Mirror Mirror: the iPhone 5 and Introspection

Well, Apple did it again. They’ve announced and detailed a phone that will come out within the next couple of weeks. The pattern is predictable, which is far from a bad thing in the usually-in-flux world of technology, but there is something underwhelming about a lack of surprise. It comes with the next update for its computer-based software, iTunes, and happened to include an update to its little brothers, the iPod Touch and the iPod Nano.

And yet, I found myself underwhelmed. Continue reading Mirror Mirror: the iPhone 5 and Introspection

Windows Phone 7: Why I Left My iPhone

I seem to still be finding my niche for blogging here at Evangelical Outpost. I’ve become the local guru on hip-hop, which doesn’t surprise me too much. Looking through my history, the only other topic I’ve written enough about to warrant a conclusion about my interests would be technology. Continue reading Windows Phone 7: Why I Left My iPhone

More Cell Phones than Humans in the US

Apparently, there are now more cell phones than humans in the United States. Frankly, I was a bit surprised. I suppose I shouldn’t be, what with many people in business carrying a phone for their job in addition to their personal phone. I guess I’m just surprised because I still know some people who go without a cell phone, which means that the business types more than make up for those who don’t even have one. Continue reading More Cell Phones than Humans in the US

The Next iPhone: On the Love of Technology

In case it isn’t already clear, I’m definitely a fan of technology. In fact, I probably read about technology more than I read about most other things, with the exception of philosophy (since I am a graduate philosophy student). Later today, Apple will announce it’s next iPhone–whether that is an iPhone 4S or an iPhone 5 is anybody’s guess–and the blog-world is filled with speculation and questions. There are a lot of significant things happening with this release: this is the first release where it is likely Apple will release a phone that will work with all major carriers (the iPhone 4 is available on both AT&T and Verizon, here in the States, but the Verizon release came later). This is also the first iPhone released since Steve Jobs stepped down. People are wondering if Tim Cook can fill the shoes of Steve Jobs–not an easy task–but only time will tell. Continue reading The Next iPhone: On the Love of Technology

Windows 8 and the Convergence of Desktop and Mobile Computing

For those of you who keep up with the tech world, we have seen quite a bit happen in just the last few years. Just four or five years ago, no one was using Facebook, YouTube was only six months old, and no one had heard of an iPad. It was about four years ago that the concept of a netbook was introduced; finally, mobile productivity was becoming a reality. People had laptops for years, of course, but the relatively short battery life, heavy hardware, and a lack of small screens made mobile computing a chore rather than something useful. I bought a laptop back in 2005 with the intention of carrying it to all of my college classes. Alas, I quickly decided it was not worth it, and took notes via paper and pen, shifting my laptop to a decidedly more dormant state. Continue reading Windows 8 and the Convergence of Desktop and Mobile Computing

Desperate Housewives and Democracy

Desperate Housewives, about to enter its sixth season, is a Gothic television series about a set of women who are stuck in suburbia. Though none of them are “housewives” in any traditional sense, the show plays on the 1950s stereotype. The community within the show is strikingly insular: these women are each other’s neighbors, and so each others friends — or, at least, their lives are inextricably intertwined. Although it tends to be true of our culture that as G.K. Chesterton says in his Heretics, “it is the whole effort of the typical modern person to escape from the street in which he lives” (emphasis mine).

This sort of contrived closeness is a staple in television: from Gilligan’s Island to Lost, we love the “desert island” premise. A disparate group of people, for whatever unlikely reason, are stuck together to work out their relational ups and downs, for better or worse. Not only are these characters bound to each other, they are bound to a place. Whether the cast is stuck in an office, a spaceship, or a mysterious island, the premise works remarkably well for televised entertainment: we are stuck with them, as they are stuck in this particular situation with these particular people, and we love to watch the good and the bad parts of these relationships unfold over time.

It is noteworthy that this premise continues to be popular in our entertainment,  but has waned in our real lives. We are attracted even to the difficulties (or maybe especially the difficulties) of the long-term relationships we see on TV, but it seems we are less and less able or willing to engage such hardship ourselves. Our culture is now one of selecting and mediating community –  Second Life and global dating services attest to this fact – but we make movies or sitcoms which reflect this selectivity. Perhaps we simply intuit that a world wherein one can’t “unfriend” people who bore or annoy would be more interesting. We remain interested in substantial social interactions, though we put effort and ingenuity into avoiding such unpleasantness ourselves.

G.K. Chesterton speaks to this further in his Heretics, in the chapter “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”:

“It is not fashionable nowadays to say much of the advantages of small communities. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”

Although a diverse metropolis may seem more democratic than a backwater hamlet, as Chesterton notes, big cities offer greater opportunity to surround ourselves with people just like ourselves.  This makes our lives easier, but less interesting. Chesterton holds that the most diverse social unit is the smallest — the family, where we rarely have anything in common but our genes. If there’s only one baker in town, it doesn’t matter how little you agree with his politics or his home life, you’ve got to do business with him if you want bread. If there’s only one church, you might have to talk through your theological concerns with the pastor, rather than anonymously shifting to the congregation down the block. We recognize that self-imposed ghettos foster less interesting community than those unable to self-select, though few of us would welcome the chafing constraints we enjoy seeing imposed on our favorite television characters.

It seems we are denied, by self and surroundings, the opportunity to experience the good or bad of the constraints so prevalent in our cultural narrative.  Everyone can relate to a suffocating office environment or a dull family reunion; but now, with a global network in our handhelds, we can retreat to a more congenial environment whenever we want. This is a loss to our social selves. As Chesterton argues, “[t]he best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day he was born.” Because we can, we do avoid the conflict, the isolation, and the sheer boredom of being stuck with the same people in the same place. The more recourse we have to retreat, the less we are able to endure closeness and confinement, and the less we benefit from the bracing challenges of real, diverse community.

