Tag Archives: technology

Dismaland, Ashley Madison and Duplicitous Fantasy


A friend of mine recently told me that his wife was often depressed by “looking at Instagram and seeing how happy every couple seemed.” The endless array of beautifully posed people, gleefully posting about their #blessed, #best and #NBD adventures on beaches and balconies, discouraged her. Compared with the carefree, happy-as-can-be photos that filled her social streams, her marriage seemed rocky by comparison; hardly Instagram-worthy.

She’s not alone. Who of us hasn’t struggled with the insecurities and comparisons that arise from the world of social media posturing. And who of us, if we’re honest, hasn’t perpetuated the problem by posting only the photos we’ve carefully selected, cropped and edited to present the best picture of our enviable lives?

Technology is making it easier and easier to live in a world of facades and false perfections. As we exist more and more in a world of digital mediation, a rupture widens between who we are and who we choose to be online, as perceived by the anonymous hordes. A rupture also widens between the reality of knowing and being known in embodied community, and the fantasies of disembodied escapism and false intimacy that can characterize life in the solitude of our iScreens.

Ashley Madison is just one byproduct of this widening rupture; just one (particularly brazen) example of the unreal escapism and supposed anonymity that characterizes so much of our lives online. The hack that lifted the curtain on Ashley Madison may elicit a “they had it coming” response from us, but the truth is we’re participants in the same brand of duplicitous fantasy with every exaggerated, embellished or painstakingly posed photo we post online. By slapping a happy hashtag and a Valencia filter on something and presenting it as real, we too are widening an identity chasm that may one day be too big to traverse.

Last week Banksy lifted the curtain on another sort of corrosive fantasy, albeit one that didn’t involve hacking and publishing adulterers’ e-mails. But with his Disneyland sendup Dismaland–a “bemusement park” installation billed as “the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus”–he is exploring similar territory in the landscape of what he calls “post modem-ism.”

Though a predictable critique of a too-easy target, Dismaland (like all of Banksy’s art) is nevertheless right about the duplicitous fantasy that characterizes much of today’s Amusing Ourselves to Death world. It’s a “reality TV” world where “real” and “fantasy” are ever more conflated, where warzones make for good movies and movie theaters make for good warzones; where comedy substitutes for news reporting and news reporting is inadvertently comedic; where Donald Trump is thought to be a serious politician, baby dismemberment is considered polite lunchtime conversation and ISIS beheading videos show up in our newsfeeds in between Batman vs. Superman trailers and Farmville ads.

I’m reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s classic book Simulacra and Simulation, in which he famously says of Disneyland:

“Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.”

Bansky’s “Dismaland” confronts us with the blatant simulacra of not just Disneyland but of the entertainment-industrial-complex broadly and its mass machinations of fantasy. And even though Dismaland is itself (as a bourgeois  “art event” for dilettante consumption) a part of this entertainment-industrial-complex–anti-consumerism as consumer good (there’s a big market for it!)–its critique still has some merit. In amusing fashion it highlights the paradoxes and disconnects of our reality-confused, duplicitous age. Banksy’s clever installation is simply a more ironic and intentional version of the same observation offered (unintentionally) by Megyn Kelly’s FoxNews banter with Donald Trump. Both are highly amusing artifacts of a culture where “real” and “fantasy” have all but lost their semiotic difference.

Ashley Madison may not seem to have much in common with Instagram, Disneyland or Donald Trump, but they’re all connected; all products of the fantasyland in which we presently live, blissfully avoidant of reality until reality (inevitably) hits home… or gets hacked.

The Roman Road and The Tree of Life


I grew in Oklahoma and Kansas, in a very conservative Baptist church culture. My family went to church twice on Sunday and at least once during the week. As a kid I was heavily involved in Sunday School and Bible clubs, memorizing scripture for various rewards: stickers, medals and recognition.

