Friday Feed: 05/17/2019

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Happy Friday, gang!

On weeks when I don’t have a themed #FridayFive, I’m going to start curating a list of interesting links or recommendations (in the spirit of the old “Cool Ten” series on one of my past blogs). Here we go!

  • Eric Davis over at The CrippleGate posted on “a new kind of Pharisee.” Todd Friel of Wretched Radio highlighted the post this week (which is how I became aware of it), and I think it’s something worth mulling over.
  • I shared this on Twitter earlier this week, but: if you subscribe to the idea of a “head-canon” (having a mental version of events in a popular series or film that fills in the gaps or corrects inconsistencies in the actual “texts” of the story), you’ll understand what I mean when I say that this fan-made version of the Vader/Obi-wan duel from “A New Hope” is now firmly placed in my Star Wars head-canon.
  • Brian Renshaw has some useful personal rules for social media and controlling the outrage machine. Worth considering.
  • I really enjoyed Luis Mendez’s thoughtful retrospective on the 50-year history of the “King of All Monsters.” Even if you’re not a Godzilla fan, this is a cool overview of how a movie franchise is shaped by geopolitical and cultural changes.
  • Speaking of Godzilla, here’s a rockin track from the upcoming Gozilla: King of the Monsters soundtrack, featuring Serj Tankian from System of A Down.
  • I saw two really great movies last weekend: The Highwaymen, a Netflix original about the retired Texas Rangers who killed Bonnie and Clyde; and Stan and Ollie, a pitch-perfect biopic about the twilight years of Laurel and Hardy’s career together. Both films feature compelling acting performances by real pros. Don’t miss either one.
  • I feel like there’s a political correctness / “NPC” joke somewhere in this article about Microsoft Word’s upcoming inclusivity software, but it would just be petty to make it. Right? Let me know, Uncle Bill.
  • Finally, if you haven’t already used your 3 free premium articles from Medium this month, Mike Vardy’s 43 bullet-points on personal productivity are worth every second. (You may even want to copy some of them down into a file or program that won’t try to charge you $5 a month to access it later.)

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If you enjoyed any of the links above, please let me know in the comments, and feel free to share your own cool finds as well! See you Monday!

The4thDave Reviews: “Competing Spectacles” by Tony Reinke

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In a culture wholly driven by the moving image, we feed on spectacle every moment of the day. We are awash in the blue glow of screens almost from the moment our eyes open in the morning, until we collapse into sleep at night. While a library of books has been written about the good and bad (mostly bad) of a digital or image-driven culture, there have been considerably fewer authors in the last half-century who have focused on the deeper spiritual ramifications of constant spectacle.

In recent months, I have enjoyed (and discussed) books by Andy Crouch, Cal Newport, and Senator Ben Sasse, regarding the need for distance and perspective when it comes to digital media, but these arguments have been overwhelmingly pragmatic and relational. As I noted in my review of Digital Minimalism, I was keenly aware of Newport’s lack of spiritual perspective; that is, he had a good sense of the effect of digital obsession on the mind but no sense of how it bends the soul.

This is why I am thrilled to recommend Tony Reinke’s latest work to you: Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.

In Competing Spectacles, Reinke fills in that missing piece in the important discussion of screen addiction and digital distraction by focusing on the cumulative effect such diversions can have on our spiritual life and growth.

In this follow-up to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke examines the prevalence of “spectacles” in our culture, and how spectacle saturation affects the spiritual appetites. The good news is, he doesn’t simply take the anti-tech position of “screens bad, stay away!” Rather, in the first section of the book, Reinke examines the nature of spectacle in several facets of cultural life, the power that spectacles have on us, and the way our appetites for such entertainment are developed.

In the second section of the book, Reinke considers what Christianity has to say about spectacles–particularly, which spectacles can and should capture our eyes and minds. This section really sings, as he applies the transforming truth of the Gospel gently but directly to our tendency toward amusement and distraction.

Near the end of Part 2, Reinke provides “Summations and Applications” that help the reader think through how we can put these truths to work in our hearts and daily lives. He concludes with a beautiful vision of what happens when our gaze is rightly fixed on a Spectacle worth observing.

