Why Read Books?

The current age is that of technology—but more importantly, that of the Internet. We thrive on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. We watch movies on flat screens, post pictures on Tumblr, and text instead of talk. Our world is instantaneous, filled with fast-paced sound bites and  bold colors to catch our fleeting attention. We get frustrated if a webpage takes more than one second to load.

In this kind of world, books seem boring—an outdated method of receiving information or entertainment. Unless they’re e-books, they’re not eco-friendly, take up space, and require time and patience.

So, why read books? Here are four good reasons:

1. Words are the medium of ideas. Whether spoken or written, we use words to communicate with each other—to facilitate relationships, hash out ideas, and express emotions and needs. Without words, we would be reduced to little more than animals. Think of Helen Keller. Before she learned how to use sign language, she was impossibly lost in  isolation, with no language to communicate. When Anne Sullivan  gave her the gift of words, Helen was finally able to share her thoughts and ideas with others.

For millennia, books have served as the medium for preserving ideas. Whether the idea is a mathematical theory, cooking recipe, or family history, books allow us to entrust wisdom to others. I can pick up a copy of Plato’s Republic and hear the ideas that founded Western culture—ideas which are still relevant and discussed globally.

2. Reading is good for the brain. I’m not talking about reading dense philosophy or science books. The very act of reading—even a fun novel—stimulates the functioning of the brain. Research at Emory College has found that reading makes the brain more receptive to language, and increases the connectivity of neurons. These changes last for up to five days after a reader has finished a novel. Reading is an active engagement of the brain to the material on the page.

3. Books give us perspective. By myself, I can’t understand what others have suffered, or what it means to be part of another culture. But I can learn so much with a book. Reading Gone With the Wind helped me understand a period of US history from the losing side. The Secret Life of Bees and To Kill a Mockingbird showed me what it was like to live on the wrong end of racial prejudice. Books take us outside ourselves and teach us to see through the eyes of other people. Hopefully, we can learn to be more understanding and avoid the mistakes of older generations.

4. Books require imagination. One of my rules of life is to never watch a film adaptation before I’ve read its book. Starting with the movie ruins the book for me, because I’m left with the actors’ faces in my mind, instead of using the author’s words to invent my own picture. Books are grand in a way films can never be, because books allow us to imagine. The mind is a wonderful place to wander, and books help us find our way there.

I’m not saying  we should forsake technology in favor of printed material. Other mediums can certainly engage in the same ideas as books. For example, the movie Dead Poets Society has helped me think through the narrow-mindedness of certain social expectations, just as reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice did. Video games teach problem-solving and strategy skills; blogs provide immediate interaction with ideas. These mediums are valuable in their own right.

But for me, there is nothing better than printed words on a solid page. Books are worth reading.

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

Where’s Walden?

Thoreau’s glorified camping trip at Walden pond has shaped the American imagination and perspective on writers. Of course, writers holed themselves away in order to write far from the madding crowd long before Thoreau. But Thoreau embodied the rigorous independence, the resistance to the unnecessary and contrived, and the love of solitude that are often elevated as fundamental virtues in the life of the American writer.

Writers are often outspoken in their Luddite leanings; their refusal to write on anything but typewriters; the fun they have, chopping their own wood in their private, forested compounds in Maine. Although we do have others “livestreaming” their novel-writing processes, or going gaga for Twitter, there is a surprisingly large population of writers who eschew technology and society. Why are these writing types so often so grumpy about reading books on fancy screens or typing poetry on a computer? Why would a writer move from Rome to the outer reaches of Scotland? Why does another recommend spaying your laptop? I can think of several reasons.

