Tag Archives: technology

Emailing Beyond the Grave

medium_15612803237I’m a big fan of David Eagleman, author, neuroscientist, and fellow Rice grad (peck ‘em Owls!). His book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is one of the most imaginative, dare I say spirit-filled books I’ve read in recent years. And he’s a mainstay on Radiolab.

Eagleman has a startup venture (a few years old by now) called Deathswitch, which lets people schedule various technological actions that occur in the event of their deaths. You set the system to contact you every so often and ask for a password in reply. If you do not answer, the system assumes you have died, which triggers whatever actions you designate—sending password and bank information to your executor, say, or emailing crucial files to co-workers. But the beauty of the system is, you can set any action or message you want. So you can write a note to your spouse that gets sent on your 50th anniversary, for example—or get the last word in an argument. (Or both: Happy anniversary, my darling. You’ll always be my lobster. And we WERE on a break.)

One of my favorite chapters in this tech book I’m writing (Lord will it ever get done?) is the one on death, and how technology impacts the way we grieve. I find the idea of a deathswitch fascinating. And Eagleman’s jovial optimism is appealing: he “likes to imagine the many sensational messages, waiting to be delivered: unexpected declarations of love, confessions of secrets or crimes, or the location of buried cash.”

It also raises some compelling questions.
What would it be like to receive love notes from a long-deceased spouse who remains frozen in time, as the recipient ages and changes?
Would these messages become a burden?
If this technology takes off and someone declines to participate, will the absence of a message at key moments cause further sadness?
How does a continued “relationship” help or hinder the grieving process?

On a positive note, what a gift it would be to think about what you’d like to say to your children and loved ones in the future. You can do this “legacy” work regardless of technology, to be sure, and many people do… but knowing that these messages will be delivered (rather than forgotten in a desk drawer somewhere) gives the task an increased sense of purpose and urgency.

What do you think? Would you partake of this technology? What would your deathswitches be?

photo credit: StencilArchive.org via photopin cc

Link Love: Rosetta Celebration Edition

Congratulations to everyone involved with the Philae probe! There have been some bumps and snafus with the landing, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement: a human-made object has made physical contact with a comet for the first time ever.

Say what you will about the Internet—and there’s plenty to critique—but it’s a wonderful tool for cultivating awe and wonder. Of course, there’s the ability to watch things like the Rosetta mission unfold in real time. But I’m a sucker for a good space video. Here are a few of my favorites.

(These two videos have soundtracks that detract, in my opinion—watch with the volume turned down, or put on your favorite musical accompaniment.)

Then there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the “cosmic calendar”: the entire timeline of the universe, mapped to one year on the Gregorian calendar. I can’t find a video that encapsulates the whole thing; here’s a short video that outlines the concept, plus a partial transcript. Spoiler alert: every person we’ve ever heard of occupies the last 14 seconds of the year.

And here’s one I just discovered this week—a page in which you can scroll to view composite photos from the International Space Station. Don’t miss the set of aurora borealis images.

I’m awed by that thin membrane of atmosphere that makes all of life possible:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.22.09 PM

What’s your favorite image, page or video that helps you cultivate awe?

This Video Will Convince You To Put Down Your Phone… Or Should You?

This video made the rounds recently on Facebook (ironically enough).

I’ll admit, I found the video convicting. I think technology-free zones—what Sherry Turkle calls “Sacred Spaces”—are very important. The dinner table. The carpool line at school. Our loved ones should not have to fight to get our attention in these and similar places.

There’s evidence that the mere presence of a cell phone can degrade the quality of conversation, even when that phone is not being used. And frequent cell phone use has been correlated with more selfish behavior.

But. And this is a big BUT:

I’m pretty tired of the preachiness around technology. The news is not all bad! My smartphone is a powerful tool that helps me organize and manage a very complicated life. If you walk by Robert and me in a restaurant and one of us is on a cell phone, it’s probably because we got a text from the babysitter, or we’re checking movie listings. Save all your tut-tutting, please.

And as for all these so-called zombies looking down at their “idiot machines,” unless you’re playing Candy Crush or watching Netflix, chances are good there’s a human being on the other side of that screen. Are those relationships unimportant because the person happens to be living somewhere else? Tell that to family members who rely on Skype or FaceTime to connect with one another.

Remember the Little House books? The Ingalls family left the Big Woods of Wisconsin and saw the rest of their family… like, never again. Do we really want to go back to that for the sake of some kind of technological purity?

