An amazing perspective on technology and life today

Clay Travis is a sportwriter/columnist. When I was on twitter I followed him. It was certainly entertaining. I do get his mailbag emails, and happened to catch this incredible post on technology. Please take the time to read it, and consider the effect that social media is having on your kids.

Eddy writes:

“Longtime fan of the mailbag. I know you’re a thinker and I like your thoughts on big abstract issues. Here’s the question(s)

Have we reached peak technology, or at least plateued for a while, to make our lives better?

I’m talking better not easier. Better is a measurable improvement in quality of life. Vaccines make life better. Moving sidewalks make life easier. An example, when cameras were invented they made life better. You could capture a moment and have it frozen in a picture. Instagram makes it easier. It’s easier to access and take a picture.

When the phone was invented it made life better. You could connect instantly and hear  someone’s voice. The first cell phones made life better you could connect instantly to anyone who had one. Then the iPhones came and I’d argue the jump is smaller with each new one. My life is no better from iPhone 4 to the 8 I have now. (I think I have the 8) The phone is easier but not necessarily making my life better.

Does social media/technology make people’s lives better or easier? I tend to think its not making life easier but not better. I think we’ve may have reached the peak, and now it’s for some moderation in things tech related. The world is in the brink of chaos despite all the incredible good things happening. Is it time we start thinking of tech like alcohol or pizza? Be careful how much you consume, a little makes life better, too much makes life miserable.”

This is such a fascinating question.

It seems to me that technology in general has reached its apex when it comes to making people’s live truly better.

I’m not sure I buy into your better vs. easier dynamic, but think of it this way, I have almost lived for two generations. If I went back in time now to 1979 — the year that I was born — the only real major technological innovation that we have now in America that didn’t exist then was the Internet.

In other words, we drove on Interstates in 1979, food was safe, cheap and easy to consume, air travel was relatively commonplace, immunizations for children protected all of us from most awful diseases that could kill us when we were young, cameras and videocameras existed as did microwaves and cable television — even if it was in its infancy.

If I suddenly went back in time to the year that I was born, the biggest change would be the lack of the Internet — and the fact that we didn’t have mini-computers in our hands capable of telling us everything.

But was our life back then really totally different and are we better off now?

To me, if you’re defining better to mean — extending the scope and longevity of the average American’s life — the answer is: not really.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet — it’s given me this job and it’s given you the ability to read this article on your phone while you’re standing in line to buy lunch — but if you’d been back in 1979 would it really have been that awful to just stand in line and wait for your sandwich while you read a physical newspaper or, more likely, talked to someone while you waited in line?

I think about this quite a bit because people of my age — I’ll turn forty next month — grew up with an all-encompassing Internet once most of us were already close to adulthood.

But we weren’t immersed in it from the cradle like kids today are.

When I came home from school unless someone called me on the phone I was pretty much totally alone with my family at my house. I had acres and acres of time to fill where I could develop my own personality distinct from being surrounded by my friends all the time or worrying about what the latest thing someone had said on Snapchat was.

Do kids today have that opportunity today with technology?

I don’t think they do. And the results — suicide, depression, anxiety and the like — suggest that our embrace of perpetual technology isn’t leading kids to be happier, it’s making them much more depressed and suicidal.

To me there’s a difference between something that entertains us and something that makes our lives fundamentally better. The Internet, really, is just a different way to entertain us. But, and this is an even more interesting question, what if that “entertainment” has a huge downside which results in many of the things that have made America great — our democracy, robust capitalism, respect for those with different opinions and world views — being challenged, destroyed or disrupted?

I mean, just think about something like vaccinations. No one but true wingnuts challenged the idea of vaccinating their kids in a pre-social media era. Now we’re in an era when measurable and unquestionable scientific advancements — vaccinations unquestionably make the world safer and better for children, both yours and mine — can actually be rejected because disinformation spreads so much easier. That is, our technological advancements actually allow us be less informed — or even worse, misinformed — about a subject that directly influences the health of our children, which is arguably the issue parents should care about the most in this country.

Now think about what you would tell yourself about the future if you went back in time to when you were a kid.

It would go something like this when you got to trying to explain the cell phone and the Internet, “Pretty much everyone in the entire country will have tiny pocket computers in their hands by 2019 and we’ll spend at least five hours a day on them, often much more. That pocket computer will have access to every movie, TV show, sporting event, or song ever made in the history of American life. We can get access to all of it instantaneously with very limited cost.”

Your kid self would be like, “No way! That’s awesome! I can watch GI Joe and A-Team all day long?! The future is going to be awesome!”