One thing that was ingrained into my Bible memory from an early age was something called “the Roman Road.” The Roman Road, as I understood it, was a series of 6 or 7 Bible verses from Romans–though I think John 3:16 was also in the mix–that collectively spelled out exactly what individuals like me needed to do to get saved.

As a kid I knew the Roman Road well–I had it down pat–but I had no concept at all about what a “Roman road” actually was or how it played into the historical narrative of the world in which Jesus lived. I had no idea that “Romans” was actually a letter written by Paul to actual early Christians in an actual city called Rome.

The Roman Road I knew was about decontextualized concepts packaged for an individualistic purpose, not enfleshed reality within a big picture story. Christianity was about feelings and morals and me escaping hell. The phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism,” coined by sociologist Christian Smith to describe the faith of today’s American teenagers, was a pretty accurate description of my youth group upbringing.

It wasn’t until years later that I had any idea that the broader story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation and everything in between, was indispensable to my understanding of God … and that the most important thing about the Bible was not my individual salvation, but rather the bigger story of God’s redemptive purposes in the world.

Fast forward to January of this year: My wife and I were in Rome as part of a two week trip to Italy. It was amazing. We were walking among ruins of buildings that stood in Jesus’ day. We saw structures that Paul saw, the prison where Peter was held, the location where Paul may or may not be buried; we learned about the actual Roman Roads that were a key part of the infrastructure of the Roman empire which aided in Christianity’s fast growth.

All of it was real; tangible; a reminder that the Bible shouldn’t be read as just isolated ideas and ethereal concepts, but a tangible narrative that actually happened, in actual locations, with actual people whose stories are part of a continuum in which I am a part.

Going to the Vatican Museum was also powerful: Seeing the entire history of Christianity told through art, culminating in Michelangelo’s breathtaking Sistine Chapel roof. Then walking through St. Peter’s Basilica, built on the site of the Circus of Nero, historically believed to be where Peter was martyred. It was all a reminder of the grand drama of history that surrounds and gives meaning to the theology behind our faith.

Walt Russell, a New Testament professor of mine at Talbot School of Theology, likes to say that western Christianity often erroneously reads the narrative of Scripture through a vertical framework: It’s about us as individuals, and God above, and how we can “get right” with him through the atoning work of Jesus.

The way Scripture ought to be read, says Russell, is not primarily vertically but rather horizontally, as one big narrative that begins in Eden, builds through Israel, climaxes with Christ, includes the church and moves forward until Christ returns.

Yes, our individual stories matter, but mostly because they are subplots and microcosms of the BIG story God is telling. Each of our lives can be a reflection of the redemptive story God authors on a massive scale. Each is a compelling chapter in the epic of creation.

A movie that I think illustrates this well is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.

Malick’s film is essentially about the birth and death of the universe, with an intimate story of a Texas family in between. It’s a powerful juxtaposition of the micro and macro… a “small s” story of the O’Brien family’s struggles with grief, love, sin and redemption, set against the “Big S” backdrop of God’s handiwork in the cosmos. One minute the film shows us the intimate moments of a mother grieving the loss of her son; the next minute we’re taken on a 20 minute tour of the creation of the universe.

The elliptical structure of the Tree of Life reflects its title, which is a nod to a biblical image–the “tree of life” that appears both in Genesis (in the Garden of Eden) and in Revelation 22 with Eden restored in the new creation.

All of our stories, like that of the O’Brien family in The Tree of Life, take place between these two trees: Paradise lost and paradise regained. All of our stories groan for restoration, for a return to the garden.

This unsettledness and in-betweenness fuels our desire to make art and tell stories, to express the the longings of life between the two trees.

Story is an incredibly powerful force in our world. It’s our DNA as human beings. It’s realm Christians must exist within, and be excellent within. And yet I’d suggest that the trajectory our culture is on when it comes to story is something we should resist. The more fragmented and isolated and self-oriented our stories become in this “iWorld,” the less impact they will have.

