Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bill Gates from TED

Bill Gate’s TED talk this year illuminates one of the big issues with the education system in this country.  This is the only truly socialistic enterprise in the USA and we do it well for the top 20% of the students – which can compete with the top 20% in any country of the world.  The problem is that we do it very poorly for the bottom half.  According to Mr. Gates it’s the quality of teaching that makes the most difference.  Is it possible to raise the quality of teaching in our schools?  I think it is, but it is going to take a big shift in the way we approach, respect, and incentivize teachers.  For the record, I am a huge proponent of public schooling – all three of my children will attend.  Watch the video.  The swarm of mosquitoes and the beginning is also entertaining.  “There’s no reason why only poor people should get the experience.” 

Well done, Mr. Gates. Well done!

 

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Flickering Pixels – How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps

flickering-pixles-coverI have been following Shane Hipps for the past year after I heard him speak at Q2008. Flickering Pixels is a thought provoking book that fluidly incorporates some key topics from his previous book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture along with new material from presentations, podcasts, and short articles. Mr. Hipps has distilled the information from his past publications and presentations into a coherent story that makes the reader question the positive and negative effects of technology and media on our personal, social, and spiritual lives. Mr. Hipps’ unique career path, juxtaposing a previous career as an advertising executive with Porsche and a current career as a Mennonite Pastor, gives depth to the message in the book. Both careers spend a lot of time attempting to deliver messages that stick with us. Whether discussing a particular brand from a company or the gospel from the church, most people assume that as long as the integrity of the message is protected, the method of communicating doesn’t matter. Mr. Hipps builds on the message from Marshall McLuhan (The patron saint of Wired Magazine), “The medium is the message”. A quote from Mr. McLuhan bluntly states, “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how that are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind”. The message and the methods are tightly coupled – you can’t change one without affecting the other.

This is an interesting statement from a person that lived before texting, Facebook, American Idol, and mega-churches, but it’s hard to imagine that we are as manipulated by the TV as by the content. The book supports and explains this position by highlighting historical examples. For example, consider the technology of printed text. Mankind originally lived in tribes where anything that was known, was collectively known by the tribe. Stories and history were told and retold in order to keep them alive. Once written text was invented, a single person could transfix thoughts in time and space and there was no longer a need for the tribe. Writing and reading are linear, logical activities that exercise the muscles in the left-hemisphere of the brain. As these muscles got stronger, Western civilization created new economic models, new government models, and new religious models. When civilization got too left-brain strong, they started deconstructing and reducing everything in the name of “efficiency”. The problem with a lopsided, left-brained approach to Christianity is that we tend to make formulas about how to be Christian – “apologize for your sins” + “Believe in Jesus” = “Go to Heaven”. Christianity became a highly individualized place where emotions, feelings, and experience had no place. The church became a million points of light. Dogma (what we believe) won out over ethics (how we behave).

From the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century, no new communication technologies were created, so Western culture had 400 years mentally feeding strictly from printed text. If Printing had such a profound influence on Western thought over the past five centuries, how is the image-based internet society shaping us today? Since the invention of the photograph and the television our media has changed from primarily text based too primarily image based. Our strong left-brain muscles are atrophying and our right-brained muscles are getting most of the exercise. In many ways the mental-strength pendulum has swung to extreme right-brained. In this new image based society we vote for political candidates based on intuition and appearance rather than reason and analysis of policy positions. We are hostage to brands. We are stuck to the surface and want to be entertained instead of lead to a deeper understanding. Hipps says, “Internet text presents a nonlinear web of interconnected pages and a vast mosaic of hyperlinks with no fundamental beginning, middle, or end. We are immersed in a boundless, endless data space. These are the conditions specially suited to the right-brained.” As a result, our intellects are spread a mile wide and an inch deep. In the church, it is no surprise that we see a growing biblical illiteracy in the electronic age.

We should strive to have equal left and right brained approach to our Christian faith. For example, the left-brain is fed by the Pauline epistles and the right-brain is fed by the parables and examples of Christ. Your whole brain is necessary for a well-rounded faith. To get there, we need to have an understanding of the technologies and media that have and are currently shaping us.

