Social Media: Soda, Wine, Oxycodone, or Heroin?

The following is a guest post (my first ever) from my friend and fellow Mungarian Mike Pratt.  Mike and I have been having a friendly argument about social media: is it mainly helpful, harmful, or neutral?  I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does more harm than good, but Mike doesn’t agree.  Here’s what Mike thinks.

 

Andrew asked me to write a guest post on this blog in response to my taking issue with his argument. It’s not that I think his points in his first post and subsequent follow-up post are entirely wrong, but I’ll argue they have omissions and thus fail to convince. I will counter his argument and offer an alternative framework for viewing this thing called social media.

Before I start I’d like to make one side point: I also think Andrew’s statement:

“What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.”

is gross generalization of the meaning. As Keller puts it

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…”

To simply have your attention is not necessarily bad or false worship. When it has all of your attention, in place of other, more important things (first and foremost, God) then it becomes an idol of worship. Thoughts can go to many things and not render those things worship. Thank God or my daydreaming is convicted!

Now to the Main Topic

This analogy is by no means perfect but I think it’s a decent framework to look at the issue. As you read each blurb on these four substances, ponder in your mind which one you think is most analogous to social media.

Soda

With a few exceptions, soda is viewed as a relatively benign substance to be enjoyed. In small quantities, it’s clearly harmless and even for regular users, there have been few, if any, documented cases of extreme adverse health consequences. It is accepted that soda is not even remotely hazardous like any of the other 3 substances in this analogy.

Wine

Given the alcohol contained in wine, it’s a step up from soda in that it can be abused and in extreme use cases, is addictive and can have serious health consequences. The Bible celebrates wine in measured doses (wedding at Cana) and also condemns its abuse (drunkenness.) Many people drink wine. Many choose not to.

Oxycodone

This seriously addictive and controlled substance is a ruiner of lives when abused. It is also extremely beneficial in tightly controlled use cases (post surgical pain relief) It is highly controlled because it is so addictive as well as misused (leading to abuse).

Heroin

There are no beneficial uses. Highly addictive. Bad bad bad.

 

So what is Facebook, then?

One man’s opinion:

It’s not soda. I think, to Andrew’s point, there are many people who are hooked on the stuff. “Hooked” in this case being defined as “they use it so much that it takes away from the lives they normally led in a detrimental way or at the expense of basic things”

It’s not Oxy. That implies a very limited, positive use case like Oxy which is just not true. A significant number of social media users engage on their platform(s) of choice in positive and beneficial ways. The government does not (nor should) control use of the platforms to prevent a possible mass wave of harmful addiction because with free use, the facts are that only a minor set of users qualify as “harmfully addictive.”

It’s not Heroin. That presumes there are NO beneficial uses of social media and while many do think that, those folks probably think all soda is a mind-control beverage that Pepsi uses in cahoots with the government.

It’s wine. There are plenty of beneficial, everyday uses of Facebook. Can it get out of hand? Sure. Can you “drink too much”? Sure. Should some people give up drinking? Definitely. The key is to look at what you “drink” and why. Does it rule your life? Are you grumpy without a “drink” or do you love a “glass” with a good meal or when out with friends? Andrew posted a picture of everyone in line at an airport on their phones (presuming that it was a “wrong” state of the world) Replace everyone in that picture with a paperback (Google search images and you will find plenty pre-Facebook!) The devices were simply being used as boredom elimination devices. I don’t think that picture was indicative of the eroded state of the world.

A Word on Facebook’s (or Coke’s) Intentions

Coke wants you to buy Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not medically addictive. You may think Coke wants to “addict” you but it doesn’t matter. They can’t. They will do everything they can to get you to buy it. They should. That’s their business. Blaming Facebook for “not caring about the consequences” is like blaming <insert your favorite brewery or winery> for not caring about the consequences of having a glass. They inform you to drink responsibly and it can be argued that Facebook should not need to place a warning label that you might spend too much time in their web app.

