Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

Ten Years of “Being Social” Online

In Books, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Writing on December 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

Craig with Books

I started blogging ten years ago when my book, TwentySomeone, came out (note the computer screen in the pic). Working on the website for the book, I wanted a way to post interesting links and speaking engagement details on the front page. My friend Will Leingang suggested adding a blog (which at the time I didn’t know was slang for “weblog”) but, because I trust Will in all things technology, I said sure.

This was one of the rare times in my technological life when I’ve been an early adopter. Back in the day, blogs were THE social media; we used them for posts, but also for those communiques that Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ (and about a dozen others) are now used – short sentence updates, interesting articles or links, and the ubiquitous personal opinion.

I miss those days, not because everything was in one place (though that was nice), but because there was usually actual interaction; it was enjoyable to read a comment thread that had some actual comments and didn’t just let one get away with the generic “Like” or “Favorite”.

The phenomenon of “liking” or “favoriting” something without explanation is interesting to me. I watch my online “friends” and “followers” drop “likes” and mark “favorites” on a variety of statements, declarations, questions, links, videos, song lyrics, poems, memes, and quotes and I sometimes wonder if they’re doing that out of actual reason or merely relationship.

The most interesting phenomenon (at least on Facebook) is what seems the obligatory “like” of the new profile picture. I’m struck by how – regardless of actual beauty – people are so quick to approve and at times (let’s be honest) lie out of some assumed responsibility that if they don’t, the person who just uploaded the profile picture will suffer some great self-esteem loss and throw themselves off a bridge.

“What a beautiful picture!”
“You’re so hot!”
“What a gorgeous family!”

I suppose there are plenty of people who want, need, and look for comments like these to justify their existence, but there are also those of us who think of the profile picture as simply an identifier and nothing more. Forgive us for not swooning over your latest profile update – it’s not personal, even though you might take it to be so.

Another thing I’ve found interesting over the past ten years of blogging and “being social” online is how much time it takes to really do well. The media are different, but they all require intentionality to do them right. Twitter’s 140 characters force one to be uber-succinct, whereas a blog (at least that folks read) demands interesting writing since something else is always one quick click away. Facebook posts tend to benefit from some kind of photo or artwork to break up the design monotony, but I still haven’t figured out to what Google+ best lends itself as I really don’t use it all that much even though I feel semi-guilty that I should as it seems strangely superior as this “social evolution” art implies:

social-evolution

All of this – uber-succinctness, writing worth reading, finding and uploading pics and art – requires dedicated time, a commodity most of us find only in small amounts. It may just be my particular stage in life, but where I once used to think that the key to writing productivity lay in using and mastering 15-minute bites, I now am down to trying to make the most of 5-minute ones. This works well enough for tweets and updates, but not so much for blog posts and books.

While I’ve taken a few hiatuses from social media (the longest being an intentional six-month respite from blogging), I’ve never thought seriously about quitting (though like an alcoholic or chain smoker, I promise I can quit anytime). I’ve read and even written about the dangers of social media (click here to read multiple years’ worth of my posts on this topic and technology), but I still find it engaging and stimulating – not as a replacement for books, but neither as a complete waste of time either.

So I’ll continue blogging, tweeting, and posting, and thank you in advance for reading, retweeting, and sharing. I’m not sure why you do, but I confess I’m glad for it, much like I imagine the person posting a new profile picture probably appreciates the comments.

Just don’t lie to me and call me “hot”.

Advertisements

Out of the Bag for the Good of Oklahoma City

In Educators, Veritas, Web/Tech on April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

This week is a significant one for classical Christian education in Oklahoma City.

Four months ago, Providence Hall Head of School Nathan Carr and I (on behalf of our boards) launched via video and website what were then the public beginnings (at least to our respective schools) of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.

This week – tonight, actually – we announce the new school to the Oklahoma City metro via a three-minute news story on Fox 25's "Tell Me Something Good" feature with news anchor Mike Brooks. Here's the link.

But before we do that, today we'd like to roll out the brand new crest for our new school. Many thanks to Todd Milligan at Dust Bowl Artistry for helping create what we hope our families will embrace as a wonderful and symbolic visual that represents who we are as The Academy. (Note: For an excellent interpretation of our crest, read Nathan’s explanation of each of the elements.)


