In the Present. Demand Delays.

Our constant, relentless need to be “up-to-date” is an eternal vacuum with a dead end. Where do we suppose that this vortex will end? What exactly is the treasure that we think exists at the end of the newsfeed rainbow?

While our culture of technology preaches the gospel of “constant connectivity” with the fervor of a televangelist, there are a growing number of us who have realized that salvation is found the seemingly heretical choice to occasionally be out of the loop, uninformed and essentially delayed in our awareness of the electronically available “now”.

Not more than a few years ago, the word “present” denoted the immediate time and place in which you found yourself breathing. Today, the “present” has exponentially expanded in scope: it no longer means “here and now” but rather the present is “wherever and always”. At any single moment you have access to a cascading torrent of data that folds time and space in on itself. The “present” has collapsed our continuum: the past archived, the commentary of the immediate, and the prediction of the future are all reduced into a singularity, the digitally eternal “now”.

The present (in its classical definition) is a hard place to visit these days.

If we want to visit this place, we must do something that has become fundamentally counter-cultural: become temporarily ignorant of the “digital present”. Our gadgets have given us the capacity to always be “on” and in the know. To be unplugged from this gadgetry has become something of a moral negative, as if connectivity is part of our social responsibility. (If you don’t know what your friend posted on Facebook, what kind of a friend are you anyway?)

Make space for intentional delays in your knowledge consumption. Relish bouts of self-imposed ignorance. If you are not constantly monitoring a feed, you aren’t going to read the next item as soon as it is posted. In fact, you might simply miss it altogether. (Gasp. Shock. Sweaty palms.) Learn to love it. Do not only embrace the delay of disconnection occasionally, but demand it regularly. Stop by and the visit the present sometime — the real present, the space around you — and say hello.

Your mind cannot be in two places at the same time anymore than the rest of your body can be.

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Is it Worth the Interruption?

Dear Everybody,

Before you post it, tweet it, or press that Submit button, please ask yourself one simple question: Is it worth the interruption that it will cause others?

Supposing the roles were reversed, would you desire that article of data you are publishing to invade your consciousness? Is it helpful? Does it offer anything constructive and meaningful to others?

Yes, I realize I don’t have to follow you on Twitter.

I don’t have to read your blog.

I don’t have to click on your links.

I subscribe to your thoughts through these channels because I trust you: I trust that when you say something you are intentionally choosing honoring my attention.

When I read your content I am quite literally giving you my focus and time.

This is not meant to sound impersonal and pragmatic, but here is the essential question we must all ask when we read your online content: Is it worth my attention? There is no other criteria by which we can determine this: the next blog post you write, your next status update, the next link you recommend; will these be a profitable use of our collective concentration? Or will they be a distraction that we will attempt to eliminate from our minds as quickly we as ingested it?

Put it another way: When you press Publish, Submit, or Post you are in essence asking me to contemplate something. Is the “thing” for which you are asking me to dedicate my mind a genuinely worthwhile use of my mental energy? If somebody else posted it, would you appreciate it or possibly resent them for it? (Thou shalt tweet for others what thou would want others to tweet for thee.)

It is altogether possible that I may love you as a person, but find your online presence immensely distracting. Fortunately we can all recognize that our online representation is not who we really are: you are not your avatar. There is no more shame or guilt in unsubscribing from the data streams of people who do benefit your attention than there is turning off the television when it becomes a waste of time.

The bloggers I read and the tweeters I follow are chosen because they display an evidential commitment to this simple value; before they broadcast anything they reflect on this question: “Is it worth the interruption?”

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Blank Paper

Here is my premise: all the technology in the world cannot create a more neutral working environment than a blank sheet of paper. Nothing comes with fewer agendas or predeterminants. Simply, blank paper does not presuppose anything about the nature of the creation. Literally, it’s boundaries are nothing but it’s edges, which themselves can be amended, appended and manipulated in countless ways. There is nothing else in the world burgeoning with more flexibility.

Upon blank paper is born the embryo of the unrealized. It is all at once the most adaptable, customizable and versatile product available. Furthermore, it’s interface transcends the old unhelpful dichotomy of text and images for a seamless, integrated innovation space. (Paper definitely takes WYSIWYG to a whole new level!)

Later on, a sheet of paper can exist independently as an entity unto itself, or it be canonized, archived, collected or even bound to others.

Due to it’s incredible accessibility, blank paper provides this space of unlimited innovation to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. In fact, of all creation-enabling technologies in existence, paper requires the least amount of capital investment. Blank paper is socially unpretentious while simultaneously a tool utilized by the most brilliant thinkers of history.