So, I’ll leave you with sage advice: Don’t drink and post!

The above was a guest post by Mike Pratt.  (Click here to subscribe to regular updates from this blog.)  Mike is:
  • A Mungarian!  (Member of Munger Place Church.)
  • The CEO of technology startup Panamplify
  • Founder & President of professional org Digital Dallas
  • A former soldier, wall street trader, marketing exec and non-believer
  • Check out Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepratt
  • Email Mike: mike@mikeratt.tv

The Limits of Tolerance

Is there a limit to tolerance?  A friend of mine put that question to me this afternoon, in response to last week’s post on tolerance.  My answer: No.  Here’s why.

 

The Roots of Tolerance

Tolerance is simply the social recognition of a fundamental truth: all people are completely free to choose to believe and do whatever they want to believe and do.  There are no exceptions to this principle.  This truth is not dependent on whether laws and governments recognize it; this truth is simply true.

Yes, governments and societies try to constrain the behavior of the people under their power, but they cannot actually remove free choice from their people–all they can do is make it more or less likely that people freely choose this or that action.

As I argued last week, tolerance has its roots in the character of God: God created us as free creatures and allows us to exercise that freedom, for good or ill.

I don’t think there is a limit to tolerance because I don’t think there is a time when God takes away our freedom to choose.

But Actions Have Consequences

We are all free to believe and do whatever we choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  Actions have consequences.  I’m free to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I cannot avoid the consequences of my freely chosen actions.  Actions have consequences.

Doesn’t God’s Tolerance Have a Limit?

In the Bible, we read how God eventually allowed the Israelites to be conquered by their pagan neighbors as a consequence of their continued disobedience.  I don’t think this is an example of the limits of God’s tolerance, however.  Rather, I think God’s tolerance never wavered: he always allowed the Israelites to freely choose to accept or reject him.  But, although God’s forbearance (a synonym of tolerance) never ran out, the Israelites’ actions eventually caught up with them.  Their actions led to the Exile.  Certain actions lead to certain consequences, the way day inexorably follows night.

What About Human Law?

As humans, we seek to constrain certain behaviors precisely because we know that people are always free to choose.  When we lock up the serial murderer, we are not suddenly denying his freedom to choose, but acknowledging it: we know that if we do not lock him up, he may very likely continue to freely choose murder.  Actions have consequences and human societies impose various consequences on various behaviors, but those consequences do not change the fundamental fact on which the principle of tolerance rests, namely that people are always free to choose.

Our True Limit

God’s tolerance does not have a limit, but our lives are limited: we are limited by the choices of our actions, and we are limited by our mortality.  None of us can choose to be exempt from the consequences of his choices, and none of us can choose to be exempt from death.

Sooner or later, all our actions catch up to us.

P.S.  Why Does This Matter?

Tolerance recognizes that it’s never too late for anyone–all people can choose to turn towards God or away from God up until their last breath.  (And maybe beyond their last breath–who knows?)  Because I can’t take away someone’s free will–even by force–it means that the pressure is off: I can’t force anyone to believe what I believe.  I can’t make anyone believe anything, but I can persuade her through my words and actions to freely choose the Truth I’ve chosen.

Which is a sacred privilege, when you think about it.

 

 

 

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.  It’s your free choice….

 

In Praise of “Deep Work”

As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable.  In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work.  This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.  Here’s why.

 

Deep Work: A Definition

Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:

Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In contrast with deep work is shallow work:

Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.

The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not).  Deep work makes a difference.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier.  As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.

So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.

The Deep Work Rules

Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.

  1. Work Deeply
  2. Embrace Boredom
  3. Quit Social Media
  4. Drain the Shallows

1. Work Deeply

Deep work is something we can learn how to do.  Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle.  Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work.  Deep work requires practice and planning.

2. Embrace Boredom

Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work.  Therefore, we need to embrace boredom.  It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.