Our stories matter not because they are our stories, but because they are God’s. And this is countercultural in our self-obsessed, YOU-Tube, I-Phone, FACEbook culture. When we have the vertical orientation of seeing our story only in terms of “me and Jesus,” we miss out on the grandeur and drama of the big story, and our narrative impact will be relatively minor.

But when we situate ourselves within the horizontal story, connecting ourselves to tradition and meaning and struggle all the way back to the fall and forward to restoration, our storytelling will pulsate with a transcendent energy.

These are the types of stories we need to tell.

We transcend the “iWorld” when we begin to see how our own “ordinary” stories rehearse and reflect the Extraordinary story of God;  when we can see the Roman Road not a conceptual roadmap for individual salvation, but as a real historical plot point in God’s ongoing narrative.

For Christian storytellers it’s crucial that we can give eloquent form to the big story. If we are educators or pastors or parents, we must teach our students, congregations and children the BIG picture of God’s story, grounded in theological depth and historical breadth. Part of the reason so many young people are abandoning Christianity in America is precisely because the Christianity they’ve known is primarily about disconnected “moral lessons” and a vague, de-storied therapeutic Deism that is untethered to anything other than individual salvation and individual happiness.

It behooves us push back against this. It behooves us to re-story the church.

Artists of faith play a crucial role in this too. We must resist the tendency of contemporary art-making to be primarily about SELF expression for the sake of self expression. Instead we must paint, photograph, film, compose, create and re-create work that glimpses the greater narrative — a narrative that includes us, but is bigger than us.

It’s a narrative that is marginalized in a world overwhelmed and exhausted by a million stories a minute; but it’s a narrative we need more than ever.

Note: The text of this post is from a talk I delivered at the 2014 Razor’s Edge Conference, which was themed, “Transcending the iWorld: Extraordinary Stories in a Fragmented Age.” 


Two Saturdays ago, I got engaged to my girlfriend Kira. The last few weeks have been joyous, busy, fun, and surreal as we share the story, show off the ring, and begin to plan for our wedding and future. It’s exciting!

Among the many thoughts and emotions that I’ve considered over the last two weeks is the question of just what it means to be engaged–and not just in the “going to get married” sense of the word. What does it mean to be engaged in one’s life, rather than disengaged? How do we remain observant and present in a world of such overwhelming fragmentation and distraction?

It’s something I’m always thinking about and wrestling with. Just the other night I was at a party and was struck by the fact that almost everyone around me was looking down at their phones rather than engaging with the people right in front of them. I’m sure you notice this phenomenon too. It seems that whatever it is we are obsessed with checking (texts, tweets, Facebook, etc.) is more engaging these days than face-to-face conversation.

I lead a pretty busy life and always have a lot to do; but I try my hardest to remain engaged in every part of it. I try to make time for people I care for, having a meal with them or a slow cup of coffee. But I also have a pile of books I want to read — a world of literature and art I want to take in, slowly, deliberately. And nature: I want to have time to take long walks on Sunday afternoons; to jog around the neighborhood; I want to be there when the first waft of Autumn can be sensed. I want to travel. I want to write. And then there are the external goings-on of the world that I want to be informed about and conversant with: global news, American politics, sports, movies, music.

The world is so much.

So what are we to do? On one hand I feel the impulse to just throw up my hands and focus on only a few of the things I listed above, recognizing that there will never be time to read everything I’d like to read or watch all the movies I’ve been told I need to watch. Yet the other impulse urges me to try anyway — living life as fully as I can, even if it means sacrificing depth for breadth. It’s the tension between “deep and wide” that I suspect most of us struggle with to some extent.

“Engagement” in terms of marriage is just a season; but in the broader sense it is a life’s calling. I want to always be fully engaged with the life, love, beauty and experiences I am given. It may not mean that I need to know about everything or am fully informed/aware of all that would interest me. It may simply mean that I take more time to immerse myself in a book, or quiet myself in garden, or enjoy long meals with the people I love. Maybe it actually means that less is more — that  a slower, more thoughtful approach is a fuller one.

