Tag Archives: technology

All the World’s a Stage

Who lives like this?

Who lives like this?

As many of you know, we’re preparing to move a few weeks from now. We’re moving within the DC area, closer to my husband’s job. Then we have to sell our current house. Thankfully we’ve arranged things so we can move out before that happens—it needs some work to get it ready to go on the market.

We haven’t bought or sold a house since 2003. Sometime during those intervening twelve years, staging became a much bigger deal.

Back then, I remember our real estate agent giving us a few tips on making the house look good. Did you know there’s a proper ratio for how much dining room chairs should stick out from under the table? That sort of thing. I also remember walking into some homes that looked showroom quality, even though it was clear people were living there. I wondered what their secret was. I wondered where their clutter was. Now I know: staging.

These days, the real estate agent will hire a stager to take a close look at the home and put together a plan. The goal is to maximize bang for your buck, so the stager will rank and prioritize the tasks. Kitchens are important. So’s the placement of furniture. We’ll be leaving some pieces behind once we move, to help people visualize the space as well as possible.

Colors are also a big deal. Our stager gave us specific Pantone numbers to paint various rooms. Which suits us fine, frankly. Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.

While we were going around looking at houses, my husband remarked how similar staging is to curating an online persona on social media. You can’t change the raw materials you have to work with. Your life is your life; your house is your house. But you go through a careful process of putting your best foot forward. We all do it to some extent, though some are more meticulous about it than others.

The problem comes when we compare our unstaged life to everyone else’s staged life and feel inadequate for falling short.

I was nervous about the staging thing at first. It’s hard not to feel judged for your design choices, and I pictured a snooty woman wrinkling her nose as she beheld our aging IKEA furniture. But our stager was great. And she won me over when she said, “You know… my house looks like a regular house—a house people actually live in. When I walk into a home that doesn’t need staging, I think ‘these people need therapy.'”

It’s a bit of a game. And naming that is important and healing.

I’m glad for the stager. We’ve made good memories in our home. That means displaying it in the best possible light so other people will see the potential for their own memories to be housed there.

This summer, like many of you I’m sure, I’ve seen friends post their vacation photos to Facebook. In the past, those pictures used to get me down sometimes. The beaches were so pristine, you see. The kids, so adorable, clutching their ice cream cones, barefoot in the perfect slanting light of dusk.

This summer I haven’t felt that way. This summer I have welcomed every photo, even living vicariously through them. A friend and I were laughing that I wasn’t bothered by the photos because I’m not working right now! That’s part of it, I’m sure (and I am working, though not full time and not in the church). But also, I recognize the rules of the game. Facebook is not reality. I sincerely hope my friends had great vacations this summer, but I also see the perfect photos for what they are—a representation of life that’s not entirely accurate.

Like my mama used to say, don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Studies have shown that people can be dragged down by other people’s perfectly curated online personas. But I wonder if that will change as we “grow up” with this technology. I wonder if we are becoming more savvy about social media and the rules of the game. What do you think?

Screen Time in the Summer–What’s a Work-From-Home Mom To Do?

article-2241437-164A0D73000005DC-831_634x637When we first began practicing Sabbath, we weren’t sure what to do about technology: TV, video games, social media and the like. We started out by putting a limit on those activities without banning them outright. Each of the kids received a coin that they could spend whenever they wanted on 30 minutes of screen time, which was usually watching a TV show. Now that the kids are more into MineCraft, Wii and (in Caroline’s case) emailing and texting friends, we’ve expanded that to two 30 minute blocks.

But with Robert and me both working from home this particular summer, we needed something a little more robust. We need the kids to be more self-directed–we can’t be monitoring who’s doing what and for how long. Besides, the girls are reading more and more books on tablets–who wants to keep track of whether they’re reading or watching Netflix?

Enter the Momentum Optimization Project, in which kids can have unlimited screen time, AFTER they have completed ALL the items on a list written by the parents.