Throughout the book, I was struck by by Reinke’s eloquence, recalling the proverb about words fitly spoken being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Had I been reading a paper copy, there would be several sections with entire pages highlighted, underlined, and starred. Once in a while, I had to just stop for a moment to appreciate a perfectly crafted sentence. Reinke outdid himself in the mechanics and construction of his prose in this book.

Final Recommendation

In the very first chapter, Reinke calls Competing Spectacles “a theology of visual culture,” and the description is apt. This isn’t just a book about screen time and self-control, social media addiction and the degradation of societal decorum. This book is inherently and blessedly theological in scope, and as such, it fills a glaring gap in this important discussion.

I heartily recommend Competing Spectacles to all my readers, and particularly those who (like me) have been wrestling with the effect of digital media and entertainment on their hearts. This book should be part of every Christian’s library, where it can be revisited from time to time for reconsideration and reflection.

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Note: I have been provided an advance copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are entirely my own.

Rethinking My Feeds: Thought Experiment.

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Consider the following scenario:

You see a post, comment, or video on social media that you find frustrating or offensive. Perhaps the person is making straw-man arguments against your deeply-held belief, or they’re making statements that are fallacious or silly on the very face. Perhaps you can see such behavior or ideas as the direct result of a cultural or ideological worldview, and you want to demonstrate that “THIS”  offending statement or action “is how you get” some other, much worse thing.

Yet, instead of writing a post or thread or story about the subject, you choose to say nothing.

You decide to say nothing because: 1) you don’t actually know the person in question, or the commentators involved; 2) this isn’t a national story or part of a cultural discussion being had–it’s a niche event; 3) it would be difficult to develop a thoughtful commentary or response in a handful of sentences; and/or 4) you realize that doing so may get you a few supportive shares and likes, but may also usher in as much or more backlash and arguments, requiring further clarification, follow-up, and almost inevitable blocking/banning.

So you read the comment, shake your head, and move on with your day.

Here’s a question to consider, reader: By choosing a course of non-interaction, what have you lost and what have you gained?

Feel free to discuss below. Or not–I leave it up to you.

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[N.B.: I’m a bit busy this week. I will respond to all comments (even disagreements made in good faith), but it will not be right away. Thank you for your patience.]

Rethinking My Feeds: Addict.

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Early last week, I put up messages that I was taking a few weeks off of social media. I wanted to do the “Digital Detox” thing that Newport recommends in Digital Minimalism. I logged out on Tuesday or Wednesday and said, “okay, that’s it for a while.” My plan was to stay off of social media for at least the next 30 days, maybe into the summer sometime.

I keep logging back in. 

On the plus side, more than half of the time, I will check for notifications, maybe peruse the first screens of items in my feed, and then log out. In other words, I haven’t been idly scrolling and losing all track of time, like I would sometimes do before this.

But I keep going back. I keep wanting just to check if anyone has said anything to me or tagged me on any conversations. I log in, hoping for the little dings and pings I’ve become so enamored of.

As much as I try to describe my use of social media in noble terms, as a way to connect with others and find edifying and challenging content, the diabolical truth of the matter is I use social media most often because I want attention. I want to be noticed.

Like a dumped boyfriend or a cut-off junkie, I keep lingering around the periphery of Twitter and Facebook, hoping to get a peek at what’s going on, hoping to be seen. Hoping to be missed. Trying to get just enough of a fix to take the edge off.

Okay, I’m being hyperbolic. But it’s not as much of an exaggeration as it should be. See, I know something that none of you readers do: I know my heart. I know my sinful little self. And I know that I want to be known. (And I cringe to acknowledge it, but to my wicked heart, being known by the very Creator God of the universe doesn’t seem to scratch that itch, some days.)

So here I am, taking my seat at the table, cup of cheap coffee in hand.

Hi. My name’s Dave. I’m addicted to social media attention, and I need to change that.

Rethinking My Feeds: Sabbath.

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Photo by Marianne on Pexels.com
(For the record, that is not my actual back porch. But, hey, #HouseGoals, right?)

I spent most of my Sunday screen-free.

I’ve been trying to do that more often, with varying levels of success. This past Sunday wasn’t perfect in that regard, but I’m getting better about it. I noticed throughout the day that I was getting tasks done, I was engaging with my family, and I was feeling more relaxed in general. Who would have thought, right?