And then you’d continue.

“But somehow, despite having access to all of this in the palm of our hands, studies will show that we aren’t becoming happier in the country.”

Why not your kid self might ask? How could anyone not be happy watching G.I. Joe and A-Team all day long?

“Because there will be this thing called social media that most people will use to interact with each other and the overwhelming majority of the time people will spend on social media will be about arguing with each other and demanding that people be fired from their jobs for petty slights and distortions of cultural mores. Oh and everyone will turn into angry tribes of people and all that will matter is your feelings and most people won’t care about facts. Ultimately people who tell jokes will lose their jobs and you don’t even want me to start on what’s going to happen with Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson.”

It’s really pretty remarkable to think about this conversation.

Your kid-self would understand the concept of the entertainment options, but social media would be tough to explain. We’re going to create, essentially, an entirely new world in the Internet where people don’t have to be themselves and then they sit around and argue with people who are themselves all day long.

Regardless, I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you consider any forty year period in American life that 1979 to 2019 has been filled with more technological transformations than almost any before it, but it’s also been simultaneously filled with the least transformative changes to actually make our lives better.

Maybe that’s because we’ve already achieved most of where we can go in terms of making life objectively “better,” as you assert, but it is a fascinating question.

Have we essentially plateau’d from a technological perspective?

I mean, Amazon’s a great company, but it’s just a new, faster way to consume. Buying things in a store, whether online or in person, is still buying something.

(It’s important to note that the world, by the way, has become immeasurably better during these forty years, but most of that is because America’s betterment of life has reached the poor in other countries. In other words, most American kids were immunized in 1979, but most kids in poor countries weren’t.)

We’re turning into iPhone zombies

I love the TV show The Walking Dead.  I don’t know what it is about the show that fascinates me.  It certainly isn’t the gore and the violence, but the character development, and the lengths that they will go to in order to survive is fascinating.  Sure the idea of a zombie apocalypse seems far-fetched, but that doesn’t temper my fascination with the “what would life be like” scenarios.

But as far-fetched as the idea seems, the reality is we’re turning into a society of zombies, controlled by our iPhones.  I’ve had this nagging angst over the past few months – I’ve been unable to escape the idea of the level of control we’ve given over to technology.  The amount of our social dynamic that we’ve mortgaged to our handheld devices is astounding, and it’s only growing exponentially worse.

There are a handful of articles and videos that have started to address this plague – and it IS a plague.  There’s this article that my friend Scotty Smith posted last week, from the Desiring God website.  The key statement – we feel like if we’re not obsessively scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, we’re going to miss out.  My only regret in the article was that I read it through my Facebook browser.

There’s also this incredibly telling article about how our phones have changed the way we experience a restaurant….

How about this article – where we are actually CALLED iPhone zombies…

There’s this video that is one of the most convicting pieces I’ve watched in a long time….

Then there’s this…

and finally, this…

We’re becoming a society obsessed with “everything else” instead of being fully present in whatever we’re doing.  As has been written many times before – we create fictional versions of our lives in order to gain validation and affirmation, instead of seeking after the only one that can offer both.  We’ve elevated tweets and status updates to the level of heightened debate that we used to reserve for only the highest-level thinkers.

I went last year with my wife on one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken.  Part of why the vacation was so great was that we actually completely disconnected from everything else – social media, work, email, phone… Our destination was one of the most exquisite places we’ve ever been.  We spent a week in what we could easily call “paradise.”  But we started to notice a disturbing trend.  We were watching couples sit at their dinner tables in silence.  They had nothing to talk about.  There were honeymooners there that were incapable of talking – so they’d pull out their phones and engage with “anything else…”

I was on my Alma Mater’s campus around the first of December last year for a convocation.  I was taken aback as I watched class dismiss – and the first thing everyone did in the room was take out their phones.  How do these kids create relationships that exist in real life?

I’m struck at how many times I’ll see folks out at dinner on a Friday night, obsessed with “anything else” that might be happening on their phones.  What is happening to us?  Are we really becoming this zombified?

I want more.  I want more for my kids.  I want them to grow up learning about the world that really exists, and not what we have put online… and I have to be willing to model that.