Here’s the philosophy behind it:

As a freelancer who makes her own hours,  I’ve learned a few things about personal momentum. I’m a morning person, and my peak productive time is before 10:00am. If I start my day by sitting at the desk at, say, 5:00am, and digging in on actual work, I’ll keep going all day. If I start the day by, say, cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or phaffing about on the interwebs, I’m in trouble. And if,  God forbid, I sit on the couch and flip on The Today Show, all bets are off; I’m not moving until bedtime.  I think of it as Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, for I am an object that will either stay at rest or stay in motion, based on where I am at 5:30 am.

My kids are the same way. And because they are youth existing in the 20teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever. I know all the reasons why that’s a bad idea, but since my kids are growing up, I don’t feel like it should be up to me to find ways to entertain them. At ten and thirteen years old, they should be figuring out what to do with their own time themselves.

Here’s the summertime edition of the MOP.

We were in Dallas over the weekend, so our MOP began in earnest yesterday. Yesterday’s list included:

  • tidying rooms
  • reading for 30 minutes
  • vacuuming basement (James)
  • changing sheets on the top bunk (Margaret)
  • washing and folding one load of laundry (Caroline)

We also took a trip to the library so each kid would have an arsenal of books.

It went pretty well. With morning swim practice, the MOP doesn’t really begin in earnest until 10:30 or 11, making the day more compressed. But I could have given them slightly more to do. So today’s list includes a few of the same things, plus:

  • 45 minutes of reading instead of 30
  • emptying the dishwasher
  • going through the books in their rooms and sorting them into “keep” and “giveaway” piles. (We’re moving at the end of the summer, so I expect each day’s list will include some decluttering task.)
  • doing something creative for at least 30 minutes, e.g. playing music, doing art, Legos, or cooking.

The underlying benefit of the MOP is oftentimes you get immersed in an activity and forget all about screen time. That seems less likely to happen with James, who loooooves his video games, so I need to be mindful of that when I compile his list. But yesterday Margaret ended up inviting a friend over and didn’t have much screen time at all. And Caroline is currently making muffins, which will end up taking longer than 30 minutes.

[pause writing for a quick trip to the grocery store–we were out of eggs. While there I picked up ingredients for Margaret’s “something creative.” Both recipes will be linked below.]

The challenge for the “something creative,” clearly, is that I need to make sure they have adequate supplies. Plus they are full of questions. James wanted to know if he could use the old boxes in the garage to make a tunnel. Caroline wasn’t sure which dish to use to melt the butter in the microwave. I’m encouraging them to try to solve the problems themselves first, then ask me if they get stuck.

I’ll report back as the summer goes on, but so far, so good. They are definitely having more screen time than they would with two 30-minute tokens, but I can’t imagine it’s more than I had at that age. I did all the standard childhood-summer-in-the-1970s stuff–swimming pool, playing outside, but I also watched an epic amount of TV. (The above image is from I Dream of Jeannie, which was an indispensable part of my summers, along with Bewitched, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, and of course, The Brady Bunch. And somehow I am not ruined. And the great thing about the MOP is it’s a hybrid of self-direction and parental guidance.

And I get some folded laundry out of the deal.

~

Margaret’s “something creative”: Creamy Orange Popsicles

Caroline’s “something creative”: Brown Sugar Muffins

Are Computers Changing Us or Are They Just Another Tool?

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Sometimes I dream about starting a small group or worshiping community built around listening to podcasts and discussing them together. There are so many provocative ones that are secular, yet lend themselves to spiritual and ethical reflection: The Truth, Radiolab, New Tech City (which I’ve written about recently), and even certain segments of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The latest is Invisibilia, which sadly has finished its season. But that gives you plenty of time to get caught up if you’ve missed it. The latest episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, was outstanding and great fodder for Spirituality in the Smartphone Age—both the book and the workshop. If you take a multi-day class with me on this topic you WILL listen to excerpts of this podcast!

The first segment follows Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Tech who’s been wearing a computer for decades now. It’s like a home-grown Google Glass that helps him record what he’s doing, call up thoughtful details about people he’s talking to (“how’s your daughter adjusting to college?”), and much more. Thad sees his wearable computer as no different than eyeglasses—a tool that helps him make his way in the world. He sees no downside. Is he right? Does this strike some people as creepy just because it’s so new? Or is a computer that integrates with us so seamlessly—that helps us think, and on some level thinks itself—somehow different than an inert thing like a pair of spectacles? And is a smartphone really that different from a wearable computer?