While I’m not any kind of strict Sabbatarian, I see the value and blessing inherent in carving out Sunday as a day of worship, rest, and reflection. (And reading–LOTS of reading.) So it makes sense for me to try to make Sunday screen-free as well.**

Online commentary in recent years that examines or critiques our current screen-focused culture often recommends regular breaks from tech as a way of finding refreshment and gaining perspective. (Seriously, do a web search for “digital sabbath” or “digital detox”–ironically, you’d be staring at a screen for ages trying to read it all.)

One of the points that Cal Newport raises in Digital Minimalism is that removing a huge chunk of unproductive (or even harmful) screen-time isn’t enough. Something needs to fill the void, lest we go back to our old habits.

If you’ve been thinking about taking a break from your devices or distractions (whether for a few hours, a day, or even longer), here are a few recommendations for redeeming the time in your now-quieter weekend:

  • Sleep. Let’s get real for a second: you probably don’t sleep enough. I know I don’t sleep enough. There are all sorts of reasons we stay up too late (maybe related to our tech, maybe related to our anxiety, maybe related to our out-of-balance work-life). So if you make the choice to turn off the screens for a day or two in the near future, please take my advice: take a nap. That thing we all hated in kindergarten is now a thing of beauty and joy, and a gift to us from the God who never sleeps.
  • Enjoy some face-to-face time with your loved ones. When I stop reaching for my phone to scroll random folks’ text-only communication, I can hear my 20-month-old daughter better, as she learns new words, makes phrases and sentences I can actually understand now, and mixes in babble that she tells me very emphatically (which is seven different kinds of cute). I can talk to my wife about her day and the challenges of being a mom. I can spend time with family members or friends from church, and not be pulled away (mentally or optically) by pings and buzzes. These people, these faces, they mean something to me. I honor that when I give them my undistracted eyes and ears.
  • Spend time with God. It’s all too easy to be harried and distracted by my daily life so that a thousand petty annoyances crowd out time to read the Scriptures, pray, or read a good book of theology or church history. I’ve been trying to devote my Sunday reading time to things that feed my soul and not just my mind. (That said, I admit I still need to be more intentional about devoting time to talk to God and not just read about God.) Whenever I make the choice to focus my heart on Jesus and not on entertainment or distraction, I come away feeling more alive, not less. More human. More thankful.
  • Do something physically active. I’m a desk-jockey five days a week. I eat too much sugary food and drink too much caffeine. If you’ve seen me in the flesh, this won’t come as a surprise to you. So my goal for this next Sunday is to do something active. Take a walk. Play on the floor with my daughter. Maybe break out my workout mat and do a quick session with DDPY. (Does that involve a screen? Technically, yes. …What are you, the Screen Police? Never you mind.) I need to make the decision to be more active. No, not *just* on Sunday, but I think it’s a great time to celebrate the “rest” I have been given in Jesus by being active in a way that is refreshing and restorative rather than laborious.

I’m not good at making changes in my life. I’m lousy at consistency. I tend to talk a good game but not back it up well. But if nothing else, I am trying to attain “expert” status at being stubborn enough not to give up on things that I know matter in the long run.

My wife likes to remind me of the verse in Proverbs that says “A righteous man falls seven times and rises again…” While not the perfect contextual application, I think there’s merit in that reminder. Victory, change, and growth sometimes start with just getting back up and starting over (and over, and over, and over).

Sunday is five days away. Can I challenge you to make the decision now that your screens stay dark as much as possible? Then, come back to this post next week and let me know how that worked out for you.

 

 

** “Screen-free Sundays, even during football season, Dave?” Yes, I’m going to try to keep it up even during football season. That’s why the good Lord gave us radio.

Rethinking My Feeds: Unfollowed.

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[Note: The timing of the post is incidental. There is no joke coming. FYI.]

A couple months back, I shared some thoughts about rage-baiting and resisting the pull of hot-take media seeking to enflame our passions and soak up our attention for ad revenue. (At that point, the outrage du jour was Gillete’s “toxic-masculinity” advert and the Covington boys’ protest debacle–feels like a year ago, doesn’t it?)

I’m still thinking about my relationship with social media and how I use it. My recent dive into Cal Newport’s writing has further encouraged this self-analysis. (I’m currently listening to his last book, Deep Work, and it’s really, really good.)

New Twitter, Who Dis?