In the case of love, maybe it means that “engagement” isn’t just a prologue to a life to come or a season of anticipatory impermanence. Maybe it’s the standard for joy in all that will follow: Being fully present, fully engaged, to one another and to all that is precious in our everyday lives.

To Everything a Season

One of the mystifying (and doubtless alluring) things about Southern California is that the climate here is one of perpetual summer. Seasons in the truest sense don’t exist. Winter is a slightly cooler, rainier version of Summer, which is approximately nine months long and always around 79 degrees and sunny. In Southern California, the endless summer fits with the “endless youth” ambience of the culture: aging happens differently here, slower perhaps. Youth and immaturity reign. Death is raged against in the Dylan Thomas sense, against the dying of the light.

And yet I miss seasons. Seasons are the truest thing of all. I miss them most in the autumn and spring, those transitional periods so symbolic of life’s persistent patterns of endings and new beginnings, goodbyes and hellos, decay and rebirth. The natural seasons of life remind us of the solemnity of change and yet also the refreshment of it. The constancy of seasons is at once reassuring, unsettling, heartbreaking and mysterious. It stirs within us all sorts of emotions, not least of which is Sehnsucht, that weighty existential desire which C.S. Lewis described as as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.”

I’m in a season of change right now myself, for a number of reasons. I’m finished writing my new book (1 year and 65,000 words later!); I’m enjoying the last few months of my 20s and what is likely my last season of life as a single man; I’m experiencing new friendships and walking with some old friends as they experience their own seasons of change.

And I’m also going to be changing my blogging habits a bit.

For nearly five years, The Search has been my blogging home, a space that has become very dear to me. Before I joined Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other things, I started this blog. It’s where I’ve cut my teeth as a writer and thought through many of the topics I’ve since turned in to articles and books. I’ve made connections and friends with amazing people who have been faithful readers. It’s been a space where I–an introvert–have worked out my own thinking and found outlet for so many explorations.

I named it “The Search” as an homage to one of my favorite novels, The Moviegoer (movies have been a central exploration of the blog), in which the restless protagonist, Binx Bolling (who turns 30 in the book, incidentally), wanders around saying things like this:

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a cast away do? Why he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Binx’s thoughts have resonated with me for years, and I’ve channeled much of my own “search” into the content of this blog. That will not change. I am not abandoning this blog just yet.

I am, however, going to be scaling back my writing a bit, for a few reasons:

  • I’m increasingly aware of the overwhelming glut of opining that is the Internet and (more specifically) the blogosphere. Personally I have come to value restraint, patient consideration, and “mulling over internally” more in recent years, rather than the “quick to the draw” thought vomiting that characterizes most of the blogosphere (and which I have been guilty of too).
  • I’m busier than ever. I have a new book to launch, I’m still working full-time at Biola University (writing, editing, teaching), I have a new season of life to launch… I’ll need all the extra time and energy I can get.
  • I’ll be writing elsewhere. I’ve started contributing to Mere Orthodoxy in recent months, and will continue to contribute there. Matt Anderson has created a great space there for thoughtful, lively discussion about issues in culture and Christianity. I’m thrilled to be joining him and others in the pursuit of an elevated discourse among young evangelicals.
  • I want to read more than I write. Now that I’m done writing my new book, I’m intensely hungry to read the mountain of books that bave been piling up. I also want to find time to read some of the other things being written online on any given day. It’s overwhelming to me how much I wish I could read but can’t (for lack of time).

So, what does “scaling back” actually look like for The Search? I don’t quite know. It could still mean that I post something new every week. Or every two weeks. Or once a month. And maybe it’ll just be for a season. I’m not going to be rigid about it. We’ll see how it goes.

