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Wednesday
Aug282013

Debate or dialogue?

When I was in the eighth grade, my social studies class learned about debating. My teacher was Mr. Buckingham, and I really liked him. He was funny, smart, and interesting. He taught us the rules for formal debate, and set us to work, pairing us off with people to debate various issues. We practiced writing the debate briefs, and then we did two debates with a classmate. My first debte dealt with the question of whether all United Nations countries should have Esperanto as one of their offiicial languages, and the second was on the merits of capital punishment. I said no to Esperanto and yes to capital punishment. I won both debates.

I didn't like the debate process.  I didn't like the nasty comments from classmates that came my way in the capital punishment debate. I was already the class pariah, and this only fueled the fire. I liked the preparation for debate, lining up the research and evaluting it to draw conclusions, and I found it a helpful exercise. I did a lot of research for the capital punishment debate, and this was in the old days when students used libraries and real, live books.

When I consider what online debate is like, I don't see a lot of resemblance to what I learned in junior high. The two things I think are noticeably lacking is the research aspect, which takes time, and the organization of the brief, which lays out our argument. Online debate generally takes place on blogs, Facebook, and in its least productive venue, Twitter. 

My daughter has been home for a visit this week and we were talking about this, and we came to the conclusion that most of what passes for "debate" online is really just dialogue. There are no real formal guidelines for dialogue. There ought to be an understanding between two people to treat each other with respect and treat the other person better than ourselves, but there's something about the lack of a face that discourages that. I wonder what people would do if all online debate was done through Skype where there was a visual component.

Someone said to me a few months ago that she thought debate online was better than face to face debate because it caused people to rely less on other clues and just got down to the words themselves. That comment sounded almost a little postmodern, as if the words exist outside of the speaker. This person found tone of voice distracting and not focusing on the real matter, the words. I, for one, like those cues, because they often reveal presuppositions and other things that are very helpful for overcoming communication difficulties. 

When we dialogue online, we have to ask ourselves why. Are we looking to understand something, or are we looking to give everyone a lesson or two? I think the latter is more common. Many of us who enter an argument on Facebook or a blog have one thing in mind: to force our views. We may not be interested in learning anything, but rather we want to do the teaching. In some cases, well meaning Christian brothers and sisters want to "speak into your life." That's not debate. That's standing on a soap box. The internet soapbox is safe, because no one can throw tomatoes at you. I have been guilty of this, and I wish now I could take back every contrary discussion I have had with people I will never meet this side of heaven. There's a nasty aftertaste following one those exchanges. Some people may feel energized by such interaction, I just feel a little sick.

I've sworn off debate on social media. I'm not only avoiding participation, I'm learning the joy of ignoring those who are debating. One gets more blogs read when she ignores the comments. I'm also cutting down on using that "share" button on Facebook, just because one never knows when that will stir up something. Perhaps I'm just a coward, or soft in the head. It does leave me much more time for other things, like books, and my family. My husband always says there is freedom in ignoring, and he's right.

Sunday
Aug042013

Birds of a feather ...

Birds of a feather flock together.

You will be known by the company you keep.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

My mother often talked about those first two maxims. I think she would agree with the Proverbs passage.

I have thought about those truths lately; about the company I keep both online and off, and about whether or not I'm the kind of company others should avoid. Perhaps some believe that. I don't know.

What I do know is that truly believe that third point. I long to be someone who walks with the wise.  I want to flock with the birds of wisdom; I want to be known for being among a company of wise women. I want it to be true of my offline life and my online life.

I'm fortunate to know some women who are the kind I want to follow.

They tend to say less rather than more.

They know when to speak and when to be silent.

They are willing to forego having the last word.

They know what discretion is.

They know how to be truthful with mercy because they know the extent of the mercy Christ has shown to them.

They use caution in their online lives.

They understand that righteous living proceeds from biblical doctrine.

I'm sure I could go on. Sometimes, I'm quite certain that I don't fit in with these women whom I am blessed to call friends, but I'm glad they let me walk beside them, because I'm counting on the truth of that proverb.

Tuesday
Jul302013

Life is not a highway, it's a cafeteria

Life often resembles a high school cafeteria. You've got your movers and shakers, your jocks, brains, and beauty queens. Alongside them, you have your outcasts, misfits, rabble rousers, and those with more integrity than the whole bunch, but who lack a loud enough voice to be heard among the noise.

Life on the internet can be like that, too. There are corners where people gossip, tear down, and snicker. There are corners where we congratulate ourselves on being masters of the universe. There are corners where really great conversation is being had by some people who others think are really weird.

When I was in my last year of high school, I was (yet again) the new kid. Rather than try to navigate these complicated channels, I decided to shun them all. Rather than spending time in the hallowed halls of the cafeteria, I chose to go to one of two places: the public library which was attached to the school, or the the nearby mall where I visited a lovely little cafe, drank coffe and ate tea biscuits by myself, and read. I think I was the better for that. High school ends, and no other social structure like it exists outside of, well, high school.  As my friend once said, "high school is something we survive."

There is a valuable lesson to learn in choosing where we spend or time onilne. My friend Melissa's excellent article from yesterday has had me thinking about this. 

I can choose to navigate the cafeteria or I can hole up in the library. When we choose to be online, we can participate in gossip, or curiosity-seeking about what he said or she said, what they said, and what we must do in response to what the nebulous "they" said. That, or we can partake of the library. 

It shouldn't be such a difficult lesson to learn, but humans, by being social creatures, often have a hard time extricating themselves from social interaction, even when that interaction becomes too dramatic for an adult to be involved in. I'm guilty of it myself.

I want to return to the library.