3. Quit Social Media

You knew this was coming, right?  Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.  I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation.  I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone.  (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently.  My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately.  I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture.  My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)

4. Drain the Shallows

By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives.  For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.

Why I Need This Book

About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation.  In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful.  In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:

if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.

Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

★★★★ excellent

 

 

 

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.  (I’m sure Cal Newport would approve.)

 

Is God Tolerant?

Tolerance is not just what we need to live peaceably together in an increasingly diverse society (though that’s true): tolerance is much more important than that.  In fact, I think it’s fair to say that life itself depends on tolerance, as does the fate of the entire world.

 

False Tolerance

Tolerance is not, despite how the word is often employed, a vague sense that all beliefs and all religions are basically the same.  This is a false idea, and this is a false definition of tolerance.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what tolerance actually implies.

True Tolerance

Tolerance is about recognizing that all beliefs and all religions are not basically the same.  In fact, tolerance recognizes that many beliefs and religions are inherently contradictory, and no amount of hand-holding and attendance at diversity seminars will make inherently contradictory beliefs the same.

Rather, tolerance is about making space for irreconcilable differences.  Tolerance is not about agreement, but about tolerating viewpoints with which you vehemently disagree.

Limits of Tolerance

It should be said that the one thing that we cannot tolerate is violence (which is not the same thing as speech, however ugly and hateful that speech might be), because violence makes tolerance itself impossible.  But, with the exception of violence, tolerance makes room for all other actions and choices and beliefs.

A Theology of Tolerance

One of the main expressions of tolerance in the American Constitution is in our First Amendment: our right to religious freedom.   (The First Amendment literally says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”)  But religious freedom is not just a nice idea, codified into law.  Rather, religious freedom is a principle built on the bedrock of reality, because it’s a principle that is obviously true: all people are free to believe whatever they want to believe.  You cannot force anyone to believe anything.  God created us as completely free creatures, and we can use that freedom in whatever way we want.  We are even free to believe ugly things and free to act in ugly ways, free even to reject God himself.  And God permits this freedom.

God, you might say, is tolerant.

In fact, I think that the Lord is far more tolerant than I would be, were I in his place: I’d never have allowed that evil man to massacre all those people in that Orlando nightclub.

But then again, neither would I have so loved the world that I would have given my only son for the world, knowing that the world (which I created) would reject and kill him.  God’s tolerance, you might say, made the Crucifixion possible.

Which means God’s tolerance also made the Resurrection possible.

Which means that tolerance is part of God’s plan to save the world.

 

 

 

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.

My Friend’s Orlando Thoughts

I haven’t yet come up with anything interesting or helpful to say about the murders in Orlando, so I haven’t written anything.  But I read something my friend Jacob Sahms wrote that struck me, and I share it below.

 

Reading and hearing the responses to the violence in Orlando, I’m struck by the outrage – and the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves. If we’re going to be the peacemakers who are called the children of God, then the solutions all start with us.

Do we talk and act peacefully? (Yes, that includes driving.) Do we recognize that we’re all children of God, even the people we don’t agree with/like? Do our dollars and our votes endorse peace? Do we teach our children peace and love for all? We can pray all we want for peace, but if we’re not part of being peace, then “thy kingdom come” isn’t actually something we’re part of.

Jacob Sahms

He’s totally right: “the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves.”  Certainly true about me, and I don’t like it.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace….

Further Thoughts on Facebook

I wrote a post last week suggesting that, in its quest to capture our attention, it’s almost as if Facebook wants our worship.  I meant the post to be provocative, and at least for me, it was: the post has provoked some further thoughts, which I share below.

My Name is Andrew and I’m a User

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, I use YouTube, and I carry around an iPhone that enables me to be connected whenever I want.  It’s precisely because I’m a user that I’m concerned about what Cal Newport calls “Internet tools” (search engines, social media sites, online encyclopedias, etc.): I see their effects on my own life.   It is because I’ve seen what these tools are doing to me that I’m calling into question our naive and uncritical adoption of Internet tools.