In his “The Fate of Place,”  Edward Casey notes that “place [often] presents itself in its stubborn, indeed its rebarbartive particularity” to us. Despite this, we as a culture love the drama and humor of real, diverse community in particular places — and perhaps we demand it in our shows because we’re less and less able to find it in our lives. This offers another perspective on our fascination with confined community: we watch Desperate Housewives, because we ourselves are desperate for for the kind of difficult, placed community that is written into shows like it. ‘

Skype Hits the iPhone – Values are at War

“When media make war against each other, it is a case of world-views in collision.” – Neil Postman, Technopoly.
Christians need to think about the value sets and assumptions packaged in their digital technology. Sure, values sets and assumptions may be be advertised on the box, but they are clearly there. Think of the iPhone. You either own an iPhone or have a friend who does. Among the first things that an iPhone owner will show you is their ability to sync with Google maps such that they can see their location and discover local restaurants, places of interest, or even traffic conditions in their area. Cool right? Except, now somebody knows where you are. Exactly where you are – anywhere on the planet. Is that good? When did our values shift so that “big brother” was no longer threatening? Was it when “he” declared that he should “do no evil”?
Skype is now releasing an app for the iPhone. This is not the first move Skype has made to mobile platforms, Skype is on other mobile devices. However, the iPhone is different. The iPhone is where the customers are and therefore the iPhone is mainstream. Make no mistake, though its services are currently limited, Skpye’s move to the iPhone marks the end of the phone medium and the beginning of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). When calls are no longer billed in minutes or by distance (two measures of value for the phone medium), people will be tempted to proclaim “now I can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time!” Is that good? How will that ability affect the value we place in a “call”? How will our expectations of reaching people change? Will we say that conversations become more personified when Skype takes the logical future step of adding live video to calls? How will that change in value assumptions affect our understanding of “conversing” with “people” or “conversing in-person”?
What about ministry? It is estimated that as many as 4 billion of the world’s 6 billion people will own a cell phone in the next few years. Even in impoverished countries, people are skipping the purchase of a computer and going straight to the mobile phone for their internet access. When internet accessible cell phone use is ubiquitous, will we open up massive “video calling” centers and do “missions work in-person”? After all, we are of the generation that holds “church” online.
*Related Links: Christian Web Conference – Bright People engaging Big Ideas.

Hi-Church Meets Hi-Tech: Advent App for the iPhone

Several years ago I had the privilege of meeting Brant DeBow at GodblogCon. At the time, Brant was among the few Christians who were aggressively pioneering the podcast side of the web and he freely gave of his services to help us podcast our conference. Now Brant is helping to take Christians into another rapidly growing field of tech: the iPhone application.
Just in time for the beginning of the church year, Brant and his team have introduced an Advent focused app for the iPhone. It’s only .99 cents and 10% of the proceeds go to WorldVision, an organization dedicated to bringing aid and the good news of the gospel to those in need around the world. The app looks stylish and useful, costs very little, and you would be supporting a company that understands the importance of loving their neighbor. I encourage you to check them out:
Here’s a link to open the app in iTunes.
Here’s a link to visit the app’s website.

Five Things About the iPhone

By John Mark Reynolds
I have longed for it, wanted it from afar, and envied my friends who owned it. I can only thank God that the Bible forbids coveting my neighbor’s ox and not his iPhone or I would have been in big trouble. Fortunately the strength of this particular exegesis was not long put to the test. Due to the unlamented passing of my Palm Treo 650, the single worst phone ever conceived in the hearts of wicked engineers, I have been able to get a black 8 gig iPhone.
It sits before me now and it is beautiful.
My old Treo was clunky like a Star Trek communicator from the original series without the cool flip up antenna. It tore many a jacket pocket with its weight. One could count on it crashing every five minutes or so when one demanded unreasonable things from it like receiving phone calls or keeping my schedule. Getting it to sync with my Mac was always hard and I had to get special software to do the job.
The iPhone did everything, or almost everything, I wished right out of the box. Here are five observations after my first week of ownership:
1. Battery life is poor when using the Net or updating mail. In just a few hours of heavy use, I was running out of juice. The Treo was slower and rarely made it to the Net without crashing a few times, but once there it drained the battery comparatively slowly.
This is the greatest flaw I have discovered.
2. The phone connects to the world easily.
Getting the phone to sync with Google mail is easy. Getting it to sync with Google calendar was harder, but was done in a few minutes.
Of course it is easy just to go on-line to check both services, but I prefer not to always have to do so.
Wireless connections were easy to set up. Web browsing was fast in both wireless and 3G modes. It is not my home cable modem, but it has made web use in the car (for finding my location, movies, and other information) possible.
It worked perfectly with my computer which is to expected since I use a Mac, but it still was a pleasure to use a piece of technology that required no set up after I got home from the store. The phone has yet to crash or show any software problems.
3. The phone works well as a phone. My reception was equal to any other wireless in our house, including fairly expensive phones without other features.
4. The touch screen is easy to use and soon learned to cope with my clumsy fingers. For someone like I am who cannot see very well (which makes typing hard and proofing harder), this phone is a blessing. It magnifies areas and this feature makes it easier to use in some situations than my laptop.
5. Video, picture, and music use is an added bonus. I have to commute often and this allows me to leave other devices at home. I did not get the iPhone to listen to music, watch videos, or show family pictures to friends, but enjoy doing so. This was not something I wanted to do, but the phone is changing my behavior by showing me new abilities.
Now we must all learn good iPhone etiquette to avoid boring our friends with vacation pictures or videos in even more places!