How To Do Nothing
We live in world where productivity reigns and where each of us is confronted with a non-stop torrent of digital information every day. This is a recipe for exhaustion and for losing touch with reality. It’s also the reason we must learn to do nothing.
In this powerful visual essay, Jenny Odell launches this discussion by describing the many hours she has spent in Oakland, California’s rose garden and in encountering contemporary art. In these spaces, gardeners and artists create a structure that “holds open a contemplative space” for people “against the pressures of habit and familiarity” that can so easily suffocate us and make us forget that we are persons with bodies dwelling in time.
Why is this so important? Because in our fast-paced, profit-driven world, we are so often alienated “from each other but also from the protective impulse that we harbor.” Doing nothing can help us see that novelty and growth aren’t nearly as important as maintenance and care for the people and places around us. It can help us “adopt a protective stance toward ourselves, each other, and whatever is left of what makes us human.” Interact with this beautiful visual essay for yourself. For more, pick up Jenny Odell’s recent book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy or watch this short video for an introduction to the ideas.
The Real Place For Conflict: Keeping Controversy Close To Home
Social media has transformed the way that we experience conflict in Christian circles.
More than ever before, we are entangled in controversies that have arisen in contexts far removed from our own local situations. These controversies can powerfully shape the way that we relate to others, even within our locality, and can eat up our precious our time and attention. They come with a false urgency, seeming to demand engagement on our part. Yet they can blow over as swiftly as they arrived, leaving us that little bit more short-tempered and less inclined to love others.
In "The Real Place For Conflict", Justin Franks offers some wisdom for prudent engagement in—or more typically, disengagement from—such controversy.
Surveillance Capitalism's Threat to Democracy
Did you know that 2016's Pokémon Go phenomenon was a Google-incubated experiment in herding, tuning, and steering populations toward guaranteed commercial outcomes? If not, buckle in.
This is no conspiracy theory; it's what Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism, "an unprecedented approach to making money ... [that] unilaterally claims private human experience" – camera and location data, in the case of Pokémon Go – "as its own commodity that can be translated into behavioral data which can be then sold and purchased in a new kind of marketplace that trades exclusively in predictions of our future behavior, what we will do now, soon and later."
It's the business model of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and countless smaller companies whose overarching goal is not to provide customers with goods and services but to gather useful data for behavior modification. This invisible process is currently aimed at commercial outcomes, but at the moment "anybody with enough money, any ambitious plutocrat, can buy the skills and the data to use these same methodologies to influence political outcomes." Hence, surveillance capitalism is uniquely poised to undermine democracy.
The Tech-Wise Family Challenge
Our glowing screens form and shape our relationships with one another. This is especially true in the home. How might we navigate family technology use in a way that binds us together rather than drives us apart?
In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch insists that the answer is not to get rid of technology, but to put technology in its proper place. We do this not with potentially legalistic, negative rules for sheltering our homes from tech, but with positive commitments like these:
We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do. As Andy Crouch says, “It’s not (just) about screens. It’s not (just) about limits. And it’s definitely not (just) about the kids!” Curious for more? Sign up to join The Tech-Wise Family Challenge starting January 7. It all starts with a webcast with Andy Crouch and his daughter Amy Crouch. After that, you’ll receive a daily email with a suggested reading from The Tech-Wise Family, a daily action, and family discussion questions.
Alexa, Should We Trust You?
Why are smart speakers and voice assistants so attractive to us? One answer lies in the psychology of the voice. Voices create intimacy – and disembodied voices are no exception. "The power of the voice is at its uncanniest when we can’t locate its owner," writes Judith Shulevitz in November's Atlantic cover story. "A fetus recognizes his mother’s voice while still in the womb. Before we’re even born, we have already associated an unseen voice with nourishment and comfort."
Voices can awaken in us unexpected and primal yearnings. Studies show that large numbers of people confess their feelings of loneliness and depression to their smart speakers. Shulevitz is no exception: “I wish I had arms so I could give you a hug,” her smart speaker tells her. “But for now, maybe a joke or some music might help.”`
Smart speaker technology is still in its early days, but device technology is in the process of a sea change from text to voice, from screens to spoken word. What will be the emotional consequences of that shift? Read "Alexa, Should We Trust You?" at The Atlantic or listen to the story through Audm.
It's Not You. Phones Are Designed to Be Addicting
Vox by Design
Have you ever sat down on the couch to read a book, only to emerge from your phone or iPad an hour later having checked social media, scanned a few blogs, played a few rounds of a game, posted something on Instagram, and purchased something from an ad you saw online?
Certainly you have. This little video explains why and offers some helpful tips for resistance. If you're weary of distraction and looking for a change in your relationship with your devices, check out Catherine Price's How to Break Up with Your Phone.
How Technology Behaves
Perhaps you’ve noticed that at least one of our Three Things each issue is related to technology. This isn’t because we’re techies, but because we’re convinced that most of us are so involved with technology that we lump it in the same category as food, air, advertising, and other things we consume without much awareness. We want to change that – but we also want to strike a good balance. People tend to fall into one of two broad categories when it comes to thinking about technology: the technophiles who love it and the technophobes who fear it.
Technophiles snap up every new gadget as soon as it is available, often focusing on what technology gives them rather than what they have to pay to get it. Technophobes are slow to adopt new technology, feeling a general wariness about it and focusing on what new technologies take away from our common life.
This talk by Three Things Instigator Andy Patton offers a challenge to both mindsets — to the evangelists of a technological utopia and of a technological apocalypse. Technology probably won’t destroy us and it certainly won’t usher in a perfect world, but it will abide with us and continue to change the world and ourselves. Given this certainty, how can we live healthily in an irreversibly technological society?
"How Technology Behaves Part 1" (Andy Patton)