Whatever happens, I’m so thankful for this platform to share my thoughts and even more thankful for those of you nice enough to read them. We’re all on this “search” together, after all, trying to bring some sense and clarity to an overwhelming world. Seeking truth, beauty and goodness together with you will be something I’ll always want to do.

24 Social Media Dos and Don’ts

As part of the Biola Digital Ministry Conference this week, I gave a seminar entitled “Becoming Social Media Savvy Without Losing Your Soul,” in which I discussed the etiquette of social media and some of the potentials and pitfalls in how we can use it as Christians. What does it mean to represent Christ in the social media space? To get at this question, my presentation included 12 “dos” of social media and 12 “don’t.” Here they are below, starting with the “don’ts.”


  1. Don’t tweet mostly about yourself. What you are doing, speaking engagements, travel, how cool you are.
  2. Don’t think about an experience mostly in terms of how you might share it on social media. (i.e. when you’re at a beautiful beach on vacation, don’t think about how you can share a picture of it on Instagram)
  3. Don’t retweet only things that say good things about you or your book, your product or your brand. Promote others’ content more than your own.
  4. Don’t include “Please RT!” in your tweets, use bad English, too many WORDS IN ALL CAPS, or too many !!!!
  5. Don’t crowd your social feeds with “check-ins” from all the glamorous places you’ve been. #Humblebrag
  6. Don’t tweet or post something in a highly emotional state or without taking time to consider whether it should be shared or not.
  7. Don’t post important life news on social media before communicating to your closest friends/family in person.
  8. Don’t spend more time on social media than you spend communicating to people face to face.
  9. Don’t flaunt your relationships by having public interactions on social media. Talk to people privately. Email, chat, direct message will do just fine.
  10. Don’t have awkward fights or edgy back-and-forths in public.
  11. Don’t revert to a junior high name-calling voice or pick fights.
  12. Don’t tweet something with big implications without running it by a few people. (e.g. “Farewell Rob Bell.”)


  1. Promote the good, interesting, useful work of others; direct people to helpful resources that aren’t produced by you.
  2. Share things that you know your audience will find valuable. Think of their interests before your own. (e.g. If you are a food critic, tweet about the best new restaurant you’ve found. You’re audience is following you for your expertise in stuff like this).
  3. Respond to people’s questions when they ask them; ask your audience questions. Interact.
  4. Say thanks to people who say something nice to you or about you on social media.
  5. Be positive, affirming, uplifting, earnest (rather than negative, cynical, critical, ironic).
  6. When you do post about yourself, don’t be overly mechanic or self-aware. Be natural, real, authentic.
  7. If you lead a church/ministry, be especially careful how you communicate on social media. You are representing your church/ministry, whether you want to or not. And for any Christian: you are representing Christ.
  8. Let others talk up your books, articles, or products on social media. On occasion, feel free to retweet the praise-giving tweets of others (but only rarely).
  9. Use social media to bless others: share Bible verses, affirmative quotes… things that can brighten another’s day and/or spread the gospel. Those types of messages resonate.
  10. Use social media to enhance communities but not replace them.
  11. Quickly communicate important and timely information (e.g. if you are a church: service times, last minute venue changes, etc).
  12. If you are a leader or respected figure, respond to local or world events with a comforting, wise voice of authority.

In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

The technological structures of our Twitterstream, iPhone-ready, newsticker, push-notification culture have made “being in the loop” as natural a thing for us as breathing–and almost as important. These days, it’s seen as essential to know what’s going on in the world–what’s trending–and not only to know about it, but to comment on it. If something is being buzzed about or going viral, we must chime in: unleash a quick Facebook update, add a Tweet to the chorus, throw up a blog post with “Thoughts on ____” before anyone else can.

And it all must be done expediently, because to wait or be late to the conversation is to admit–heaven forbid–being somewhat out of the loop. You see this a lot when people post something on Twitter/Facebook with the caveat, “I know I’m late to the game on this, but…” Who cares if you’re late to the game? As if the quality of comment is less vital than its timeliness.

