenty-seven, there was a description of a new law that had been passed, and how it required several jobs (including his own) to be done in a slightly different manner. Unfortunately, our friend’s boss was in bed with a bad stomach flu, and so she wasn’t able to tell him he needed to read the memo. So he continued doing his job as usual.
A year later, the company found itself the defendant in a forty million dollar lawsuit, and traced the negligence to the action of one single employee — our friend. He was fired, and made the central villain in the storm of bad publicity.
But he definitely was in the wrong, and deserved what was coming to him. The administration very clearly explained the liability and his responsibility, in a memo very clearly labelled “Important”. And he didn’t even read the memo. It’s his fault, right?
Every communication that is sent to a person constitutes an implicit claim of, “This concerns you and is worth your attention.” If experience tells other people that we lie again and again when we say this, then what right do we have to be believed when we really do have something important to say?
I retold the story of the boy who cried wolf as the story of the administrator who cried important, because administrators are among the worst offenders, along with lawyers, spammers, and perhaps people who pass along e-mail forwards. Among the stack of paper I was expected to sign when I moved in to my apartment was a statement that I had tested my smoke detector. The apartment staff was surprised that I wanted to test my smoke detector before signing my name to that statement. When an authority figure is surprised when a person reads a statement carefully and doesn’t want to sign a claim that all involved know to be false, it’s a bad sign.
There is communication that concerns the person it’s directed to, but says too much — for example, most of the legal contracts I’ve seen. The tiny print used to print many of those contracts constitutes an implicit acknowledment that the signer is not expected to read it: they don’t even use the additional sheets of paper necessary to print text at a size that a person who only has 20/20 vision can easily read. There is also communication that is broadcast to many people who have no interest in it. To that communication, I would propose the following rule: Do not, without exceptionally good reason, broadcast a communication that concerns only a minority of its recipients. It’s OK every now and then to announce that the blue Toyota with license place ABC 123 has its lights on. It’s not OK to have a regular announcement that broadcasts anything that is approved as having interest to some of the recipients.
My church, which I am in general very happy with, has succumbed to vice by adding a section to the worship liturgy called “Announcements”, where someone reads a list of events and such just before the end of the service, and completely dispels the moment that has been filling the sanctuary up until the announcements start. They don’t do this with other things — the offering is announced by music (usually good music) that contributes to the reverent atmosphere of the service. But when the service is drawing to a close, the worshipful atmosphere is disrupted by announcements which I at least almost never find useful. If the same list were printed on a sheet of paper, I could read it after the service, in less time, with greater comprehension, with zero disruption to the moment that every other part of the service tries so carefully to build — and I could skip over any announcements that begin “For Married Couples:” or “Attention Junior High and High Schoolers!” The only advantage I can see to the present practice, from the church leadership’s perspective, is that many people will not read the announcements at all if they have a choice about it — and maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson in that.
As well as pointing out examples of a rampant problem in communication, where an administrator cries “Important!” over many things that are not worth reading, and then wonders why people don’t believe him when he cries “Important!” about something which isimportant, I would like to suggest an alternative for communities that have access to the internet. A web server could use a form to let people select areas of concern and interest, and announcements submitted would be categorized, optionally cleared with a moderator, and sent only to those people who are interested in them. Another desirable feature might let end receivers select how much announcement information they can receive in a day — providing a discernible incentive to the senders to minimize trivial communication. In a sense, this is what happens already — intercom litanies of announcements ignored by school students in a classroom, employees carrying memos straight from their mailboxes to the recycle bins — but in this case, administrators receive clear incentive and choice to conserve bandwidth and only send stuff that is genuinely important.
While I’m giving my Utopian dreams, I’d like to comment that at least some of this functionality is already supported by the infrastructure developed by UseNet. Probably there are refinements that can be implemented in a web interface — all announcements for one topic shown from a single web page, since they shouldn’t be nearly as long as a normal UseNet post arguing some obscure detail in an ongoing discussion. Perhaps other and better can be done — I am suggesting “Here’s something better than the status quo,” not “Here’s something so perfect that there’s no room for improvement.”
In one UseNet newsgroup, an exchange occurred that broadcasters of announcements would be well-advised to keep in mind. One person said, “I’m trying to decide whether to give the UseNet Bore of the Year Award to [name] or [name]. The winner will receive, as his prize, a copy of all of their postings, minutely inscribed, and rolled up inside a two foot poster tube.”
Someone else posted a reply asking, “Length or diameter?”
To those of you who broadcast to people whom you are able to address because of your position and not because they have chosen to receive your broadcasts, I have the following to say: In each communication you send, you are deciding the basis by which people will decide if future communications are worth paying attention to, or just unwanted noise. If your noise deafens their ears, you have no right to complain that the few truly important things you have to tell them fall on deaf ears. Only you can prevent spam!