Academy Crest (300 dpi, Color)

In addition to the new crest, we're also rolling out our new public Facebook page and Twitter feed for The Academy, so go like/follow us if you would. Finally, if you haven't already (or haven't in a while), be sure to visit the official website for The Academy, where we cast our vision and continue to detail the creation of our new school.

Sounding the Trumpet of Communication

In Parents, Veritas, Web/Tech on July 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Trumpet

There's an important (and favorite) passage of Scripture that illustrates and reminds me of the value of communication in leadership. In Nehemiah 4:15-18, Nehemiah records:

"When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me."

As Head of School, I love the value Nehemiah places on communicating with those he is leading. He makes no apologies, nor justifies his actions; he just keeps the man who sounds the trumpet with him to communicate with those building the wall.

Besides basic email, we have multiple digital venues through which we try to communicate and interact with our Veritas community. None of these are meant to replace human interaction, but they are helpful in the interim between meetings. And, as long as we're careful that the technology serves us (and not the other way around), why not use these amazing tools for the Kingdom?

Information

Interaction

 

To be sure, it's a lot of work to keep up with all of these, and thankfully, I don't have to do so alone. But Nehemiah's example speaks as much as any biblical leader's as to the importance of communication in leading others, so I do need to make sure it happens.

Sure, we still put out some printed mailings here and there, and we've also created and put some quality physical pieces into people's hands about who we are and what we do. But everything is designed to direct folks to our digital communication tools as much as possible. This is where we can most consistently, quickly, and personally (to a degree) connect with folks as we – or they – have need to do so.

We're not perfect at it, and we certainly don't get everything right or always in the timeliest of manners (my personal inbox is currently a sad reminder of this reality), but Nehemiah's example continues to challenge me as we build Veritas.

Blogging Down Memory Lane (Part 2)

In Calling, Internet, Technology, Web/Tech on November 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Schoolboy blogging

(continued from previous post)

3. How do you feel blogging and the presence of social networks and media has influenced students at Westminster?

While I know there are some students who keep blogs, I don't know many – it's too much work for too little instant gratification. Some students are on Twitter, but not nearly as many who are on Facebook. And, of course, cell phone texting is the medium of choice when it comes to communication for high schoolers.

As for the influence of all this on students, I have two thoughts. First, I think social media affects students very much the same way it affects adults, that is, training us (if we let it) in the art of distraction rather than the art of focus. I've written about this before here, here, and here (and it's not an idea original with me), but the Internet is by design created to distill our focus rather than sharpen it. I feel this when I'm on my computer (which is frequently because of what I do): it's easier to check Facebook or Twitter or a blog or two than actually write something myself to contribute something of worth to the blogosphere. The effect is the same, regardless of age: a lot of time gets wasted with very little to show for it (for an excellent article on this from a biblical perspective, click here).

Second (and this seems more true of students than adults, though there are plenty of exceptions), the ease and proliferation of digital media tools has created a constant public existence that robs kids of much of the privacy and mystery of their youth. I worry that students share so much online (vulnerable thoughts, sacred memories, less-than-appropriate pictures, and personal experiences) that they have nothing enigmatic really left for others (parents, boyfriends/girlfriends, even themselves) to gradually discover about who they are. In many ways, the Internet has made us more boring than interesting because everybody knows so much about us already. Where's the mystery and intrigue in that?

4. What is your opinion about blogging's future?

I've been asking this question a lot of late, even posing it to some friends of mine who are far more wise in the way of all things wired (read my friend Will's fascinating comments in answer to my inquiry here). I remember a few years ago I first started hearing folks warn of blogging's demise, largely because Twitter was really starting to explode in mass popularity and micro-blogging was coming into its own on a wide scale. Even in my own reading habits, I wasn't checking blogs like I used to (I follow anywhere from 100-150 different blogs using Google Reader, but only check them now when someone notifies me via Twitter that they posted something…and only then if the 140-character summary sounds interesting).

All that to say, blogging's not going away anytime soon, but I do think people's reasons for reading blogs continue to evolve. I think we're going to see the middle of blogging drop out; that is, the bloggers with bigger audiences will get bigger because of content and deals, while the bloggers who write for smaller audiences (usually made up of people who know them) will continue to do so simply for their personal love of writing or for niche reasons tied to their interests or work. Those in the middle who anticipate writing for a huge following but are unwilling to "sell out" to attract an audience are going to end up choosing one or the other.