I’m troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to “join the conversation” doesn’t necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable. It’s no wonder no one knows what to think about KONY2012. Before I even saw the video, there were already a million wildly contradictory opinions about it being circulated.

The thing with KONY2012, though, is that its very existence seemed to discourage reflection. It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT! Tweet to Justin Bieber! Share the video on Facebook! Buy a poster kit! The uncontrollable social media maelstrom that followed happened because Invisible Children played right into the unreflective “quickness culture,” which worked at getting the thing viral but arguably did not work in cultivating a trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.

Meanwhile, the same “tweet first, think later” impulse that propelled KONY2012 to its “explode the Internet” status, ironically, is helping to spread the Jason Russell meltdown news (and all of its iffy allegations) across the same viral space. Which is a shame, but not surprising. This is how things go in the quickness culture.

Let me be the first to say that I’ve been complicit in this culture and have often felt the need to add my instant reaction to some buzzworthy news. But the KONY2012 phenomenon has got me thinking anew about the value of slowing down and relinquishing my need to be so in the loop and real-time conversant. When KONY2012 broke, part of me said “you must blog about this!” When I didn’t do that, I felt the urge to at least chime in with endorsements of other articles, sending one of those “This is the best thing I’ve read so far on ___” tweets. But ultimately I came to see that perhaps the best thing to do is just to stay silent, live my life, let the dust settle and then comment (or not) on it much later.

Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it. Oh well.

I desire to be more out of the loop. I want to go a day without knowing what the Twitterverse is talking about. I want to let trending topics come and go without ever knowing they happened. I want to be like Marilyn Hagerty, who didn’t know (or care) that for the rest of the world, Olive Garden was “old news.” I don’t want to care about something just because it’s hot right now and everyone is talking about it; I want to care about something because it is interesting, important, worth thinking about. I don’t want to blog, tweet, or talk about things I haven’t mulled over or wrestled with first. I want to resist the idol of quick-to-the-draw commentary.

And while I’m at it, I want to focus more on my own challenges: the right-in-front-of-me conversation, the local issues, the everyday battles–rather than injecting myself into the global so urgently and ignorantly. Sure, I want to care for the world. It’s important to know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t take precedence over being present in my own life, and being attentive to the needs of my own community. I’d rather be out of the loop than disengaged from the world right in front of me; though I suspect (and hope) there’s a way we can balance both: being plugged in to there and present here, and thoughtful in each sphere.

Notes on the Legacy of Steve Jobs

It may be too soon for a “legacy” commentary on Steve Jobs. But part of Job’s legacy is that he helped popularize the “having a mobile device that can do everything, from anywhere at anytime” quickness of contemporary communication. His devices helped facilitate the cultural shift toward on-the-go, real-time media consumption. Because of him (and others), we can now hear about news, process it with others and, yes, even write a blog post about it as quickly as we want to. That I’m writing this on my Apple MacBook Pro is not meta irony as much as it is an unavoidable reminder of this man’s prodigious legacy and his brand’s revolutionary reach. How many of you who are reading this now on an Apple product?

The Twitter flood of memorial thoughts this evening underscores the extent to which Jobs achieved iconic, hero status in this generation. In the last few hours I’ve seen him described as a Walt Disney figure, a Thomas Edison, a visionary and genius, a force of nature, a wizard behind the curtain. The man was regarded as a figure beyond a celebrity–a single-minded innovator who didn’t trifle in the trappings of fame, wasn’t soiled by his conquest of capitalism, but instead hunkered down and made things happen: in garages, in laboratories, in the dark rooms where inventors invent things that will change the world.

And change the world he did. He was a populist advocate for technology, bringing it out of the provinces of geekdom and making it more user-friendly, accessible, intuitive. In an era when technological progress sometimes felt overwhelming and gizmos and gadgets too complicated to bother with, Jobs and his Apple brand focused on simplicity, user-friendliness, and an attitude of “even you can understand this device!”