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about audience and curation–whom I’m speaking to, and whom I’m listening to. (Since Twitter is my main social platform, that’s the focus of my consideration here.) I’m reminded of a suggestion from Senator Ben Sasse in his book Them. After talking about a prolonged hiatus from Twitter, he came back to the platform with an entirely different perspective. His intended audience changed. When he used his personal Twitter account (his “professional” account is run by staffers), he stopped trying to impress the mass of humanity who happened to stumble across his tweets. He said he started writing to a specific audience–friends of his from his early adulthood, people he still kept in touch with over the years, despite physical distance. He said he wanted to write for them, to connect to them, to make them laugh.

Sasse described how having a specific audience in mind for his social media posts helped him focus on how to use the platform more intentionally.

Digital Connection Isn’t Worthless, It’s Just Insufficient

This idea of having a specific audience in mind got me thinking: why am I on Twitter, really? Though I have to admit that I have sometimes chased the attention of “celebrities” or others that I esteemed highly, over the years what has kept me on Twitter is the “digital friendships” I’ve made with like-minded people online, across the country. I’ve only met a handful of them in real space, but I hope to–that’s the biggest reason I want to make it to the G3 Conference or ShepCon one day.  It’s this group of connections that keeps me coming back.

If you recall my Digital Minimalism review a few weeks back, I wrote that Cal Newport dismissed these digital interactions as mere “connections” rather than communication, and he argued that digital connection should have the explicit goal of providing logistics for in-person communication. I think that’s partly true, but on the other hand I think there’s a place for the encouragement and (dare I say) friendship that can grow out of initially-digital interactions.

Are these folks on Twitter my friends? In one sense, no, because there’s no real-space experience communicating with each other. But in another, I can’t help but think of these people as my friends–my Twitter squad.

Trying Something Different

This leaves me with the question: if I’m going to use Twitter in an optimized, healthy manner, what would that look like? Two specific goals come to mind:

  • Following My Squad: One way to optimize Twitter is to dramatically reduce the accounts I read and engage-with to the handful of people I enjoy most. Here’s the thing: I don’t care to use Twitter for engaging ideological opponents or calling out falsehood. Maybe that’s your mission or ministry–have at it. I’m not trying to change lives here. I’m just looking for a little encouragement, a little humor, and the occasional free book giveaway. Limiting my inputs to people who provide that specific value could eliminate a lot of needless scrolling and still maintain some of those digital connections I enjoy.
  • Seeking Edification: Following people whose content challenges and encourages me in my faith and thinking is another beneficial method of approaching Twitter. Following the accounts of certain theologians and groups can bring a net-positive into my feed.

Now, there’s a clear disadvantage to this approach–namely, that it makes it much easier to crawl into an echo chamber and not engage ideas that differ from my own. I’ll grant you, that’s definitely possible; but isn’t it better to risk doing so and be honest about it? If you follow everyone under the sun but only stop to read and engage positively with the tweetfolk with whom you agree, what’s the difference, other than a bit of self-congratulation because your feed is “diverse”?

And that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to follow people whose views diverge from my own. I have several beneficial friendships and interactions (both in real life and online) with people who vehemently disagree with my religious views, politics, and perspective on the world. Some of those interactions (specifically, the IRL ones) produce good conversation and understanding, especially when we are reminded that the other person isn’t an abstract idea but a person with dignity and value.

That said, I don’t feel the need or obligation to expose myself to interactions that serve only to enrage or frustrate me. I get to make that choice, because Twitter (like all social media) is a voluntary program. I can choose whom to follow, whom to mute, whom to block. I shouldn’t be afraid to do all three, as need be.

If I’m mindful of the dangers of groupthink and seek high-value interactions online, there’s a good chance I can make it worthwhile to stay on social media, while limiting the scope of how I use it. I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?

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Here’s my question for you, dear reader: why do you use social media? Who’s your audience? Do you agree or disagree with my proposed “squad and edification only” approach to Twitter, described above? Sound off in the comments–I’d like to hear your perspective on this. Thanks!

The4thDave Reads: “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport

We’ve seen the blog posts and editorials for years: “How I Gave Up Social Media for 30 Days and It CHANGED MY LIFE!” “Why I Quit Facebook and Got My Life Back” “Quitting Instagram Helped Me Lose 40 Pounds and Run The Boston Marathon!!!” (Okay, maybe not that last one.) Hand-wringing posts about the dangers of online culture, social media addiction, and how often we contemplate quitting (or quit and then come back) are almost becoming a cliche lately. (Guilty.) But no matter how many productivity gurus talk about the power of “digital detoxing” and the benefits of set fasts from social media, many of us are still struggling with this form of addiction. (Yes, us, I’m a junkie just like you.)