So, like I’ve done with most things in my life – I’m going cold turkey, trying to wean myself away from the zombie-esque nature of the smartphone, and the influence it has in taking me away from actual, real life.  If it means missing out, i’m ready to miss out.  The irony is – as we try not to miss out, we’re missing out on what’s actually going on.  If it means not being up on the latest controversial statement from a Facebook friend that got 145 likes, then I’m ready.  I THINK though, that it’ll mean being more present in my actual relationships, marriage, and parenting.  I THINK that it’ll allow me to fully experience here, and now, instead of “anything else…”

Happy Birthday to Drake

It’s #1’s 10th birthday today. I’ve posted his story a couple times here. I’m gonna post it again, because it serves, to this day, as a constant reminder of how God radically changed our hearts on what we knew to be true of his character.

He was born at 6:01, on a Friday – June 15, 2001. This was after 30 hours of labor, 3 doctors, 5 nurses . . . and then she pushed for 3 hours. They were about ready to do a C-section when the doc saw the head.

He came out grey . . . and not breathing. Mandy’s uterus wasn’t clamping back down, and she was losing so much blood that they were going to transfuse her. They hit the red button on the wall, and my parents, and brothers and her parents, and sister watched from the waiting room as every doctor and nurse on the floor ran into the room. RAN into the room. Apparently that’s what the red button did. At some point, a nurse came and got me and sat me down in a chair because I was standing in between the bed my wife was on (watching the doctor literally kneeling with all her weight on top of my wife’s belly to get it to contract and stop bleeding) and my son on the little baby inspection bed, with nurses beating him with this suction cup hammer thingy, trying to get him to breathe – and all I could do was cry – not knowing which bed to go to.

So they whisk drake off in an incubator, and take him to the NICU at northside (in atlanta) which is where we were. and mandy finally stopped bleeding, and then the neonatologist came in to sit down with us and tell us that Drake is in the NICU, and they’re not sure what’s wrong, and he couldn’t tell me for sure that he was going to live (i asked him).

He then informed us that Drake couldn’t stay at Northside, because the NICU was full, and they were moving him across the street to Children’s hospital (scottish rite).

They moved Mandy to her recovery room – and they wheeled Drake into the room in the ambulance incubator. He had hoses and tubes and all sorts of stuff plugged up to him, and he had his eyes shut – a respirator in, and a feeding tube. Mandy stuck her arm out and put her hand on the glass, and called his name, and he opened his eyes and looked at her – but then had to be quickly rolled away because there’s only so much O2 on those rolling buggies.

He took the ambulance ride to the hospital. I stayed with Mandy. We had several friends come to visit. I remember Eric and Shea coming down. They had no idea the situation. Shea said “I told Eric that I just felt that we needed to come see you.” They wanted to buy our family dinner. No one wanted to eat. They were gracious and bought dinner anyway – and I’m pretty sure it sat in the bags . . . Sorry Eric and Shea. Our pastor (that we had known for a brief 4 months) came up from Newnan.

The next morning, I went over to see Drake, and he had already come off the respirator, which was great, and the nurse was feeding him from a bottle. The doctor said that things were going to be OK, and we could go home on Monday (this was saturday).

Mandy was having an extraordinary time recovering, what with all the blood loss, and the 30 hours labor.

I stayed with Drake. took some video. Took some pics.

The next morning, I called the doc to check-in – per his request, before going over to be with Drake. The doctor said “Mr. Sears, I’m having the lab re-do this test, because according to his bloodwork – called a CBC, his white count dropped from 13,000 to 3000, overnight. I’m sure it’s a mistake. Call me in 30 minutes.” I called in 30. He was now having them do a hand count, because he couldn’t believe it. “I’m not sure what’s wrong, but he’s going to be here for a while.” I lost control. I said “Doesn’t an infection mess with your white count?” the doctor said “yes, but it drops when the infection is winning.”

Mandy wanted to go over to see him, so she got in a wheelchair, and we rolled out of Northside hospital and across the street to scottish rite.

We weren’t able to hold him, and he was hooked up to machines, and this was Father’s Day – Sunday. Awesome Father’s day. We had to check out of the hospital the next morning, and we didn’t want to go back to Newnan without Drake

I went to the Ronald McDonald house – because I heard they had a room available. I can remember sitting in the little office with the lady that ran the place, and she asked me how long I thought I would need to stay, and through that gagging, choking tears thing, I told her I didn’t know, and that my baby was in the NICU at Scottish Rite, and they didn’t know what was wrong. I toured the house with her, and it was a nice house, and there lots of families there, having to stay for various reasons. We ended up not staying. With Mandy’s recovery issues – still major, there was no way she was in any shape to share a single bathroom with 10 other people . . .