5. Where do you see the future of your blog headed?

In light of my answer to #4, I easily fall into the second category mentioned and have no real desire to be part of the first. Sure, ideally, if I could cultivate a huge following of folks who love my writing, well, that would be great, but I don't anticipate that happening (and without the "deals," there's really no money in blogging).

Personally, I still write with books in mind, but I've struggled over the past three years as to how much to adjust my thinking to wholeheartedly pursue the more digital versions of publishing (if "publishing" is even really a word/concept anymore). Even going the full digital route, I'm haunted by the words of one of my seminary professors who, when I asked him if he ever feared running out of topics to write about, responded by saying he was more afraid of running out of people who would want to read what he wrote. His concern wasn't that people would stop reading him (he's an excellent writer); his concern was more that people would stop reading, period.

Granted, in many ways because of social media, we're reading more than ever, but much of what we're reading is not worth the page or pixels it's printed on/with when considered within the broader historical context of scholarship and publication. There's a lot of garbage to sift through to find well-written truth.

6. Why do you enjoy blogging?

I'll probably continue to blog because I'll always continue to write; in fact, I can't NOT write – it's how I process life and discover what I think. Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved keeping journals and writing letters – a desire that has never gone away even with the creation of websites and email. As Wendell Berry wrote in his essay, "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer,"

"My final and perhaps my best reason for not owning a computer is that I do not wish to fool myself. I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil. I do not see why I should not be as scientific about this as the next fellow: when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante’s, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of computers with a more respectful tone of voice, though I still will not buy one." —Wendell Berry, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” in What Are People For? (1990), p. 171.

Gathering my thoughts on my blog (and not everything I think gets posted for reasons listed in my answer to question #3) is a perk of living in the 21st century – one for which I'm grateful. But in terms of meaning and significance, I still don't think today's technology compares to the original social media – oral tradition – through which God spoke and preserved His Word. After all, look at what this social media produced: words that are still just as current and relevant as the latest update, tweet, post, or book I could ever write, and the best part is you can talk to the Author whenever you feel like it.

Blogging Down Memory Lane (Part 1)

In Calling, Internet, Technology, Web/Tech on November 9, 2010 at 10:25 pm


Blogging dream and reality

I have a student coming in Thursday to interview me for Westminster's school newspaper, The Wildcat Roar, on the topic of my blog (or more specifically, I think, the fact that I have one). I asked her to send along her questions so I could think through my answers. Here's what she sent (and what I think):

1. Why did you want to begin writing your blog?

Second Drafts is not my first blog; it's actually my third. Back in the early part of the "aughts," when I was on staff with The Navigators in Colorado Springs, I was using a really poor content management system to post book, movie, and music reviews to our family ministry website. This was novel and fun, but there was no means (other than email) for interaction with others, so it was basically a static page that I just added to and kept up. I wouldn't call this a "blog," but it was a step toward what was coming.

In the fall of 2003, as part of promoting my first book, TwentySomeone, a friend of mine set up a promotional website and suggested including a blog as part of the homepage. I liked the idea since it provided the opportunity for feedback and interaction, and especially because the software (I used WordPress for the interface) was so much better than what I was used to. It was also cool to be in on the early stages of blogging, particularly since the book was aimed at people in their twenties (surely, I thought, this made me ultra-hip). I kept this blog for two-and-a-half years.

When we moved to St. Louis to start course work at Covenant Seminary, I felt the need to chronicle some of my experiences, but I wanted to do so in a different way. Using Blogger (which has come a long way from when I started using it back in 2005), I created an anonymous third-person "reporter" – Seminary Tychicus – who kept track of the ups and downs, ins and outs of the life of a new seminary student, "Learner," who was adjusting to graduate school with a family of four and plenty of insecurity to boot. The Tychicus connection came from Paul's words in Ephesians 6:21: "Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing." I kept this blog for almost two years, from June 2005-April 2007.

Having started the Tychicus blog and getting further into my mid-thirties, I felt it was time to discontinue the TwentySomeone blog, as I didn't want readers to feel like I was desperately clinging to my twenties (I also didn't have a lot of mental energy to spare for two blogs). So, I shut down the TwentySomeone blog at the end of 2005 and stopped blogging as me all together for six months (which I now consider a mistake as I lost hundreds of readers in doing so). It was around this time that Facebook really started to explode, but I wasn't a big fan of the whole micro-blogging idea as it seemed a cop-out on real content.