I read these types of posts constantly. The most clear-headed thinker I’ve found on this topic is Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. I’ve shared the link to his TED talk about quitting social media in the past. I heard sometime last year that his next book would deal with the idea of “digital minimalism” and was immediately intrigued. Well, it was well worth the wait.

Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in A Noisy World is a persuasive call to reconsider the choices we make about our digital lives.

Newport challenges the reader not to throw away all technology–he’s no Luddite seeking a purely analog life–but rather to ask very pointed and thoughtful questions about why and how we use technology. He challenges the notion that a mere potential benefit of a device or service is a good enough reason to adopt its use, or that having more features is automatically better. He draws the reader’s attention to the fact that we are the product being sold by social media corporations, and that our time and attention have been monetized for someone else’s benefit.

Beyond a Simple Detox

Newport suggests a 30-day challenge: an intentional digital fast (with common-sense provisions for certain necessary work/life demands), followed by a slow and deliberate re-integration of tech. During this post-fast period, he suggests that we ask 3 questions of our devices and apps: Does using this tool support a belief or priority that I deeply value? Is this the best way I can pursue that ideal or value? Can I optimize the way I use this device or program in pursuit of that value?

For example, if we use social media for keeping up with our family, Newport would argue that what we’re doing when we like or share or comment is mere connection, and it doesn’t take the place of real communication. Instead, while we might still use social media in a very limited way (both in time and scope) to catch up on news about our loose circle of acquaintances, we should also pursue actual communication with people who matter to us via in-person visits, phone calls, or even video chats (for far-flung loved ones). The complexity of face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication, Newport writes, is what provides the richness of human interaction–a complexity that text-based communication falls short of providing.

Don’t Click “Like”

Throughout the second half of the book, Newport gives recommendations of practices one can pursue as part of the “Attention Resistance” pushing back against screen consumption. Some of these ideas are pretty simple (make time for solitude, go for walks, pursue an analog leisure activity that requires physical exertion), while others are a bit more challenging, at least for me.

One such challenge Newport makes is to stop clicking “like.” He talks about how social media introduced the “like” button as a way of providing a minimal amount of feedback that still stimulates the user (the “digital slot-machine” idea of irregular positive feedback conditioning). I struggle with this, because I use the “like” button a LOT (as those of you on my socials can attest). However, I see what he means. A real-world example: I just posted on Facebook 42 minutes ago that we were having another baby. As of right now, 3 people have actually commented (2 of which said “congrats!”), and 20 people have hit the “Like/Love/Wow” emoji. [Update: I’ve gotten more comments since then, but the ratio of reactions to comments is running about 4-5 to 1.] Now, I do appreciate that these folks reacted to the news (that’s how Facebook describes it–reacting), but the vast majority so far have only reacted enough to click a mouse or tap a screen and then likely moved on with their scrolling. And I can’t fault them; that’s just what we do, isn’t it? But Newport suggests we stop, because this isn’t actually communicating anything. It’s one bit of information, a blip on the radar. And it’s a far cry from actual human community.

(And for the record, if you are one of the “likes” on my FB wall right now, this isn’t a slam against you. Thanks for taking a moment to read this. But hey, gimme a call sometime, so we can catch up, yeah?)

One Weakness

The only critique I have of Digital Minimalism is a worldview issue. Newport is writing from a secular perspective, so when he talks about the evolution of man as a social animal, he is missing a glaring clue as to why we are social creatures. Mankind was created by a personal, social, communicating God, a God who speaks and interacts with His creation, and because we bear the imprint of His image, we are social and communicative beings. That’s part of the reason why this reduction in human interaction is so unnatural; we were made by God for community, but our community is being undercut by a digital counterfeit that steals time away from incarnated interaction. The spiritual element of this whole idea is missing from Newport’s thinking on this subject, which is why other books by authors like Tony Reinke and Andy Crouch are necessary and helpful supplements to the ideas Newport presents.

