Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Spiritual IT Policy

So at work, we have an IT policy--and I'm guessing you do, as well.

It exists to make sure the tools we are given are not misused to waste time ("don't play games on your company laptop"), and to protect the organization from viruses and attacks ("don't go to porn sites", "don't open files that are suspicious", etc.).

It occurred to me a few months ago that all of our personal lives are surrounded with IT as well (as a typical American, I have a smartphone, laptop, and tablet along with TVs with streaming media, a PS4, and have accounts with Facebook and Twitter--and that puts me on the lower end, as some might add smartwatches, FitBit, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatnot). (How is there not a social media site called "Whatnot" yet?)

But the question occurs to me: do we have a spiritual IT policy? Do we have a policy which protects our highly-connected online lives from SPIRITUAL attacks, viruses, or wasting time?

Caveat: Before I continue, let me start by saying this: I am not saying that you should do this. I am not putting any expectations or pressure on you. I have simply made some changes in my life which I thought some of my readers might find useful. Others will think I'm a Luddite. Fine - no harm, no foul.

I didn't intend to create an IT policy for my spiritual life, but inadvertently I ended up doing so over the past few months. To put it mildly: I have been amazed. I didn't think I had an issue--but since making these changes I am more relaxed, have far more free time, am more present at home, and even in times (like now) which would previously have been cripplingly busy at work are manageable--making me far more productive.

Here are the changes I have made to my life these past three months. I'm not saying that they apply to your life, but for me they have made a massive difference to my spiritual (and physical, frankly) health:

1.  Become Informed Actively, Not Passively

When the Internet first became popular (and I'm old enough to remember...), it was amazing:  the world at your fingertips! If you want to know something, log on and search it out! You can find anything you want and be SO informed.

But somewhere along the line, we have changed our attitude.

No longer do we seek out information on the Internet, as much as we tell the Internet to send us information that it deems appropriate.

I find it fascinating (and troubling) that Americans who would so quickly condemn a friend for saying "I just trust my pastor/husband/wife to tell me what I need to know" will turn around and do precisely the same thing, trusting a faceless algorithm from some Silicon Valley server to decide what is relevant to their lives.

Furthermore, not only do we trust someone else to figure out what we should know, but we become passive receivers rather than active searchers.

Here is what I mean. Before changing, my typical way of staying informed was:  I had a CNN app which would push notify breaking news; I had the Apple News app, which updated based on what it found appropriate and would fill up my feed; I had Feedly, where I followed various RSS feeds for others to compile information that they found relevant; and of course I could see whatever was trending on Facebook and (rarely) Twitter.

In other words:  I was informed...of what others thought I should be, and at their timing and request.  I basically sat around waiting on others to send me whatever they found relevant.

You will notice that this is a far cry from how the Internet started.

So, I made some changes. I deleted my CNN, Apple News, and Feedly apps. I have a series of bookmarks on my computer and phone of trusted sources, and when I feel that I need to be better informed about something, I actively research it.

When I hear about a shooting, if I want to know more--I seek out sources that I trust, when I think it appropriate. In other words, I might decide on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting, rather than follow every bit of rumor and breaking 'news' that comes out...I'm going to wait 48 hours and then read a news report. By then the actual journalism will have had time to look into things instead of people tweeting random speculations and this being passed off as news.

This has helped in four ways:

(1)  Since I am not constantly being "pinged" with updates, my general stress level is lower. It is not on my mind all the time, making me more present in my real, actual life.

(2)  I am not led astray by every latest rumor of the news cycle, thus making me less susceptible to fake news and the radical lack of perspective.

(3) I have many friends and colleagues around the world, and it is often impossible to get an idea of what important is happening around the world. By me taking control of what information I seek out, this is much easier.

(4) It has given me a tremendous amount of freedom to actually be better informed. Rather than spending 1 hour a day, every day, skimming a variety of random headlines and short articles, I can instead read deeply and truly understand an issue. Now I can use that hour per day to be BETTER informed, by reading books on key subjects. For example, I recently completed "Prisoners of Geography," which is the single most eye-opening book on politics I've ever read. It perfectly explains, for example, why you will never see China back off of Tibet (the source of much of Chinese waterways start in Tibet; to give up that higher ground would allow an enemy to cripple the country), and why you could easily predict that Putin would go into Crimea after the US led transition away to a pro-NATO government in Ukraine (Russia has only one warm-weather port, so control of Crimean peninsula is crucial for the ability to export and import needed goods during winter).

So now, I use the internet as a tool to find information in directed ways, at my need.  As opposed to the habit I had gotten into, which was to ask the internet to send me an overwhelming flood of what an algorithm that I never programmed thinks I want to read.