Writing takes concentration. This is so obvious, it hardly bears mentioning. Except, writing well doesn’t just take a room of one’s own: it takes titanic effort. Excellent writing is achieved by the best craftsmen-and-women of a language, with much sweat and tears.  Concentrating one’s whole attention and ability on a work is not something that is eased by having YouTube and Facebook open in other tabs. There is a consensus among a surprisingly large number of writers that to write on a computer with internet available is not to write – it is to procrastinate. The prospect of hard work makes us welcome any and every distraction, and those committed to a work they hope to be worth while need a certain austerity to sustain real concentration.

Writing takes silence. A writer needs to develop a unique style. Perhaps this is why so many writers are choosy about what they read, the way someone who believes “you are what you eat” is picky about food. Writers incorporate and are influenced by a variety of voices, but must develop their own cadence. So writers often find it necessary to plug their ears against our culture’s endless din. If our minds are indeed ‘blank slates’ in some Lockian way, it seems that everything – from billboards to pop-up adds to new hit singles – clamors to be inscribed on it. To attend to the work of their own minds, rather than to fill or occupy them with the work of others, is the task writers set before themselves. And all the world sets itself against this task. Is it any wonder that writers head for the hills? Provided those hills are scarcely populated?

Writing takes time. Though writers are known for sweating under deadlines, quality thought and quality expression take time. Good writing take unglamorous, excruciating revision and editing. Annie Dillard has quipped that she wishes writers still carved their thoughts with difficulty into clay tablets – she is appalled at the sheer number of unnecessary paragraphs published. “You’ve got to slow down, you’ve got to think,” Dillard argues – and  in this age of the tweet and the status update (and, yes, the blog), giving time and attention to the written word feels like a charming anachronism. It remains vital to writing that will last, however. Writers intuit this, or discover it, and must find a hiding place to do the long work of writing and rewriting.

It is an cultural given that we now have less space, less time, shorter attention spans than ever before. But America’s serious writers remind us (from their mountain cabins, via their typewriters) how necessary these threatened things are to writing well. Though the complexities of our technologically-enmeshed society are here to stay, writers seek a Walden away from such enmeshment for good reason: what larger culture views as a void to be filled (an empty stretch of highway, a vacant lot, down time, a quiet mind) is the natural habitat of creativity — and an endangered one. ‘

Steve Jobs, Porn, and Corporate Moral Responsibility

When it comes to corporate moral responsibility, the media is consistently double minded.

Steve Jobs, one of the most inspired visionaries of our time, is more than just a businessman–and Apple is more than just a business.  From an early age Steve Jobs set out to run his own company and build products with a culture infused into them.  Jobs’ culture appreciates beauty, embraces creativity, and challenges its users to live a life of simplicity.  It’s the culture as much as the product that Jobs is selling.

If you want what he’s selling, you play in his world under his terms.  He is king of the empire he created, an empire in which most people happily participate.  The numbers are staggering. Apple’s iTunes marketplace, which supplies apps, music, movies, books and other media to Apple’s line-up of blockbuster media products, such as the iPod and iPhone, has over 125 million users and in the last ten years Apple’s market cap value has soared from $4.8 billion to $231 billion (an increase of 4,700%).  Today it has overtaken Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.

But Apple is more than just a technology company, Apple is a culture all its own.  Jobs shapes Apple’s culture of simplicity, cleanliness, and liberation.  He considers the entire process from product conception to launch.  His goal is to keep the culture of his product pure, clean from the clutter that slows down traditional PCs, and to ensure that Apple’s brand remains strong.  Not only does he oversee the development of the product, but he also sets the terms by which others can interact with and develop for Apple technology.

And Steve Jobs hates porn.

Jobs sees porn as enslaving and thus anathema to the culture of liberation built into Apple and its products.  As he said in an e-mail to Ryan Tate at Gawker, his goal is “freedom from programs that steal your private data.  Freedom from programs that trash your battery.  Freedom from porn.  Yep, freedom.  Times are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away.  It is.”