Facebook Is Shorthand

For me, Facebook functions as shorthand for all the other Internet tools.  I don’t have anything against Facebook per se.

Social Media Is Different Than Television

One commenter wondered if I should have included television in my critique.  I don’t think television and Facebook are apples to apples, for several reasons:

  • Television goes in one direction only: I receive it.  Facebook, on the other hand, allows me to transmit messages to the world, and the very act of transmitting those messages in that medium promotes narcissism: it’s all about me.
  • Television isn’t one thing, but a grouping of many things: networks, advertisements, writers, actors, etc. Facebook is a for-profit monolith.  It’s ubiquity and power make it more dangerous than old media.

Social Media Promotes Narcissism

The very nature of the social media promotes narcissism, because they encourage me to make everything about me: my updates, my likes, my reactions.

Social Media Isolates

For all the talk about connectivity, I find that social media and the other Internet tools are more likely to isolate than connect us together.  The more time we spend looking down at our blinking smart phones, the less able we are to cultivate presence and mindfulness.

Social Media is the Enemy of Patience

Everything about Internet tools is about immediacy: immediate reactions, thoughts, and gratification of desires.  If I want something, I buy it on Amazon; if I have an opinion about a current event, I share it to the world.  This immediacy keeps us from developing the virtue of patience, and patience matters because the important things in life require that we wait.

Social Media Trains Me to Need Constant Stimulation

It is shameful how often I find myself in a line somewhere, only to pull out my iPhone.  The way Internet tools have trained us to need constant stimulation is what scares me the most about these tools.

Social Media is the Message

If the medium is the message, then it’s not the content of the various social media platforms that ought to worry us, but the very nature of these platforms themselves.  In other others, it could be the case that even if we eschew all the destructive and evil things on the Internet (pornography, terrorist death videos, etc.), these tools might still warp our minds and twist our wills.

At least, that’s what I’ve started to worry about.

 

 

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.

 

Facebook, False God*

Facebook wants your worship.  I know that sounds extreme, but what if it’s true?  What if the thing Facebook most desires is to make you most desire it?  Isn’t that idolatry?

Worship=Attention

What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.  By that definition, what many of us are worshipping is Facebook and the various other social media and infotainment sites.  Click, click, click.

And, in our naiveté, we have turned our eyes to a god-like entity that has its greedy eyes on our lives.

Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, makes the obvious (but rarely stated) point in his book Deep Work that we are fools if we think these Internet tools (that we find so addictive) were created to bless us without demanding something in return:

We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along.

from Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

Facebook makes MONEY off your attention.  No wonder, then, that Mark Zuckerberg and his staff have worked so hard to make Facebook irresistible.  Click.  Click.  Click.

And, not only does Facebook make money off your attention, Facebook doesn’t care about you or what will happen to you, as long as it gets what it wants.

If you think about it, the world around us, including the world in our computers, is all about trying to tempt us to do things right now.  Take Facebook, for example.  Do they want you to be more productive twenty years from now?  Or do they want to take your time, attention, and money right now?  The same thing goes for YouTube, online newspapers, and so on.

from Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

So, Facebook is something that: 1. Makes money from our attention.  2.  Doesn’t care about the consequences but allures and tempts with each click, click, click.

Is Facebook a false god?

*I am aware that some of you will see irony in the fact that you actually accessed this post through Facebook.  Rather than irony, I see it as an insurgency.  I am also aware that many of you will want to defend your (and my) use of Facebook.  Ask yourself, Why?

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.  (An added benefit: you’ll bypass Facebook–my articles will come right to your inbox.)

When You Don’t Feel Like Being Married Anymore

What do you do when you don’t feel like being married anymore?  One of the strangest things about marriage is how two people who love each other on their wedding day can become the bitterest of enemies. How does this happen?  Marriage can be difficult, but the way many of us think about marriage doesn’t make it any easier; in fact, this one mistake we make when it comes to thinking about marriage has the potential to destroy a marriage.  (I heard my friend Matt Tuggle say the following last night in conversation, and I thought it was so good that I decided to share it with you.)

