The analog ideal and the digital real

There’s an underlying issue that’s been bugging me on the digital vs. analog stuff I’ve seen off and on for some time. So on Facebook, I tried to lay out some of my thoughts.

Specifically, what bugs me about some of the digital poo-poohing I see is the gap between the ideal and the real. And I see this on digital media, of course, because people don’t seem to actually use their exalted medium of choice to deliver digital condemnation—they’re peeing in the pool while complaining about water quality. If folks were invested in their analog ideal to a level that might fulfill its promise, awesome. But most of our real selves aren’t willing or able to do so, and it’s our real selves who actually have relationships.

So the “rewards” of the analog ideal can often amount to:
  1. Disengagement from the things we (can) really, actually do.

  2. Guilt for not measuring up to our own analog ideal (unless we happen to be awesome letter writers, or what have you).

I also hear a lot of criticism of technology making people more “absent,” and I have my own anecdotes which agree with this. Regrettably, though, I find a lot of folks who extol an analog ideal to be very absent in my life. My mailbox isn’t stuffed with their thoughtful letters, and my calendar (perhaps because it’s digital) isn’t bursting with laugher-filled evenings outside, with good food and good drink at long wooden tables with round white lightbulbs strewn overhead. By and large, this simply isn’t a way people are really showing up in my life, or I in theirs.

I met barlow_girl here on LiveJournal many years ago, so the effects of connecting digitally have been far from negligible in my life. Mileage varies. I suppose I’m just suggesting that trading one illusion for another doesn’t help, so an honestly examined life (digital, analog, or hybrid) is, in my view, the best option.

Being the limiting resource in the rushing stream

Last weekend was our church's annual Men's Retreat, with the theme of "Living Intentionally." Though I was only able to attend a portion of the time due to work, some of the conversations crystallized long-percolating thoughts. To wit (gosh, I've always wanted to say that), living in a culture of seemingly near-infinite choice, I am usually the limiting resource. I have access to far more than I can possibly keep up with:
  • Millions of books can be delivered to my iPad instantly.
  • There are over forty types of salsa in the grocery aisle.
  • Almost any bit of trivia can be looked up in seconds.
  • Navigation is just a matter of letting the iPhone set a course.
  • The TiVo is full of more programming than I could ever watch.
  • I can connect with nearly anyone I can remember from my past and reach out to almost anyone else.
  • I'm available by voice or text anytime, anywhere, and can send and receive pictures and videos as well.
  • And so on…
Indeed, even as I wrote the above, a message flashed at the top of my screen that a friend I haven't seen in twenty years who lives thousands of miles away has sent me a movie via an app!

Now, plenty of folks have tried to decide whether all of this is good or bad and put forward their ideas on when and how often we should "unplug." Worth considering, to a point, but much of that thinking can come off as a bit fearful and desperate, trying to catch a cultural and technological tiger by the tail in the dark so that we can feel more settled. Fact is, whatever management approach we might opt to implement (and again, the sheer volume of choices we can make in this regard and the fact that we can make them at all is the very same type of phenomenon), this is the way my world is right now. Good, bad, or ugly is all about how I live in it.

The part that's not as changeable is me. Near-infinite access doesn't give me more hours in the day. I still need to eat and sleep, can still only be in one place at a time, age every day, forget, and can't dunk a basketball. As a creature with limits in this setting, how I'm living out who I am is a question that requires and deserves my attention and deliberate action.

Most of that wasn't new territory for me prior to thinking about it at the retreat. Here's the new part: the way I live, my cup is constantly full, my pie chart completely allocated. And I'm not sure how many of us ever really keep any space "empty," even if we can—the "emptiness" is still an allocation on the pie chart that is me. Given this condition, if I want more of something in my life, I have to have less of something else. A terribly obvious truth, but it's a concept I've been needing to better navigate the rushing stream of life in our time.

So I started two concurrent lists: what I want to consider having more of in my life, and what I'll need to have less of to make that possible. And for the latter list, most of the work isn't so much a force-of-will quitting (though will absolutely has to be engaged repeatedly) as it is releasing those things to be carried away by the rushing stream—just let them go. By and large, they're only in my life in the first place because I've been holding onto them, often way too tightly anyway.

Do I want to write more? Then I'm going to have to watch TV less. That's just how it works, because I'm the limiting resource.