The second segment is about a man who started a Twitter account to publish pictures of boorish behavior on the New York subway. At first, the affirmation he received for posting the pictures provided validation and helped him let go of his indignation. Then he began to crave the attention and got snarkier and snarkier… until the N train fought back. A great reflection about the psychology of Internet venting. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t help you let the bad feelings go. Quite the opposite.)

Check out Our Computers, Ourselves on Invisibilia. And tell me what you think.

Image is from the Invisibilia website.

Day 4 of #BoredandBrilliant: Take a Fauxcation

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_ButterflyIt’s day 4 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my reflections on the project.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an “I’ll be back later” text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

I haven’t taken part in today’s challenge, since I do something very similar on tech Sabbath days and feel like I get it. But I have lots of friends who use their email signatures to communicate their email habits: “I respond to email only twice a day,” “I don’t check email on X days.”

Then there’s the person whose vacation message says “When I return from vacation I will delete all the messages I received while away. Please re-contact me then.” I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or jerky. Or both.

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to unplugging from the constant nag of email. But many more do than we probably want to admit, especially if you’re talking about a matter of hours rather than days. And as the podcast makes clear, breaking away from the tyranny of the urgent is important for our thinking and productivity.

One way to dip your toe into this practice if today’s challenge seems too hard: take a faux-cation from responding to messages, if not reading them. I check email throughout the day–I’ve never been able to break myself of the practice. Truly urgent messages are dealt with as soon as possible. But I respond to everything else the following day. I find batching them makes them go faster, and often the issue has resolved itself in the meantime. If someone really needs an answer quickly, I find they’re quite resourceful in getting ahold of me.

What do you think? How does a fauxcation, or a tech sabbath sound to you? Check out what people are saying about today’s challenge on Twitter.

Day 3 of #BoredandBrilliant: Delete That App

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_headIt’s day 3 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my initial reflections on the project and reflections about the previous challenges.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions for today: delete it. Delete that app. Think about which app you use too much, one that is the bad kind of phone time. You pick what that means. Delete said time-wasting, bad habit app. Uninstall it.

In today’s podcast, New Tech City’s host Manoush Zomorodi takes on her addiction to the game Two Dots. She interviews a cognitive psychologist to find out whether such games have cognitive value, helping our brains get better or smarter. (Spoiler alert: no.) She interviews the game designer of Two Dots and even brings in a friend for support as she deletes the app, including about 150 levels of playing history. She feels sick to her stomach.

I’m fortunate not to have an inclination toward game addiction. I’ve never had an interest in them. Social media, on the other hand…

This was an ironic challenge for me on this of all days. I haven’t had Twitter on my phone in months, but was helping a friend with some social media stuff this afternoon, which required me to install the Twitter app. One step forward, one step back.

Another step forward: I deleted Pinterest right away. I don’t use it that much on my phone, but every time I do I am all-too-aware that I’m avoiding something else. That app is nothing but technological empty calories and it was easy to get rid of. I also took the opportunity to get rid of some apps I don’t use much, including some games that my kids used to play when they were little.

Once that bit of smartphone decluttering was done, I had no choice but to confront the big kahuna:

Facebook.

I don’t have an inclination to overindulge in games, but connection? Conversation? New things to read and discuss? Yes please.

To counteract this tendency, I used to delete my Facebook app every Friday during my tech sabbath and reinstall it on Monday. Sometimes I would forget to reinstall and go a week or more without it. Of course you can access Facebook through a web browser, but my password is long and complicated, which cuts down on that.

Then I joined Moms RUN This Town, my beloved running group, and they do all their communicating via Facebook, so I ended up needing Facebook on weekends.

But today I decided to uninstall Facebook again. It’s rare that I need to connect with the group so urgently that I can’t wait until I’m at a computer, and when I do, I have a workaround that lets me access it through the smartphone browser.

I am experiencing phantom app syndrome in which I go for an icon that’s no longer there, but it feels quite good to have it gone.

How about you? Do you have “that app” you should really get rid of for the sake of your own boredom? See the Twitter discussion here.