But it went beyond utility. Jobs also reimagined technology as something that was more than a tool, something more than a gizmo with buttons. He declared technology to be something with personality. Something with style.

The significance of this contribution cannot be overstated. In the Jobs generation, technology became an accessory and friend rather than just something we use. With our “Macs,” our iPods and ear “buds,” and above all our beloved attached-at-the-hand iPhones, we learned to have relationships and emotional attachments with our technological devices. We feel lonely when we are without them. We turn to them in boredom, in sadness, in madness. They facilitate our every social move. In a very real way, Jobs pioneered an attitude toward technology (as a social, relational, emotional hub of our human experience) that paved the way for social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Jobs made technology elegant, sexy, beautiful. He made it something inspiring and easy for students, writers, artists, designers, musicians. He made it friendly. The first time I got an iPod I immediately got a little “sock” covering for it– to keep it safe or warm or something. I don’t know. It was a little sidekick, something that I swear appeared to be smiling back at me as I ran my finger over the little wheel thing to find the song I wanted to play. Maybe it was the neon colored ads, or the soft white rounded aesthetic, or the precious manner in which “i” was a pre-fix to everything. Whatever it was, Apple mastered the art of making technology seem simultaneously simple, futuristic, homey, sweet, hip, necessary, gender neutral & fun.

The technological landscape was altered significantly by Jobs, perhaps chiefly because he helped fuse the technological to the human landscape. If there had never been a Steve Jobs, we probably would still be living in a world where technology was an indispensable part of our daily lives. But I bet that world would have been far less pleasant than the iWorld Jobs has given us.

My Predictions for 2020

In Relevant magazine this month, there is a fascinating 14 page article (“Bringing 2020 Into Focus”) in which experts weigh in on what to expect in the coming decade, in areas like the environment, social justice, politics, culture, faith and science. As the “expert” in the cultural arena, I was commissioned to forecast the trends and changes I think will be most significant in the next 10 years. To read the whole spread, click here. But below I’ve excerpted a few sentences from the 4 trends I highlight.

One With the News:

Ten years ago we didn’t have YouTube and blogs were barely in their infancy. “Have it your way” was just a Burger King slogan. But now, “have it your way” is manifest destiny. It’s an inalienable right–a mantra that permeates everyone’s digital media existence–and by 2020, it will conquer more than just music libraries. It will define the fourth estate.

All signs point to a 2020 in which the news is no longer uniform, no longer top-down and no longer the same for any two people. The news will no longer be an externality, but a personal thing—for individuals, by individuals, about individuals.

It won’t just be about the ability to personalize the news people consume (through RSS feeds, Digg and personalized homepages), it will become more about people placing themselves in the thick of generating the news and being the news. CNN’s “iReporter” is the current industry standard for this “citizen journalism,” and sites like Newsvine–which attempt to involve average consumers in the generation of news–are perhaps a good indicator of what is to come. ()

The New Cultural Power Brokers:

Whether it’s the 17-year-old film critic blogger who talks up the unknown indie films or a music webzine like Pitchfork that rises to atmospheric importance because of a track record of reliably good taste, these everyday tastemakers will rule the roost of cultural capital in 2020. They will be the arbiters of worth-my-attention commodities for the niche audiences they twitter to. They will pan for gold in the muddy waters of DIY culture-making and elevate only that which deserves it. They will carry the carrots toward which the deep pocket conglomerates race to monetize, and though merely “intermediaries,” they will be the most indispensable link in the chain. ()

There Will Be No Place Like Home:

Home is making a comeback; “local” is the new “global.” And in 2020, people wonder why, back in the day, they were ever so antsy to leave.