My "more of this" list will require more direct effort, certainly. And as I plod along, I'm also discovering that things aren't so simple as the framework I've sketched above—the stream doesn't just have velocity; it also has currents and eddies, ways that it tends to go and places where its force is far stronger in a given direction. And there absolutely must be rest, but it's not going to come by pretending life isn't as it is. So I'm learning, and that's a start.

Losses and messes

Hasn't been the easiest past couple of weeks. Nothing awful in the scheme of things; just a steady stream of losses and messes, departures and FUBAR situations to adapt to and/or correct as best I can. On the surface, nearly none of these have been the result of my choices, nor have they been personal. The latter quality, however, has an often-unrecognized cutting edge—sometimes I wish relationship would affect choices more than it does, and it's sad and/or frustrating when that seems less of a factor than I'd like.

Losses and messes. Saying good-bye and cleaning up. Can't recall a day in the past couple of weeks when one or both of these weren't dominant themes, and I'm having a tough time with it. On the other hand, none of us has been promised anything else, and I can hardly count myself among either the persecuted or the suffering. Feeling sorry for myself just has rotten results, which isn't something I or anyone around me needs. "Weary" is a more apt description. And I don't like not being strong or gracious enough to absorb or deflect it all in stride.

I'm thankful to follow a King who invites the weary and heavy-laden to come to Him for rest—I guess I just don't want to be this weary and heavy-laden. But I am. And I don't know what rest looks like from the losses and messes. He's going to have to show me.

Domestic bliss

Nice to have a weekend that feels like a weekend for both of us. barlow_girl has been working like mad until the end of this week on a work project that needed to launch, and once it did, we've had space to breathe a bit. Saw The Hunger Games on Friday, which was really enjoyable, then picked up a desk chair for Amy and paint for a couple of rooms. Morning meeting yesterday, then we spent much of the day assembling a bed and resettling into the upstairs "master suite"—where we'd always intended to be, but were thwarted on moving day in December when our box spring wouldn't go up the stairs (adaptive challenges seem to be the stuff of life). Here's a peek at the fruit of our labors:

It's been nice to finally get to some of this stuff together—since we moved, it seems like one or the other of us has usually been tugged in this direction or that, and when we've had time together, we've needed to spend it on other things. And for my part, this week has had too many of the same sad conversations with friends for my liking. Investing time in a bit of stability, even in ordinary domestic ways, is a real Godsend.

"Keeping up"

Yesterday was crazy full of appointments and bus rides in between, so I'm thankful to have the decks mostly clear for today.

"Keeping up" is a tyrant. Almost everything that gives me anxiety is some form of "keeping up" that I'm either trying or failing to do. It's everywhere, in every waking moment and many of the sleeping ones. Perhaps the worst part is that much of it is just plain garbage, and much of that is stuff that I've invited in myself. The limiting resource for almost everything in my life is me, and I constantly try to live as if that's not true, often for no good reason. Honestly, it's in every nook and cranny of my life.

There has to be a better way. Has to be. And while I'd love for that to take the form of some kind of "once and for all" change, it's most likely a daily struggle to wake up to and entrust to God, over and over again. He's the limitless one, not me.

Rhythms and revisiting

Apparently I'm doing some sort of coffee shop tour, if the past couple of mornings are any indication. Caffe Vita isn't an unusual spot for me, since it's just around the corner from my office. Journalling again in these old haunts is the real change, I suppose.

There've been a few pieces of my daily rhythms that have changed in the past week. Don't think any of them individually or in combination constitutes a "magic bullet" that has me back in a writing groove, but it might be worth documenting as many as I can note just to have a look:
  • Deciding that I want to write
  • Removing regular physical comic book buying to reassess where that best fits in our space, budget, and time
  • Trying to do as much home computing as possible on my iPad during the workweek (only using my MacBook Pro when specifically necessary)
  • Limiting work email from home during the workweek
  • Carrying less stuff home and back during the workweek—schlepping a big, full pack each day was tiring and mostly unnecessary
  • Getting a ZaggFolio Keyboard Case so that I don't have to carry a separate external keyboard if I want to type at greater length on my iPad
  • Getting and keeping more current with social networks, email, etc., while releasing without regret whatever doesn't fit
I'm sure I'll remember other stuff later, too. However the change originated, it's been nice.