For the next few days I’ll be with a group of pastors, Christian educators, and other church leaders at Austin Seminary exploring “spirituality in the smartphone age.” My hope is that together we’ll start constructing a theology for our digital culture that is embodied yet connective, realistic yet hopeful, and most of all, helpful to people trying to navigate this world we now occupy.

This technology is here to stay. We need to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves about it. That requires more nuance than you’ll get in a viral video, no matter how gripping it is.

Stay tuned.

3 Ways the Internet Made My Life Awesome This Week

medium_6814239829

It’s a heavy time in the world.
Ebola.
Israel and Palestine… please let the cease fire hold.
Ukraine—still unstable, and I have a personal stake in this.
There are no Christians left in Mosul, Iraq for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
The children keep coming from central America, fleeing a level of violence and lawlessness (or even just poverty) we can scarcely imagine.
And those little Nigerian girls are still missing.

The globalization of the news means it all appears right in my blue room. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As David Wilcox sings, “there’s no ‘far away.'”

So like many of you, I do what I can, and I take my signs of hope and joy where I can get them. It is a privileged thing to be able to do that, to turn one’s attention elsewhere for a while. But I must. We must. Otherwise it’s too overwhelming.

So in that spirit, here are three things that brought some awesomeness to my life this week—Internet edition:

  1. Serving communion to one of our members who’s in a nursing home. She wanted the five of us gathered to sing “On Eagle’s Wings”. We didn’t know the words, but no problem: Safari on the iPhone to the rescue. Best communion I’ve attended in a long time.
  2. The discovery of Moms RUN This Town, a running club whose local chapter has a Facebook page. After 3 years of running solo and only occasionally with friends because of my crazy schedule, I now have access to groups of people in the neighborhood running early and late and fast and slow and everything in between.
  3. This guy. Just this guy. You’re going to want to fast forward, but don’t. Just let it emerge.

What is making your life awesome right now?

photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc. I chose it simply for its beauty.

Selfies, Social Media and Sarah McLachlan

My sweet mother and I at Wolf Trap last Saturday night.

My sweet mother and I at Wolf Trap last Saturday night.

My mom and I went to see Sarah McLachlan at Wolf Trap on Saturday night. It was a great night to be on the lawn, and a lovely show. (By the way, just how much Wolf Trap picnic food is provided by Trader Joe’s? A LOT.)

I’ve got technology on the brain these days as I work on my book, so I was interested in how people were experiencing the concert with and through their smartphones.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Wolf Trap, but I’ve seen the norms change dramatically even during that time. Whipping out one’s phone to send a text or check Facebook used to be rare and (I sensed) frowned upon. By now it’s the norm, at least on the lawn.

One of the great things about live music is the way it knits together audience and performer as a community, albeit for a limited time and in a particular place. Does the use of social media expand that community, or does it dilute the overall experience? Or are both possible? (I think you know I’m a Both kinda gal.)

Before I go further, let me say this: the vast majority of cell phone usage I saw was from people who were way older than I am. So those of you clearing your throats for your “kids today” lecture, save it. This is a seriously intergenerational phenomenon now.

Here are some ways I witnessed people using their phones during the concert… or did so myself.

  • Looking up Sarah’s Wikipedia page to see how old she is, because she looks amazing. (She’s 46)
  • Taking notes on her setlist, presumably to download tunes later, or create a playlist.
  • Googling the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, a free program for underserved kids in the Vancouver area that provides high-quality music programs and lessons at no charge, which Sarah mentioned during the show.
  • Random checking of social media during the slow moments.
  • Texting friends to say, “I’m here watching Sarah McLachlan and remembering so happily our Lilith Fair days.” (That was me. Shoutout to K and G)
  • Receiving a photo of one’s children proudly displaying the awards they received at the swim team picnic that evening. (Also me.)
  • Lifting up glowing screens during the slow songs, with or without the benefit of the Candle app.
  • Recording snippets of songs to share with friends.

My guess is that some of those activities seem legit to you, and others make you bristle. Which ones and why?

It should be said, I could’ve done without the gals in front of me taking repeated selfies after it got dark… with the flash.

I also could’ve done without the people next to me talking loudly during much of the first act. Oh yeah, that has nothing to do with smartphone use. But wait! I thought technology was the downfall of polite civilization! You mean people can be boorish and rude without benefit of their cell phones? Get outta here! ;-)