2.  Remember Why You Got Certain Apps

It also occurred to me that we allow our apps to morph into something that we didn't originally anticipate. I made sure to adjust so that the apps stayed in the role I originally wanted.

For me, the three big ones (after getting rid of News and Reddit, for reason #1 above) were Facebook, Twitter, and my iPhone Podcast.

Facebook - I originally got on Facebook to keep up with friends I haven't seen in a while, and make it easy for others to keep up with our family. So this means ... I wanted to see and hear stories of kids, or graduations, or whatever. I never signed up for Facebook to hear people's political rants (there are message boards for that), nor to have people recommend to me things to read (for reason #1, above). And yet...I found myself obsessively checking the FB app every time my phone was in my hand, following notifications, etc., and constantly reading whatever others posted ("Amen"ing some, and "hate-reading" others).

Upon reflection, I found this spiritually damaging. It was making me judgmental of friends; it was taking up a lot of my time; and it was on Facebook memes that I found myself 'meditating' rather than the Word of God.

And so...I deleted my Facebook app.  It only takes about 15 seconds to log in through my Safari browser, but you'd be amazed how the extra 3 steps and 15 seconds makes you less addicted to checking it. I probably still check Facebook every day...but rarely more than once. Furthermore, I have "unfollowed" virtually everyone other than the closest of friends and family.

I haven't unfriended any...just unfollowed from my News Feed. Again, it is about being active rather than a passive receiver of algorithmic data: if I'm thinking, "Hey, I wonder what is going on with John Doe," then...I go see. Great! This is what Facebook is for, at least to me. But this way I DON'T have John Doe's every thought thrown at me.

Twitter - I was never really big on Twitter anyway: I rarely posted. But I did enjoy following a couple hundred accounts, mostly sports or humor related. But Twitter is, to a large extent, an outrage machine. (Read John Ronson's, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed"'s amazing.) Basically I just followed it to vote on polls for a sports radio show. And yet...I found myself checking it at least 1-2 times per day.

Why? I literally never got any real enjoyment from Twitter other than an occasional why was I spend such time there? And why subjecting myself to watching a bunch of people try to out-outrage each other, drumming up anger and offended feelings over a variety of topics?

So I simply dropped Twitter. Nice and easy. Have not regretted it one single time.

Podcast - I do enjoy a good podcast when I drive, and follow several. But every day, perhaps 5 hours of content are produced on my podcast streams! It became serious work to try and keep up. So I had to ask myself, "Why do I follow this podcast?" for every single one. Some are for fun, some are for education, etc. And if I wasn't still getting that interest...I dropped it. For example, I found the Tanis podcast wonderful for season 1...and boring in season 2. So...I just stopped. Why power through it and force myself to do it, if it isn't meeting my original desires?

So I trimmed out many podcasts this way. In addition, I changed ALL podcasts settings so they do not automatically download. If I decide I want to listen to the Lebatard Show, then I go into the subscription feed and choose the one or two episodes I want to hear.

Again:  purposeful seeking of what I want, rather than passively receiving.

3.  Avoiding the Addictions

The main thing I came to realize is that the Internet can become a literal addiction. Our brains release the chemical dopamine during sex, or when we drink alcohol, or when we take drugs...and neurologists have found it does the same when we get a "ping" on social media.

This is why you want to check your social networks 30 times a are literally getting a dopamine hit each time, because you are essentially taking a "shot." It is like an alcoholic walking around with a flask of whiskey on your hip 24/7.

So one thing I did was to view it just like alcohol:  as something I can truly enjoy, but in a controlled way.

With alcohol, I don't drink it all the time, only when socially appropriate. So with my smartphone, I turn it off before meetings (or even set it in my backpack), I put it on "Do Not Disturb" for 10 hours a day, and I turned off push notifications for anything, so that I am not pulled toward it when I am not wanting to be.

With alcohol, I avoid any types of drinks that are too addictive or alcoholic. So with my smartphone, I have blocked certain sites which have become too addictive for me, and which I end up surfing for hours at a time, accomplishing nothing but a waste of my time.

With alcohol, I don't drink too much of it. So with my smartphone, I try hard to minimize the times I use it:  again, use it WITH A PURPOSE rather than just because I have free time. I am doing better on this (because of the above)....but I still struggle a bit. Thankfully, because I've deleted all the other stuff, if I'm needing that "smartphone hit", I've made it a bit tougher to get it, and usually I end up reading books or the Bible on my kindle app instead (so at least it feels productive).

Again, I'm not saying that you guys should do this: I'm just sharing that I have done this, and found my life far, far better as a result.

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