Flickering Pixels explores many other ways that technology and media are shaping our psyche and approach to faith. How do virtual communities affect our ability to relate in real social settings? How does the imbuing of information affect our ability to develop wisdom? How does exposure to the entirety of planetary suffering affect our ability to extend compassion to those close to us? How do the benefits of getting close to those that are far from us, via Facebook and other social network sites, affect the closeness we exhibit to those nearest to us? How have parent-teen relationships changed and what are the implications given that parents are undocumented immigrants and teens are native citizens in the digital world? Mr. Hipps does an excellent job exploring these topics and more in Flickering Pixels.

It seems that mankind has this idea that we create and are the sole influencers on the world. We seldom slow down, take a look back and realize how our own creations are influencing us. Flickering Pixels is not a Luddite’s Handbook bashing technologies, rather it highlights the benefits and discusses the potential harm that can occur if the technology is overextended. I highly recommend reading this book, but if you are not that into books we can message each other about it on my blog or Facebook… lol… :).

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7:15 – The Summary

 

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As many of you know I have been posting a picture every night of whatever I am doing at 7:15PM.  I completely ripped the idea off from a group I heard on NPR one evening in late December (check out the sametime715 link to see how professionals do it).  The reason that the trigger-time was 7:15 is because that is the period after work and before your night schedule sinks in, meaning it’s the best time to get a variety of activities.  If the trigger time was 9:00PM I would have had 31 pictures of me looking at my laptop.  I thought it would be fun to replicate the project for a month for a couple of reasons

·         Learn to use my camera and Photoshop better

·         To actually see what I do every night at 7:15

·         I’m thinking about quitting my job and becoming a full-time artist

Ok, so the last one is a joke (as many of you can tell from the pictures I posted).  I did enjoy the project, but I am glad that it is over.  Here are a random assortment of observations and thoughts spawned from the project.

·         Most of the pictures were taken with my Canon Rebel XSi.  While on travel I used my small Canon Powershot A700.

·         The best way to get to know something is by doing.

·         There is no natural light at 7:15PM in January.  I quickly learned that most of the light in my house is orange.  Orange light mixed with a while colored camera flash ended up with weird lighting.  I learned how to turn the flash off on my camera during pictures (oh, the simple things).

·         I took about 10-20 pictures each night.  About 10% of pictures turned out to be pretty good.  I don’t know if this is average.  Can someone trained in the art answer this?

·         Pictures of inanimate objects are easier to take than pictures of people.

·         I learned a little about Photoshop – how to correct red-eye, how to adjust the white levels, how to make a collage.

·         About half way through the project I wanted to quit.  It started to feel really voyeuristic.  I am someone that loathes reality TV, and here I was producing a picture show about myself.  All that I could think of was “Why would anyone care what my life is like at 7:15?”  Broadcasting my personal life like this was a little awkward.  So, why did you follow this series?

·         I finished because I thought going through the process of deciding what I think is a good picture was worthwhile.

·         My three favorite picture Claire’s God’s eye craft, Dodgeball, and my mouth.  What was your favorite picture?

·         The most awkward photo was the shoes in the stairwell.  A family came entered the stairwell while I was sprawled out on the stairs taking a picture of my shoes.  I exchanged looks with the parents.  Their looks said, “Kids, this is why we should never take the stairwell.” My look said, “Kids, this is why you should never take the stairwell.”

·         At 7:15 I am spending time with my kids, spending time with the Youth at church, spending time with friends, or working.

·         It an interesting way to capture what you were doing for an extended period.  I can tell you about every evening based on the visual cues from the pictures.  The right-brained, holistic method of event capturing was a lot more interesting than a left-brained, linear paragraph about each night at 7:15.

·         It’s hard to take a picture of a bathing cat.

Hopefully I didn’t bore you with my life at 7:15.  I will be getting back to a typical 2-3 posts per week schedule.  I have a few projects at work that I am going to pour myself into over the next month – that involve my camera and Photoshop. 

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