Probably as a reaction to all this (as well as the fact that I missed writing as me in first-person), I started Second Drafts in June of 2006. The idea was to use the blog as a place where I could combine all the past writing I had done – books, magazine articles, online resources – with new stuff that might turn into new books, magazine articles, and online resources (my second book, Learning Education, is made up of a lot of my posts about teaching). In addition, I use the blog to pass along interesting links I come across through the inclusion of my Delicious and Twitter feeds, as well as to try to sell my books and some of the music I've recorded as a way to generate some (very minimal) additional income for my family.

2. What was/is your inspiration?

From the beginning, my goal in blogging has always been to offer my thoughts to others for the good of God's kingdom. I think of myself as a maven of sorts – "a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others," and while I'm no "expert" in anything, I do know people trust me and that I love to learn and help others do the same in a wise way. Translating big ideas into more manageable thoughts has always been my modus operandi, as it's an opportunity to influence others. Sometimes I'll come up with an original idea, but most of my writing seems to be along the lines of discerning or restating something in a way that helps readers better understand than they did before (at least that's what readers have consistently told me I do for them). I'm grateful for (and gratified by) that.

(To be continued)

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Humanity, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, TV, Vacation, Web/Tech, Westminster, Writers on May 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Sitting here on a Sunday night listening to some Lucinda Williams and doing a little writing. It's been a while since I've done a summary post of sorts, so since Megan and the girls are out of town and we're collectively an entire season behind to really make the LOST finale worth watching, here are a few things I've been thinking about and/or looking forward to:

School: This week is finals week, so I'll be spending most of my time grading. The good news is, unlike the past three years when I was evaluating projects and papers, I'm going into finals week with nothing other than finals to grade, so that should make for a little less consuming week in general.

In other school news, I've signed on for another year at Westminster, but my role is changing a bit as I'll be leaving the world of freshmen New Testament behind for fourth section of sophomore Ethics and one section of senior Worldviews next year. I'm glad for the transition all around.

One last note on the school front (this time the homeschool front), we're going to be entering a new stage of education here at home. This fall, our two oldest girls will be full-time students at Central Christian School in Clayton, while Megan continues leading the Classical Conversations group and homeschools our younger two (here are details from Megan's perspective).

Summer: In addition to writing (more on that below), my primary goal in June is to hang out with the little ladies, read some books, and get a few projects done around here. In addition, I'll help coach our Westminster summer baseball team for a week in June, as well as get trained on some new school information software, as I've been asked to be a mentor teacher to the rest of the staff this fall.

July ups the ante considerably in terms of travel, as we're planning a family trip to Colorado Springs, as the girls are now old enough (somehow) to attend The Navigators' camping programs (Eagle Lake and Eagle's Nest) we helped lead back in the day. I'll try to see as many folks as I can in a few days' time before I jump on a plane from Denver to Portland for my third year as part of Westminster's Summer Seminar. This time, I'll be investing ten days with 25 soon-to-be seniors in Washington state instead of South Dakota, after which I'll fly back to Colorado and then we'll all drive back to Missouri.

August sees staff reporting as earlier as the week of August 9th, but I'll have a few publishing projects to edit and design from the Washington trip, as well as a fair amount of prep work to finalize for my new
Worldviews class. Orientation starts the 12th and the first day of class is the 16th.

Studying: Despite baseball high-jacking my time and energy, I've been reading in a couple areas of interest this spring, not the least of which has been the study of the end times, or eschatology. N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, has been helpful, as has revisiting my notes from seminary (particularly Dr. Dan Doriani's notes from his Epistles and Revelation class). Of the three years I've taught Revelation to my freshmen New Testament classes, I feel like I've done the best job this year.

I'm also finishing up a couple books on education, namely John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry T. Edmondson III, Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, and The Secret of TSL by William Ouchi. It seems I've been reading these for a while (and I have), but there's been some good content that's come as a result.

Looking ahead, I have some Worldviews reading to do this summer, including (Re)Thinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand; The Compact Guide to World Religions edited by Dean C. Halverson (ed.); The Journey by Peter Kreeft; Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey; and The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. Should be fun.