[The marriage scenes in "Up" are among my favorite in film.]

 

Marriage Vows Aren’t About How You Feel

Have you ever noticed that marriage vows contain nothing about how a person will feel over the course of a marriage?  The reason marriage vows aren’t about feelings is because we cannot promise how we will feel in the future.  If your feelings and emotions are like mine, they’re liable to change as quickly and as violently as the Texas weather in spring.  It’s ridiculous to make a promise about future feelings, but fortunately the marriage vows don’t require us to make that promise.

Marriage Vows Are About How You’ll Act

Here are the vows I’ve used in every wedding I’ve ever officiated (over 100 at this point):

In the name of God,

I, John, take you, Jane, to be my wife

To have and to hold,

From this day forward,

For better, for worse,

For richer, for poorer,

In sickness and in health,

To love and to cherish,

Until we are parted by death:

This is my solemn vow.

Notice how the vows are all about promising to live a certain way and have nothing to do with feeling a certain way?  Feelings are hard to control, but you control your actions.  In marriage, we don’t promise how we’ll feel, we promise how we’ll live.  (And, with God’s help, faithfulness is possible.)

And here’s the good news to everyone currently struggling to love a spouse: actions lead and emotions follow.  If you act with love, love is what you’ll eventually feel.

Try it.

P.S. More from Matt

Check out Matt’s sermons here.  Lots more good stuff where the above came from.

 

 

Click here to subscribe to updates from this blog.

 

 

 

New Plans for This Blog

Since I started this blog on New Year’s Day 2014, I’ve been asking myself these questions: “Who am I writing for? What am I trying to achieve?”  I’ve read the experts and I know that I’m supposed to have a specific topical focus and a specific audience for this blog.  Here’s what I’ve decided.

Hemingway knew how to meet a deadline. [photo by Robert Capa]

My New Purpose for this Blog

I’ve decided that I’m going to be writing for one reason only: to learn how to write, and on deadline.  Ideas aren’t my problem–I have plenty of ideas–my problem is consistently applying the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair.  My problem is the discipline of writing.

I want to learn the discipline of writing in the same way that I’ve learned the discipline of preaching.  I preach about 46 original sermons a year.  Preaching a few good sermons is relatively easy; what’s very difficult is to preach week in and week out, to preach when you’ve had a week of funerals, to preach when you’re tired, to preach when you feel as if you’ve already said everything interesting about Christmas Eve, to preach when you feel as if you aren’t prepared–that’s what’s difficult, and it’s that discipline that I’ve been learning when it comes to preaching.  It’s that discipline I need when it comes to writing.

My New Schedule

I will publish a new post at 5:00 AM 3 times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  After I keep up that pace for a month, then I’ll see about publishing more frequently.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

The Philosopher Isaiah Berlin, drawing on a line from the Ancient Greek poet Achilocus, wrote a famous essay in 1953 entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox.”  The basic idea is that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.  (Berlin’s essay applies this formula to Tolstoy (fox) and Dostoevsky (hedgehog).)  Foxes have a variety of interests; hedgehogs have one stubborn idea.

My New Topical Focus: Fox and Hedgehog

I’m going to follow my interest wherever it takes me (like a fox) while always writing in the service of The One Big Thing (like a hedgehog).

What’s that One Big Thing?  You’ll have to read to find out.

 

Click here to subscribe.

Saturday

What happened on Saturday?

Jesus was crucified on Friday, and he was raised on Sunday.

But what happened on Saturday?

Nothing.

Nothing happened on Saturday.

In many ways, we live in a Saturday world.  Saturday is about waiting.  Saturday is about the promise of a better future that hasn’t yet come.  Saturday is about the hope that God will do something, but still not seeing it.

We live in a Saturday world.

But Sunday is coming.

 

 

 

Like this post?  Click here to subscribe.