Categories
The End of Many Books

Live Not by Lies

So much about this book is good for all times, and so much about it is particularly timely. Soft totalitarianism, especially as seen in the faces of social justice ideology and surveillance technology, is upon us, it’s just a question of its level of influence in various places, and how much of it we accept for (preliminary) conveniences.

I held back one star because Dreher’s observations are, from my perspective, tinged with more fear than thanks. And while I wholeheartedly agree with him that it is crucial for Christians to preserve the faith and pass it on to their children and small communities, should we (or the generation that gets to come out of “survival”) ever expect to use (let alone create/advance and give God thanks for) broader technology? Which kinds? Under what circumstances? Because we see the abuses of good, and even an increase in those abuses around us today, are believers only supposed to build bunkers?

Nevertheless, I highly recommend reading this (and sharing it with your Russian friends!).

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Digital Minimalism

by Cal Newport

There used to be a short answer to the problem posed by Newport that he takes almost three hundred pages to answer. What should we do about all the time-wasting, social-media-hyped, internet-exacerbated problems in society? We need self-control. So all he really needed was a hyphen, not hyperventilation. Though I thought Deep Work was a smidgen too precious, this book is supersized precious. There’s very little fun, though there are occasional common sense reminders about the benefit of focus. The primary way Newport suggests getting better at social media is to avoid it. And it goes against something I wrote recently about carrying my own digital man purse. As I said in that post, I don’t love FB at all, but I wouldn’t recommend this book by Newport as the antidote, to FB, Twitter, email, or to a wealth of online opportunities which also carry some risks.

2 of 5 stars

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Kuyperian Plumbing with Thanks

It’s becoming more and more popular to criticize and give warnings about technology. I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, and have owned an iPhone since the summer of 2008 when they first came out. There are certainly problems that exist. Our smartphones can distract us, they can become idols, as can almost every other good thing that God has given. This post isn’t an argument that such tools are only good, but rather an opportunity to express thankfulness.

We had another hot water leak under our house this past week. A similar leak happened last summer and we needed to call a plumber to fix it. This time around I was able to find the leak and, with the researching and know-how abilities of my wife, was able to make the repair.

But it wouldn’t have been possible, or at least not nearly as convenient, without my iPhone.

Could I have done it without it? Of course. Or at least, maybe. As my family and friends know, I stink at repairs. I do demolition. In this situation, though, I was better able to crawl under and over pipes in the crawl space and lay in the puddles with rat poo than other members of my family, and cheaper than hiring a plumber again. To get help and do the work I used my phone’s flashlight, camera, video camera, FaceTime app, and Safari browser to actually watch a YouTube video on how to make the repair. (Okay, I could have watched the video on a regular computer, but I did watch it on my iPhone anyway, which is sort of amazing if you think about it).

All that to say, as a Kuyperian Calvinist I am thankful to God for His common grace in the metallurgy and electronics and WiFi and engineers and Steve Jobs and code jockeys and delivery drivers and a whole bunch more.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

The Enthusiasm Industry

I was listening to a podcast episode recently, I can’t remember which one even though I don’t actually listen to a bunch, and the hosts referred to the “enthusiasm industry.” They were talking about people who write and talk about apps (mobile, desktop, whatever). These aren’t necessarily the developers or even marketing employees of a company, these are people who make their living trying out and reviewing apps and services. They are professional buzz makers, stoking enthusiasm that sustains the creation/consumption cycle.

Some of these enthusiasts are helpful, even trustworthy over time. Many of them, though, are just making noise. How are consumers being prepped to distinguish?

It made me think of Dorothy Sayers’ warning about propaganda.

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? (The Lost Tools of Learning)

The enthusiasm industry, including (especially?) those who promote productivity apps, may keep us distracted from doing work rather than helping us find the right tool for work.

It’s similar to this argument about why so many of us like sports: then we don’t have to think about how awful our lives are.

We are far too easily enthused. And distracted.

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Code of the Coders

Or, A Glitch in the System

There is no neutrality. It’s not if there is a code, but which code will be written, and then followed.

Tracy Chou is an “entrepreneur, software engineer, and diversity advocate.” (I can get excited about at least two out of three of those.) Almost a year ago she wrote about why every tech worker needs a humanities education. The foundational questions she asks are crucial for anyone involved in creating, consuming, and educating others about either of the previous two.

Chou warns:

“As much as code and computation and data can feel as if they are mechanistically neutral, they are not. Technology products and services are built by humans who build their biases and flawed thinking right into those products and services—which in turn shapes human behavior and society, sometimes to a frightening degree.”

She was asking herself questions such as:

“what it was that I was working on, and to what end, and why.” … “what behaviors we wanted to incentivize amongst our users” … “We pondered the philosophical question—also very relevant to our product—of whether people were by default good or bad.” … and “the default views we pushed to users.”

So just the things about the nature of human beings and how to steer them. With code. And the order of pictures. (Is it a coincidence that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all mess with the chronological timeline? For whom is it a better experience?)

Here’s Chou’s conclusion (and again, you should read the whole thing):

“I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education….I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.”

This is part of the reason we love our classical, Christian school. Because we don’t assume, let alone seek, neutrality, we’re in a much better position to see biases, including the ones in ourselves, and to seek answers from our Creator who wrote the ultimate Code. Doctors, nurses, code jockeys, rocket scientists, accountants, and bridge builders all need to know the details of their work, but the greater what and why of their work require knowing the what and why of mankind first.