Jobs anti-porn crusade is incidental to his goal of spreading (or selling) Apple’s culture.  When Jobs sat down with his team to launch the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the myriad of other technologies for which the company is renowned, he likely did not build them in order to build technological walled gardens to block out porn.   In other words, ridding the world from porn was not his ultimate goal.  Rather, Jobs saw an opportunity for a future market filled by a new kind of revolutionary technology, he went forth, and he created.  The popularity of his creations proved Jobs right again, and again, and again.

Jobs’ crusade against porn has raised the ire of porn consumers who feel his “imposition of morality” entirely unfair and unjust.  Style magazine Dazed and Confused goes so far as to scornfully call their iPad version the “Iran edition,” making a comparison to the Muslim theocracy and the rules of the iTunes store.    The “Apple chilling effect,” as it is becoming known, required the magazine to remove nipples and other body parts from their content.

Dazed and Confused isn’t the only publication to fall victim to Apple’s decency policies. The app “Gay New York: 101 Can’t-Miss Places” has been rejected several times due inappropriate content.  As one journalist put it, “the problem here is that it’s awfully hard to assemble an authentic guide to ‘Gay New York’ when Apple objects to content as innocuous as a well-muscled guy in a thong…”  The obvious conclusion here is that Jobs is to blame because he feels Apple has a moral responsibility to keep indecent content off its technology.

I think it is more condemning of gay culture than Steve Jobs that a New York gay hotspot app cannot pass a basic decency test.

Here’s some hard truth: if you don’t like Jobs’ standards, don’t use his stuff.  If you’ve got to have your porn or you must have unseemly pictures in your New York gay hotspots app,  use another product.  Droid does apps.  When you’re shopping at the iTunes marketplace, you’re shopping in Steve’s world where Steve is king.  You’ve chosen to shop there; you’ve chosen to subject yourself to his rules.  Rex Lex, the king is the law.  Comparisons between Apple and Iran’s theocracy are intellectually dishonest.  The Iranian people do not have the choice of opting out of the Mullah’s edicts.  You don’t have to shop at the iTunes store.  Ever.  Not once.  Steve Jobs cannot stop you from porn consumption – he just won’t let porn into his marketplace.

Here’s where the media is double minded: if it were global warming against which Jobs was on a moral crusade, he would be a hero.  Nobody would care if Jobs prohibited apps that promoted the despoiling of wildlife habitats.  Likewise, journalists wouldn’t complain if Jobs prohibited apps helping people locate brothels in nations where sexual slavery was the norm.  Concern about global warming and sexual slavery arise from the same moral conscience as concern about porn addiction.  Hey media, let’s be honest, you don’t care that Jobs has a moral agenda or that his agenda influences his company and its products, you simply don’t approve of his moral agenda.  Please, for the sake of me, your reader, have the integrity to admit the point and the decency to make an intellectually honest argument.

*Image credit: Sigma Group*

The Next Web

20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. He now shares with us his vision for its future. Based on my work at GodblogCon and my conversations with Christians who are web thought leaders, I’d say Mr. Berners-Lee is correct. I would be quick to add, however, that despite the ability of the masses to contribute to global knowledge, there still will arise individuals and companies that will be more trusted and authoritative than the pool of global knowledge.
What do you think?

That’s Why They Call Them Browsers

By Ken Myers
Lately, a lot of what I’m reading has been concerned with how I’m reading, with whether other people are reading, and with how reading influences our inner lives, both our brains and our souls. Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (July/August 2008) is an elegant exploration of some of the themes explored by media ecologists. Carr has the feeling, he confesses, that the way he thinks has been changing. It’s increasingly hard for him to concentrate on extended arguments presented in books for any sustained period. “I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text.” He reports that many friends and colleagues report the same sensation, and he’s convinced that the cause behind this effect is all the time he spends online.
As Carr describes it, the way knowledge is organized and acquired online encourages certain mental habits while discouraging others. And it reinforces a specific model of human knowing, “a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed.”

Continue reading That’s Why They Call Them Browsers

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!