Category Archives: Culture

The din of noisy nonsense

I saw it in my Facebook newsfeed, courtesy of Gizmodo.

“Facebook changes its mind again: It’s now re-banning decapitation videos”

The story, accompanied by a deeply distressing though not gory still of the beginning of one the videos, talked about a re-reversal of Facebook’s policy on allowing graphic videos of vigilante/terrorist executions/murders. The still image illustrating the story was of a woman who was about to be murdered by members of a Mexican drug cartel. Some commenters were defending their posting as a form of raising awareness and condemning these atrocities. Others worried for children who might see the images. Still others took the stance that responsible parents would keep their children shielded from sites like Facebook in the first place. I wondered if any of the latter had children, or had ever even taught children.

I did note at least one “LOL” in response to the whole debate. Just seeing the still was enough to turn my stomach. I worked in a daily newspaper editorial department for five years and had grown used to some darker humor. But such a callous comment was hard for even me to swallow.

I remember when videos of the beheadings of journalist Daniel Pearl and businessman Nick Berg were posted from Iraq for the entire world to access. I knew people who couldn’t wait to go and see – online rubberneckers and gawkers, their morbid curiosity aroused in the most base of ways.

I avoided those videos. I couldn’t bring myself to watch something so awful. I was afraid for what it might do to me.

There’s an abundance of truly awful, soul-killing content on the Internet. I don’t think we all have to believe the same things to agree on that.

But I’m not sure if that’s the big enemy for us in the online world. Because the truly awful, soul-killing content is far outweighed by the constant hum of benign time-sucking garbage that shows up everywhere you turn.

I just wonder if the din of noisy nonsense is worth the occasional gem I turn up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. And the problem is not that I hate the nonsense.

The digital noise, however harmeless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The digital noise, however harmless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The problem is how much I enjoy it, and how easy it is getting sucked into the black hole of it all.

Start with asking the question of whether or not any of this really enhances your life – feel free to exempt the stuff you need for work, or the blog where you post updates on the kids for your extended family, or even one or two or three activities you really enjoy that require some online time. But ask yourself about the hours on Facebook, pouring over the personal minutiae of someone you haven’t known since high school. Or, if you’re like me, the hours you spend on Facebook crafting silly little jokes to amuse a small group of friends.

Question the compulsion to check your Twitter feed every five minutes. Or Instagram. Or any number of pet websites or blogs, or the feeling of needing to read and watch and comment on the latest thing that everybody else reads or watches or comments on. I think we might all be a bit like the grandmother in the Flannery O’Connor story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” The snotty daughter claims the grandmother is crashing their family vacation just because she’s afraid of missing something. Spoiler alert: They all get murdered.

For me, it used to be hours spent surfing one Wikipedia page to the next. I’d suck down the information like a garbage disposal – and I’m still able to call upon my knowledge of Zamfir as the unquestioned master of the Pan flute, but that info has never served a purpose in my life outside of one magic moment in a bar trivia contest. I wasn’t doing it because I was hungry for knowledge. I was just restless and bored. And that’s where I turned. On the surface, it’s a harmless choice considering some of the other options those moments present.

But the small things bring about the same result as the big.

A multitude of termites can leave a home just as destroyed as a hurricane. Destruction is destruction no matter what speed it happens. Break a man’s legs or shatter his confidence. Cut off his hands or dull his senses and dampen his drive until he stumbles through life useless and irrelevant.

Your Facebook fixations or my Wikipedia binges might not twist us up inside like some brief lurid piece of video. But they do suck away our time, and they sap energy to do anything with the time that remains. Doing the easy things does not make it easy to do the hard things.

The grains are falling through the hourglass and they only move in one direction. In my better moments, I’m haunted by the words that John Piper said have hung in his family’s home for at least two generations. “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”


My bucket list will pail in comparison…

Texas Monthly - March 2010

I haven’t seen the movie, but it seems like “bucket lists” are becoming more common all the time.

In March I got the new Texas Monthly featuring “63 things all Texans should do before they die.” I’m encouraging my newspaper staff to put together a  similar list of things around the area that all of our students should do before they graduate.

Then Donald Miller retweeted a link to this blog from Lindsey Tipple, a graphic designer in Ohio. Lindsey created a list especially for this summer, before the season kicks the bucket (included: canoeing, riding a hot air balloon, cooking a feast for her grandparents, and my fave – do a cannon ball).

She has two rules: 1. Don’t include anything you already had planned (my book list is out). And 2. If you cross an item off the list, you have to document it.

I’m on board and my list will be posted soon, most likely after school finally dismisses on Thursday.

In the meantime, what do you think I should add to my list? What would you put on yours?

Bloggers Unite!

Just caught wind of this via lifehacker

We all blog and read blogs for a variety of reasons. Keep up with news, keep up with trends, keep up with family, just filling idle time. The variety has created an vast community of informal journalists, pundits, experts and documentarians. But what if all of us, for one day, found one piece of common ground to grab and bring to the table for all our readers to see.

So on October 15, 2007, more than 20,000 bloggers of all shapes and sizes got together to use their voices for a singular purpose – to focus a light on issues affecting the future of our planet’s environment.

An audience of more than 14.6 million read those posts.

In less than two months, the plan is to do it again. This time the goal will be to direct as much attention as possible on the issue of poverty. One day, one issue, thousands of voices. Maybe it won’t change much. Maybe it won’t change a thing. But it seems to be a worthy project and better than just doing nothing.

You don’t have to do a bunch of research. You don’t have to type some lofty essay. In the sphere of whatever you normally blog about – technology, sports, news, entertainment, God, family – find a way to incorporate this issue somehow.

I’m planning on taking part. Hopefully all my fellow bloggers out there will do the same. Just go up and click on the link to hear more.

Blogging the family

Corey and Ava

This is me and my darling niece, Ava Grace, getting along famously after our first meeting back in fall.

You can read more about Ava’s adventures (and see more pictures) here at my brother and sister-in-law’s blog, aptly named “The Hale Family.”

(Frankly, I think the name could use some snazzing up. How about “The Depths of Hale” or “Adventures in Babyrearing” – a reference to Graham’s all-time favorite film)

But regardless of what the name is, I am enjoying this new trend in American life – the family blog. I’m seeing these more and more.

With Graham and Leslie, with our pastor at the Village, with my missionary friends Mark and Rachel… the blog is not just for driving people apart with half-cocked opinions and retread political commentary from your favorite A.M. radio loudmouth.

It’s actually bringing people together. My family… Leslie’s family… our families… our congregation. It’s like the family photo album and the Christmas card letter rolled into one and available for updating year-round.

And I’m digging it.

(Although “Ava Grace ALL UP IN YO FACE” wouldn’t be a bad name for a blog. On second thought, yeah, that’s pretty terrible. But not much rhymes with Ava… Ava’s Flava… AVA FLAV! Nope… I give up. These are just getting worse)

P.S. I have noticed a trend. It’s almost always the wife doing most of the blogging. Being unmarried myself, I’m not quite sure why that is. But I have a feeling that there is a reason and that it probably took a long discussion to establish this as the common practice.

Maybe the phrase, “Nobody wants to read about how many wookiees you killed last night playing Star Wars:Battlefront II on your PS2,” came up.

Or perhaps, “Who cares if you played “Freebird” without a mistake on expert level this afternoon, our 2-year-old just memorized Pi!”

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