There are so many good things to learn from online. I want to be built up, not be torn down or tear others down. I want to be stronger in my faith. I want to add knowledge, not dissension. The cafeteria is noisy; the library is peaceful.

Thursday
Jun132013

It's not just the internet; it's choice

We know what's happening to people's attention spans. They're getting shorter. It's not a new phenomenon. It's been happening since television came along. Just think of those brief little segments on Sesame Street. They were just the beginning of what the internet is like. Don't get me wrong; I think the internet can be used for good, but we need to develop a little self-control and self-discipline.

A young friend of our family, about four years ago, confided to me that it must have been easier for young people his age to pick a career in the days when there was little choice.

"Everyone just did what their father did. It was so simple."

I thought that was a wise insight from an 18 year old. Well, now he's graduated from college, but I think of his observation as he pondered his future career plans.

Choice is a luxury. It's not a right. Here in North America, we think it is. We're people of entitlement. When our internet slows down, or heaven forbid, stops working altogether, we feel like we have a right to its restoration immediately. When we decide we hate our internet provider, we can choose another. Well, some folks have more choice than others. Here in my little town, I have two choices. I'm just happy we have cable internet here.  I know people who have to pay for satellite service, and I guess they're happy about that, too.  My cousin is still on dial-up. She lives from day to day quite happily.

The thing that whittles away at our attention span is more than just the internet.  Here's a little scenario:

Suppose that blogs were not free to read. Suppose you had to pay a fee every time you read one. How many would you read? I finally trimmed my blog reading list to 20 blogs, and even that's a lot on some days. I know people who read hundreds. I just don't have time for that, nor the inclination, because actually, after a while they all run together in my head. Sometimes, they're all saying the same thing, anyway. It is an enterprising blogger who finds a varied content. I know a few like that, and I'm thankful I can follow them and get their suggestions rather than mining them for myself.

Okay, so blogs have to be paid for. We would read fewer. Maybe we would read them in their entirety, as well. This is a common scenario as well:

Okay, here I am reading this blog entry.... it's pretty good ... oh dear, it's getting kind of boring ... hmmm... I don't think I need to finish this .... next blog, please.

We don't have to sustain much attention at all, really, when we read blog posts that are usually no more than about 500 words. And if one is just droning on past that 500 word mark, we can go on to something else. We can do this with the newspaper, too, assuming we're old school enough to actually hold one in our hands (I am). I can skim the article and never finish it. There was a day when newspapers did not come out daily; sometimes, they only came out monthly. I bet they were read from cover to cover.

Choice can be a burden or it can be a boon. What we have to remember is that choice is not a right.  It's a luxury that many people don't have.  And there are even people here in North America who don't have the same choices open to them as others, whether it's socioeconomic reasons, health reasons, or geographical reasons.

Next time you click away from that boring article, be thankful for the choice you have to read another. Better yet, finish the whole thing.

Wednesday
Jun052013

True confessions

One thing being unplugged for a few days will do (and of course, this is not a news flash) is remind me of how things can be used well or can be used in a bad way.

While I missed my friends with whom I connect through Facebook, I didn't mess the the way Facebook gets misused. There is no need to provide details; we all know what they are. Facebook often makes me feel like I'm back in high school, navigating the cafeteria, wondering where are the safe places to sit.

While I was away, I had no access to Facebook.  I had email and Twitter, but I only really paid attention to those when we had long times for waiting.  On the way there, I read an entire book on my kindle, Growing Up Amish. Good book, by the way. On the way home, I read 2/3 of Jerry Bridges' True Community.

I had a bucket of cold water thrown my way when I got home and used Facebook. As I said, I missed my friends, but I don't miss the debate that happens there. Facebook is a terrible place for debate. There are very few really cogent arguments on Facebook. I wish there was a way to eliminate commenting ability on individual status lines. Some articles are good to share, but inevitably, others pile on and soon five people are having a debate on my Facebook timeline. Some people can't resist a dissenting comment.

I was pretty tired yesterday, and I had a hard time concentrating, but I did finally carve out some time to edit some photos (what a stress reliever!) and then do some study on Nehemiah. I was reminded as I studied that our lives are full of issues that need addressing from a biblical perspective, but good analysis of those things requires having a solid, biblical foundation. Worship issues, gender issues, modesty issues, marriage issues, parenting issues; they all require a biblical mindset, but more often than not the fleeting nature of social media makes us answer too quickly. "I need to answer now!" may be shouting into the back of my mind.  I realize that tomorrow, some other "issue" will take it's place in the line of importance, so I had better comment today. I think that needs to change for me.

On Monday, I was watching my luggage go through the security check, how the security agents pushed it through, looked at its contents and then pushed it along further within a minute. That's how social media "issues" can be. Move 'em along; there's one waiting in the queue.

I'm determined to strengthen my foundation. I need it. I realized yesterday that I don't have a thick enough skin to navigate Facebook anymore. I don't plan on getting rid of it, because I have sweet sisters with whom I love to keep in touch. But I'm changing my use of it.  How that will look, I don't know. Probably means I'll be using email more. Maybe when my foundation is a little stronger, my skin will thicken up. I thought up a good motto for Facebook yesterday: Facebook, the place where being yourself will attract criticism. Cynical, I know. It was a long, tiring day, brightened up considerably by the return of my luggage.

I'm rambling. These aren't serious thoughts, I suppose. But I, and some other blogging ladies are now deciding to blog by the rule, "it's my blog, and I'll post what I want to." This is not a link-worthy post, and I'm okay with that. At least it's not on Facebook, where I'm sure there would be people lining up to provide analysis.

Who need analysis when one can ponder the beauties of God, as I did on Monday:

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