Final Review

Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism does more than simply point out the problem of digital addiction and social media enslavement. Newport helps the reader consider how to use these tools in a way that is healthier and more intentional than simple consumption and constant attention. While I think there are some blind spots in his argumentation due to differences in worldview, I would happily recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the idea of giving up digital tech or social media but still wants to reconsider the way he or she approaches these tools.

Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

What a difference a weekend’s non-stop news cycle makes.

I was going to write a post about the latest internet debate last week, concerning razor advertisements, implications of toxic masculinity, and the necessity of teaching young men virtue. (Of course, by the time I had started to put some thoughts together, several writers of higher calibre had already written excellent pieces in that vein, so I left off.)

Then I spent Friday and Saturday with some other men from church thinking through discipleship at home and in the church, and Sunday with my church family and friends. As I slowly got back online yesterday evening, another outrage had replaced the last outrage–this time, regarding the issue of racially-based disrespect and (later in the day) media narrative bias. Some people who were quick to repost the initial reporting began stumbling over themselves to walk back statements and reassess the latest available information, while others were doubling-down and disregarding any other data points or newly-available information.

One could point the finger of blame at social media for the flare-up of such stories, but then again, if not for alternative outlets beyond the “big three networks” and the cable news channels (ever the bulwarks of, um, “fair and balanced” reportage), we would not often get additional data points that challenge the way stories are framed.

Yes, there’s the ever-present danger of “fake news” and false leads (as was demonstrated when a young man was apparently misidentified as the infamous “smirker” and was hashtagged, stalked, harassed, and doxxed over the course of a few hours). On the other hand, if you limit yourself to what the “officially verified” and check-marked set report, you still may not get the full story. (After all, what’s the good in listening to only one verified source of “real” news when that source is Pravda, comrade?)

Suffice it to say, social media was abuzz with the reaction, the counter-reaction, the reactions to both, and the finger-wagging and tongue-clucking pointed in various and sundry directions. I got sucked in, reading about the drama, forming opinions on second- and third-hand accounts, until I realized I was doing the same thing everyone else was–feeding on the drama as an outside observer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with social media and how that engagement affects me.

Some of that thinking has been helped by recent books (Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Senator Ben Sasse’s excellent book Them). Some of it has grown from observations in myself and others, through the ebbs and flows of social media’s outrage spin cycle.

I’ve arrived at a few conclusions about how I need to change my social media use, which I will think through and share over a few posts in the coming weeks. Here is the first:

I am choosing to minimize the amount of rage-baiting in my feeds–both in terms of what I write and what (and whom) I read.

I doubt that term’s original, but I haven’t heard it used much, so I’ll claim it. “Rage-bait,” like “click-bait,” is an attractive invitation to engage–but specifically to engage in order to get angry.

Ben Sasse talks about “nut-picking” in his book Them–the practice of finding an extreme example of bad behavior or ignorance in another ideological tribe and holding it up as an example of that whole group. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, even without realizing it. We post and share stories that incense us, but if we were pressed, I doubt many of us would honestly say that “Wacko #5” is truly representative of the millions of people we would classify in the same ideological tribe.

But man, Wacko #5 gets us those sweet, sweet clicks, doesn’t he…

I want to resist the temptation to rage-bait. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that deserve our outrage; on the contrary, there are realities that rightly require attention, comment, and even strong rebuke. It may not be healthy to fly to the opposite extreme and live in blissful ignorance of real-world concerns and issues, if we want to be good citizens and neighbors.

The problem is, to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles: If everything is outrageous, then nothing is outrageous.

Internet outrage becomes white noise. It’s barely a blip. One outrage sweeps in after another like waves lapping the shore, and we are all awash in it–partly because we choose to accept it and engage in it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to distinguish which issues are worth discussing, and which ones we can just ignore. In other words, we don’t need to go off every time someone is wrong on the Internet. We can just shake our heads, close the browser window, and move on.

(And if there are specific people or sites in our feeds that are light on information or content and heavy on rage-bait, maybe the best response is to click that “unfollow” button. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So here’s my challenge to you, reader: Take a step back and look at what you post and read on your various social media feeds. Consider the posts and tweets and shares that provoke you to anger the most. How much of it is actual issues-focused interaction…and how much of it is rage-bait?

Does the rage-bait actually make you a better citizen? A better neighbor? A better person? Or does it just make you angry?

And what might you do about that?

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!