Wound up back at Espresso Vivace for the first time in ages, waiting for the bank to open so I can get my workday rolling. One of the effects our move has had on me is a drive (pun intended) to get on the bus early, before it's just a ginormous mass of people and hassle. That's one of the things that really grinds on my nerves about the idea of a "traditional workday": we either all pile into busses and onto streets at the same time in order to do the very same work most of us could do anytime, anywhere, or we find some whackadoodle workaround like getting on the bus in the 6:00 hour. Thistles and thorns.

As with most challenges, adaptation is key to making the best of what we're dealt—a white velvet, a strawberry tart, and some time to read, write, and think goes a long way in that direction.

Work is project-y for both of us right now, with barlow_girl's being tons more pressure than mine. For my part, I'm pretty excited to help push forward lots of the stuff we're doing (a churchwide survey, a membership class, a men's retreat, the next quarter's volunteer schedule, and a bunch of back-end administrative odds and ends), so motivation isn't hard to find even when time is less abundant. We had to miss Community Group this week, which was a bummer, but it's good to have the gospel freedom of knowing we can—that our part is to be faithful, not to be responsible for making everything work.

There's a God in the universe, and I'm not Him. But He loves me—oh, how He loves me!


Yesterday was largely eventless, which is what I'd like (and very well might need) more days to be. Beautiful springtime weather was a nice bonus, too. And while today is far more full, it's not looking as overfull as many Sundays can be, so this weekend may just turn out looking like a weekend all the way through.

Trying to be better about staying more clear of work email during the weekend when possible, so haven't sneaked a peek since mid-morning yesterday. Not that I believe there's some magical or sacred divide between work and personal life (they're all just life, and I only have one), but it's good, fruitful discipline to do things like that sometimes, rooted in the belief that God is sovereign and loves me whether I'm working or not. That belief is far more important than whatever action I take on it, and walking it out (like any matter of faith) is essential to it being a real part of my life.

barlow_girl was truly and deeply blessed yesterday by another woman from our church sharing a message God put on her heart for Amy. Love that God works that way, that He uses us in one another's lives, and that we can have the gospel-informed vulnerability and boldness to share and hear from one another. "Messages from God" can so often feel like trips to Wackytown or Guiltville, so both speaking and listening are big relational risks. But God is worth risking on, and He's good for it (and immeasurably more). We are both thankful.

Leaping backward

So, if the whole deal with leap year is that we get an extra day, why do I feel weeks and months behind at all times? That's clearly much more about me than it is about the calendar.

Wondering at what point instability is such a constant that it doesn't even make sense to think of it as instability anymore. It feels as if I've been struggling to find my footing on nearly every level for well over a year, which perhaps means this constantly unstable, unsettled feeling is actually my new normal. Not something I want to accept, but I'm not sure how much is in my power to change.

And it's the instability that's the real mess-maker here, the thing that makes me feel jangled inside even when there's no presenting pressure (like now). When I'm not even sure what I'm shooting for/at, it's pretty hard to hit my mark.

All I can do is what I can do—the tiny, seemingly inconsequential things like writing this journal entry because I still remember the feeling of getting things sorted by writing. Not sure how well it works anymore, which may be the channel (is hanging onto LiveJournal adding dead weight?), a lack of rhythm (the days begin with a rush to work, regardless of the time, and end with weariness), or the simple fact that life just doesn't work the way it used to.

But even writing this helps me feel a bit better, even if it's the equivalent of desperately jamming a climbing piton into a sheer rock face—you hope it works because something has to, but you don't know how much weight you can really put on it.

(no subject)

A snow day is just what the doctor ordered. Some doctor somewhere, anyway. Liz the barista is holding down the fort here at Diva Espresso, which gave me a chance to get out of the house and refill my coffee tank.

The snow is absolutely beautiful and gives everything a peacefulness that's rare in the city. Hustle and bustle just isn't as possible when the roads are bad, and I hope many folks are opting to stay off of them when they can.

For my part, I'm excited to catch up on a thing or two, both with work and around the home. I'm increasingly realizing that feeling "caught up" just plain isn't going to happen, short or long term—some redefinition is in order. I try going in too many directions and don't filter nearly enough. "Done" is both an illusion and a tyrannical master, and I don't want to be so tired from running after it all the time.