Since its invention in China in the first century, later spread into the Middle East and Africa, and finally its full-scale adoption in the Western world, paper has proven itself to be one of the most transcultural inventions of all time. When traced back to the roots of its predecessor – the Egyptian papyrus — the evolution of paper has taken well over 5,000 years to hone. A simple piece of paper bears as much history and culture as it does potential and opportunity.

As far as productivity is concerned, blank paper provides the most distraction-free working environment yet known to humanity. The cumbersome requirements of saving documents and dealing with formatting issues (annoyances that sadly still plague computer users) are all removed from the innovator’s scope of concerns, allowing her to be fully immersed in the tasks of composing, constructing and designing.

Indeed, there is a time and a place for word processors and software applications. And yes, feel free to enjoy the modern notebook designs by Mead and Dayrunner. You can scribble in a Moleskine or draw in an About Blank notebook. Do whatever you will… but after you have exhausted every product in the “office supply” aisle; after you have tried every text editor app for your iPhone; after you have upgraded your executive portfolio notepad for the umpteenth time; after you have maxed your credit card for that “next great thing” to enhance your creativity and organization, you may just realize the ultimate destination in the pursuit of innovative workspace is plain old paper: a simple invention that is still changing the world.

So, when you really want to let your creativity fly without barriers, borders or constructs, you may just need to rediscover the miracle of the plain, blank piece of paper. Everything else is simply a commercial abstraction — yes, helpful inventions at times — but potentially costly beyond their overpriced complexity and often distracting beyond their claims of productivity.

Blank paper is quite possibly the optimum resource for human ingenuity.

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I Heart Your Icon

Dave Humphrey recently wrote a post on the possibility of expressing love online. His question, essentially, was this: can humans genuinely express love (deep friendship, appreciation) to one another over the medium of digital communication?

Reflecting on his post reminded me of some statements made by Hans Urs Von Balthasar in Love Alone is Credible, written long before the days of email and Twitter:

In order to gain an insight into humanity, the individual must encounter an other. The human being exists only in relation to others; he truly is only in the reciprocity of an I and Thou. [Think: Martin Buber] The otherness of the other is a fundamental fact that he must acknowledge if there is to be any possibility of forming a harmonious community in the commonality of human nature… we must recognize that the actual individual human being is not merely the key to nature as a whole, but also the sole object of philosophy: philosophy is in the end nothing other than anthropology. It therefore follows that “the new philosophy is founded on the truth of love…Where love is lacking, there can be no truth.” Only in the love of the other as other, wherein I passes wholly beyond itself into the sphere of the Thou, can we find the way from man to mankind.

Or, in briefer synopsis, Balthasar recaps:

Man sustains himself—indeed, he first comes to himself—in an encounter. When one man meets another face to face, truth comes to pass, the depths of human existence come to light in spontaneously, in freedom and in grace.

This interplay between love and truth was recently alluded to in beautiful, poetic conciseness by my friend Luke Hill in a short piece entitled On Truth and Knowing:

Truth must be known, not as facts are known, but as lovers are known, partially, fleetingly, uncertainly, overwhelmingly, undeniably, impossibly. It can be known only with a knowing that never defines or delineates or delimits, that never assures or guarantees or promises. It can be known only so far as we are in it. This is why we can never have the truth, why we can only ever be in the truth, and even this is beyond all guarantee.

I wonder if human, face-to-face interaction is itself the greatest practice of truth in which we can engage. Not a linguistic or philosophical truth, nor a truth governed by the properties of mere human premonition (like our arguments of objectivity), but a kind of truth that is, as Luke Hill muses, something that we can only be in, but never own for ourselves.

Returning to Humphrey’s contemplation on whether love can be expressed online, I believe it is worth noting that we can never be “in” digital communion with other people. (Digital communication, yes; digital communion, no.)

Even in person — even when face-to-face with Thou — my pride, prejudice and presuppositions can tragically objectify Thou into an It. The internet paradoxically amplifies my own human insufficiency of perspective: on the internet, the Other is always an It; and it can never actually be the Thou that it merely represents. In essence, we all turn into avatars of ourselves and the only thing we can genuinely love of the other is the icon of Thou, but the icon itself is itself an It. On the internet, we can only love what images and words represent, but not the images and words themselves, for they are nothing but vectors of values.

Intuitively we would say that the greatest expressions of love occur when the masks are diminished; but the internet is itself a continual masking of pixels and language. In the real world we do the same thing, often projecting inauthentic metaphors of our own character into our conversations and ways of being with one another. However, when face-to-face, beyond the veil of pixels and the emotional firewall of written language, the self meets another self in a human way that transcends the fiber optics of the words you are reading now.

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