Rising gas prices and struggling airlines will lead to continued escalation in transportation costs and the desire to “get out” will simply be crowded out by the realities of affordability. The “main street” local economy will thrive again and shipping costs will make homegrown business more viable. ()

Our Addiction to Public Communication

I wrote a new technology piece in Relevant magazine’s September/October issue, entitled “Short Attention Span Faith.” You can read the whole thing by clicking here, but here’s a short little excerpt:

Unsurprisingly, this frenzied, obsessive-compulsive proclivity toward being digital busybodies has deleterious effects on Christian disciplines like Bible study and prayer. How do we justify sitting down and praying for an hour when there are Hulu videos to browse, “What Ninja Turtle are you?” quizzes to take, and online “community” to cultivate? If we’re not wired, plugged-in, and communicating with the world at all times, it seems like such a waste of time…

…This is one of the biggest problems that must be reckoned with in the Twitter age: our ever diminishing inclination and/or ability to slow down and think thoroughly, deeply, and profoundly about anything. We speed through an article or web page in 60 seconds and pronounce it “read.” We see a blurb about our friend from high school’s weekend at the lake and pronounce the friendship “maintained.” But in this flurry of bite-sized narrative and dollar menu mediation, are we able to truly be self-aware? Can we consider things and know God and ourselves?

At the end of the day, it’s just hard for us to have interior thought lives anymore. It’s hard to keep anything to ourselves and be reflective just for ourselves. With Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the quick-and-easy communication efficiency of cell phones, we’ve gotten used to the notion that anything worth saying can and should be shared with the digital community in real time. Any idea or thought worth having should be public. Everything is cooperative, collective, and wiki-oriented. When we sit alone and contemplate something that isn’t meant to be shared with the whole wide world, we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves.

I know this temptation all to well, as a writer/blogger who sometimes doesn’t value the “keep it to yourself” type of thinking. It’s so easy to say anything and everything to any and every one these days. It’s hard to keep thoughts, ideas, and rants to oneself when a huge audience is just a “publish” click away (I realize the irony that I’m blogging about this). Our culture has conditioned us to glory in attention and publicity and recognition; It’s only natural that we are increasingly finding it difficult to not live public lives. More and more, the defacto barometer of a well-lived life is not necessarily the quality or depth of our contribution to society but the breadth of it—the extent to which it is widely disseminated and known. It’s like the more Facebook friends or Twitter followers one has, the more actualized they are as a person.

What we communicate via these media platforms is not nearly as important as the fact that we have an audience, somewhere out there, listening or glimpsing into our lives. It affirms our existence, pats us on the existential back and sends us on our way, no better or worse off but for the few meaningless minutes or hours that we’ll never get back.

I Joined Facebook… Sigh.

September 19 was a dark day for me… but one that I feared would come soon enough.

I joined Facebook.

This is after years and years of publicly campaigning against it in articles such as this and this… oh and this one as recently as January where I talked about “the irrevocable damage Facebook and its various counterparts have done to meaningful communication.”

And now I am a part of the monster, feeding it like everyone else…

Laughable, I know. It will take a while for me to recover from this swift idealistic collapse. Now I know what Obama must feel like after talking so much about not running a negative campaign and then being forced to do it anyway.

Not that I was forced to do it, but believe me when I say that I had to join Facebook. Any professional journalist really cannot function without it these days, and my job at Biola magazine (especially some articles I’m writing now) necessitated some serious usage of Facebook.

I sickens me when technology wins, when I can no longer survive without it. This is like the cell phone: so many people held out and refused to get them five years ago, but now we’d all die without them. These are moments when Neil Postman’s Technopoly seems more prescient than ever.

I joined Facebook with the hope that I could “hide” and only use it secretly for work purposes. Ha. That lasted about 30 minutes earlier today, quickly devolving into just another Facebook startup: “friends,” friend-requests, profile-making, etc. I’ve really fallen fast, giving myself over to my sworn enemy with crude ease and jolting swiftness. At this rate of ideological turnaround I will be Facebook’s biggest champion by this time next week. Heaven forbid.