Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Dark Side of E-mail

As the (tongue-in-cheek) “World’s Most Famous Christian Blogger”, Tim Challies doesn’t need any publicity from me, but an article he posted today demonstrates why reading him is so worthwhile. In his distinctive style of analyzing of both himself and the broader culture at the same time, Tim has some especially relevant thoughts on the power and effects of e-mail. He writes,

“I recently came to the realization that email owns me. A good technology that should be at my disposal has instead taken over and put me at its disposal. And if you’ve read Postman you’ll know that technology is very good at this. No sooner do we put a technology in our service than we find that it has so changed our lives that suddenly we have become enslaved to it.

When I find myself compulsively glancing at my screen every time I walk by, hoping to see an icon telling me I’ve got a new message, when I unthinkingly pull out my iPhone to check to see if I’ve got any new email, I realize I’ve got a problem. When I sit in meetings with email open, glancing as often to the screen as to the person speaking, I understand that something has gone wrong. Somehow I’ve given email more than it deserves. In my mind I’ve made it into something it is not and something it should never be. Email was never meant to be the first thing I look at in the morning or the last thing I look at before bed.

Hear me when I say that email is not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing either, really; it’s just a thing. I wouldn’t want to say that email is somehow innately destructive. It is an excellent medium for communication and one that serves many purposes very well. It is exceptionally efficient, at least when at its best, and gives us amazing levels of instantaneous access to one another. I wouldn’t want to cut it out of my life and certainly do not intend to.

But email is demanding, especially when given the reins. Recent scientific studies show that there may well be some kind of a correlation between the psychology of email and the psychology of slot machines. A variable interval schedule, as psychologists might know it, draws us back time and again, hoping for the occasional payout. Though most of the time there is no payout when checking email, just like there is usually all cost and no payout when playing slots, there is always the promise of something great. Occasionally we may win a jackpot and occasionally we may get a bit of very good news by email. But most of the time there is no payout at all. Yet our brains seem hard-wired to keep searching, to keep driving us back to the inbox, hoping against hope.”

If you’re one of those who can’t sit through a meeting without checking your in-box, you ought to read the rest here.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Rugged, but worthwhile reading

Earlier this year, First Things, a Catholic publication founded by Richard John Neuhaus, began hosting a Protestant group blog, Evangel, featuring some of evangelical Christianity’s most influential writers. I’m almost always challenged and edified by the content there, though reading it can be pretty intense and time demanding. But I’m consistently the better for having read it.

On Friday, one of the regular contributors, Paul McCain, a Lutheran, posted this quote from Augustine:

“When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune: shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him…A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of those words: “Who can this be? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”

St. Augustine; Sermons 63.1-3

What a great thought, to remember Christ’s presence within when tempted or tried.Or better yet, to not forget in the first place.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Great Conversations

In his blog today, Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers offers a number of guidelines for great conversations. Read the whole thing, but here are some nuggets worth taking to heart:

  • Ask open-ended questions. As the hosts, Gail and I have a singular goal: we try to ask interesting questions. We try to make these questions open-ended, so that people must elaborate and give us some insight into them as a person. For example,
    • What is your idea of a perfect vacation?
    • If you could design your ideal job, what would it look like?
    • What is the best book you have read in the last 12 months and why?
    • What is the most important lesson you learned from your father?
    • When is your very favorite thing about your spouse?
    • If you were by yourself, and could listen to any music you want, what it be?
    • If you could spend a day with anyone on the planet, who would it be?
    • What it is like to be your friend? or to be married to you?
    • If you were suddenly the President of the U.S., what would you do first?
    • Looking back over your life, what would you describe as your proudest moment?
  • Ask a second question. The most interesting conversations come after the initial answer. It takes extraordinary discipline to refrain from answering your own question and, instead. answer a second question. Yet this is where the deepest conversations occur. I like to ask questions like these as follow-up questions:
    • How did it feel when that happened?
    • Can you elaborate on that?
    • Why do you think that is important to you?
    • Do you think you would have answered the same way five years ago?
    • What emotion do you feel when you describe that?