So we checked into a hotel next to Scottish Rite. Her teacher friends took up a collection at the school, and somebody knew someone that worked for Marriot, so they dropped our rate to a ridiculously low rate. So we’d get up early every morning and go be with Drake, and watch the monitors, and the heartbeat, and the blood oxygen sensor, that would FREAK out every time drake would kick his foot. And we’d return every night and hit our knees, and thank god that drake lived another day – and acknowledge that even the best kids doctors in Atlanta didn’t know what was going on – but He did . . . and that was going to HAVE to be enough for us . . . And when I say “hit our knees” i mean it. We weren’t a praying couple until then. We had our own prayers – but not together, as a married couple. It changed that week. We’d pray, together, and out loud, and intentional, and heard each other’s hearts, and joined together to plead, and beg, and thank, and plead . . . We continue to this day.

Over the next 7 days, he was seen by a cardiologist, a hematologist, a neurologist, an infectious disease doctor, several neonatologists really every kind of -ologist. Literally. No one could tell us what was wrong. We got to know the nurses well. There were lots of babies in that room, with lots of problems. It takes an unbelievable soul to work in that environment. They liked Drake, because they believed he was going home soon – and they don’t get many that do go home “soon” or at all . . .

I can remember one night – probably day 5 or 6. We had left the hospital pretty late that night, and ended up sitting at a red light for over 10 minutes because something had malfunctioned. Neither of us said a word. I didn’t react. At the time – nothing was worth reacting over. Nothing seemed important – even sitting at a red light at 12:30 in the morning.

we took him home the next Friday. He was actually circumcised on the 8th day – which was cool. The entire day preceding (Thursday) they took him off all of the monitors and wires and tubes. I FREAKED out. My response was “how am I supposed to know if he’s ok!?!” One of the nurses looked at me and said “Look at him. Does he look ok?”

He was discharged with a low, but climbing white count, and we were told that if he runs even the slightest fever, we were to bypass any other doctor or hospital and get him back to Scottish Rite as fast as possible. He was sent home with a follow-up appointment with the hematologist the next Tuesday. We went in. They drew blood. Tested it. Results came back. Doctor said “He’s completely normal.” I think we were actually shocked. I remember looking at the doctor and saying “What do we do now?” He replied “Treat him like a normal baby.”

By the way – i asked how we could keep him from getting sick, and the doctor said “just wash your hands.” hence the hand washing problem that I have.

Anyway – he’s 10 today. And buck-wild.

Time to create?

I taught last week at a conference for church planters. Guys (and gals) from all over the country, spanning 20 different denominations, in all different stages of church planting. One of the parts of my talk is finding “the guy” to lead the worship ministry.

In laying out “suggested criteria” i mentioned that he/she needs to be creative. Regardless of WHAT they’re doing to create (writing music (or words or poetry or narrative), painting, drawing, blogging, videographing (that’s just NOT a word), photography – “the guy” needs to be setting aside intentional time to create – every week.

I saw this morning on Facebook (facebook is this start-up company that’s trying to do a social network thing. don’t know if it’s really going to take off) one of my friends posted “first day all week with no meetings – time to create.” What a great post! Are you finding ways and times to create?

Trash TV

I’m just gonna say this. I hate trash TV. And let’s face it – stuff that falls in this category (for me at least) are shows like:
The Bachelor/Bachelorette – conveniently, starting back up tonight, Survivor, Big Brother, American Idol, Top Model, anything on MTV, a lot of things on Fox, blah blah blah, etc. You get the point. Usually, if it’s called “reality,” then i automatically turn it off. Except for Pawn Stars. I LOVE watching pawn stars. Kind of a mix between antiques roadshow and american chopper.

Anyway – the bachelor is on, and I have to configure my knees just right so my MAC sits and blocks most of the TV… but here’s what bugs me. This guy is going to send how many women home at the end of this night’s party? 8? 10? And he gets to base that on… wait for it… LOOKS! Wowzer. The epitome of what we’re dealing with in society and in the church. We’re (as a church) striving so hard to let the Gospel shine through – for the Gospel to be the truth – which tells us that we are whole, loved, true, and pursued by the Father, because of Christ – because of His beauty… and because of that, we are made beautiful.

But on one of the most “popular” reality shows – scores of women are “sent home” because of a first impression. How does this end up translating to church? To the masks we wear? To the pretense we try to live out? We start, continue, or intensify the thinking that our mask is how we are evaluated, that our appearance is how we’re defined. It ends up burying our truth, inflating our shame, and obscuring our view of true beauty.

The alternative – embracing Christ and the beauty that He gives to our lives.

I hate trash TV.