Writing: Now that my second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is finished, I'm turning back to finishing the ThirtySomewhere manuscript this summer. I'm still looking for a formal publisher to get behind it, but now that I've experimented with the self-publishing gig a bit (and am still experimenting), I may go with what I've got at some point this fall and see what happens. We'll see.

I plan to continue blogging here, though I really wonder how much people are interested in anything longer than 140 Twitter characters these days. Speaking of which, I've enjoyed Twitter enough to keep using it, but there again I just have no way of really knowing how far the medium's actual reach is so as to invest more time in it. Oh well.

Guess that's it for now. There's more, but this is long enough. I'll try to post a few more thoughts later on this week (nothing brings out literary creativity like the desire to avoid grading). Have a good one.

Why Johnny Can’t Write (Part 2)

In Church, Education, Humanity, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Westminster, Young Ones on March 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

(Continued from my previous post on the topic; sorry for the delay/random smatterings. Can't believe it's taken two weeks, but I'm guessing you found other things to read).

With regard to the problem of teaching and learning the Bible, David Nienhuis sums up the problem nicely: "Biblical literacy programs need to do more than produce informed quoters. They need to produce transformed readers."

Most Scripture memory programs focus on the imperative verses (what to do), almost completely ignoring the indicative verses (what is true). In other words, we in the church spend more time telling kids (and ourselves) what to do for God rather than what God has done for them (and us). In the evangelical church, we're all about the what and how, and hardly about the when, where, and why.

But let's not pretend that decontextualization is just a biblical literacy problem specifically; in today's postmodern world (or post-postmodern world some would say), it is a literacy problem in general. Here's where we come back to basic reading and writing
skills, and these skills' corruption by the very thing so many proclaim will help – technology.

There is, after all, a difference between learning something and learning how to search for something. Is one better than the other? That's a debated question: does a kid really need to learn when or where or why an historical event took place, or does he just need to learn how to search for it effectively with Google? How you answer this question has everything to do with your pedagogy, and while I don't think the two answers are mutually exclusive, I do think the former gets short shrift compared to the latter.

Think about this: nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore because we can just input them into our phone, press the name of the person we want to call, and dial the right number. This works great…as long as we have the phone. But what happens when we lose the phone or the phone stops working? How do we get a hold of the person we're trying to call? What do we really know? We know that we want our phone back and working again, and we realize how lost we feel without it. (Note: For the other two of you in the world who, like me, don't own a cell phone, apply the idea to losing your Web browser bookmarks…it can seem like the most helpless feeling in the world.)

The point is that we live such a wi-fi-enabled, out-sourced, off-site, backed-up life that we use our brains for little more than remembering where we store our passwords than what it is (stories, ideas, responses, reflections) they protect. Ours has evolved into such a non-oral tradition "tradition," that the thought of memorizing sonnets from a poem or narrative stories from the Bible for meaning and not information seems archaic and unnecessary. If we think we need it, we can find it; we don't need to learn it. And if we don't think we need to learn it, well, who cares?

The result of all this (or at least the result I see in the classroom) is a student who struggles to write or process ideas that take more than a paragraph to explain (see this Onion article for a humorous version of the problem) growing up in a culture that validates his multi-tasking dysfunction despite studies like this one and articles like this one that question it as a good means to deal with life. As an educator, I suppose I risk becoming suspect to students and parents (and perhaps colleagues and administrators) in calling for moderation and (at times) sobriety when it comes to drinking the technological Kool-Aid, but when I watch a program like Frontline's Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, it confirms my concerns. Again, I'm not down on technology, but idolatry is a different matter.

Maybe it's because of the subjects I teach (New Testament and Ethics) or the experience (or lack thereof) I've had in the classroom, but depending on technology instead of using technology to teach seems ridiculous for many reasons, not the least of which is this: what if the power or the Internet goes out? If I can't teach apart from my laptop with its Keynote presentations and Web-access and wikis and online forums and Skype conversations and YouTube clips and ITunes access and podcasts and Scripture software – all of which I use in the classroom – then I'm not sure I'm really much of a teacher.

I need one more post to respond to some of your questions about how we try to apply any of this here at home with our own kids. I promise I won't take another two weeks to get to it, so hang in there. In the meantime, here's a link to the blog of one of my students who has the increasingly rare gift of being a sophomore in high school and able to utilize technology while still thinking and writing meaningfully. Enjoy.