This week I read two articles that describe growing technologies: one newer, the other well established. The first is the subject of the August 17 Time cover story (US Edition) titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality: And Why It’s [nearly upon us, better than you think… and] About to Change the World.” Put on those increasingly sophisticated virtual reality goggles and our whole perceptions change. This is not just about making video games more dramatic. It can be about treating the effects of trauma, dealing with various psychiatric disorders, and revolutionizing education. I wonder about its potential for changing how we lead, learn about God, or advertise. And are there dangers that we don’t yet see? Apparently we’ll encounter lots more about this come Christmas shopping season.
Much more familiar are podcasts, recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article (August 8-9.) We’ve all seen podcasts and webinars, some very sophisticated, which move us beyond radio, television or weekly written blogs like this one. Friends have urged me to replace or supplement this newsletter with audio and/or video posts, especially since these tend to be favored by so many people who like to listen or watch rather than to read.
- A good communicator knows the characteristics of his or her audience. Surely this includes knowing how the audience learns or prefers to get information. Most readers of this newsletter are older, educated, and presumably inclined to learn by reading. Like me. Would a different audience be attracted by a podcast or other non-written, video or audio format? What about using both formats?
- Experienced bloggers have demonstrated the value of captivating titles, eye-catching images, and succinct introductory sentences. These are more likely to attract and hold readers to the end. Similarly, aren’t most of us grabbed and retained by articulate speakers in attractive settings telling interesting stories with practical implications? Boring podcasts may give us something to hear or watch but they make no more impact than boring blog posts.
- Podcasts can be produced relatively easily. All you need is a computer with a camera. I have done these with my classes, replacing long lectures with video clips to be watched at leisure.
- Podcasts and webinars can be produced from anywhere and allow feedback so observers are more involved with the action. Should you be doing this? Should I?
Please comment. Tell us how you have used podcasts, webinars or virtual reality.
King Saul was not the first person to consult a medium or fortune-teller (1 Samuel 28.) Efforts to predict the future using sorcery and fortune-tellers have been around for centuries and even interest some Christians despite the Bible’s condemnation of these practices. In the church where I grew up, visiting preachers would sometimes conduct prophecy conferences where parts of the Bible, Revelation especially, would be interpreted in ways that seemed to mix biblical exegesis with preacher speculation about current and future events.
Today we take a more secular, quasi-scientific approach. We carefully look at trends in the present and make speculations about how these might play out in the future. Often these predictions are wrong, especially in an era of rapid and unpredictable change. But sometimes we can predict accurately enough to plan ahead wisely. Best example is the predicted development of well-studied diseases. Business magazines and newspapers often give predictions like those in the April 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal where experts made predictions on subjects including small business, the economy, mass marketing, retirement, religion, virtual reality gaming, health care and even sex. Here are three examples that might interest you:
- “The Internet of the future will be everywhere—and the more people who have it, the more important it will become…. Instead of seeking out the Internet, we’ll be surrounded by it. Instead of extracting data from it, we’ll be fed a constant stream of curated, personalized information to help us solve problems and live better.” If we can strike a balance between caution and convenience, the spread of connected devices will have a profound impact on the way we do just about everything.”
- What about books including textbooks and other printed communication? It’s likely that reading will always remain but the format will be different. Future books will be more on electronic screens than on paper, despite the tastes of maybe dwindling numbers of bibliophiles (people who avidly read, collect and/or have a great love for books.)
- Education, especially higher education will survive and thrive but it will continue to change dramatically. Information dumps and the “sage on the stage” will fade further. Teaching methods and models will shift to fit our increasingly digital world. Interaction and on-line activities will increase. Universities that thrive will have no alternative except to do teaching online and offer quality courses. What does this say about long sermons by “talking head” preachers?
Surely you have reactions to this. Please comment.
Several years ago I met and talked briefly with Blake Mycoskie. You may not recognize his name but probably you’ve heard of TOMS shoes. In 2006, Blake was twenty-nine, already successful as a businessman and able to take time for a vacation trip to Argentina. While there he started wearing casual canvas shoes known as alpargatas and wondered, in passing, if something similar could have market appeal in the United States. In a café one day he learned about poor communities where children had no shoes at all and, as a result, were exposed to a variety of diseases and inconveniences, like not being able to walk to school. Some Americans were collecting used shoes but often these didn’t fit and when the kids grew they were barefoot again. Eventually, Blake got the idea of producing sturdier versions of the alparaga, forming a for-profit company, then giving away one pair of shoes for every pair sold. Hoping that these could provide a better future for the poor kids he’d met, Blake called them “tomorrow’s Shoes” abbreviated TOMS. You can read more in Blake’s 2012 book Start Something that Matters.
I don’t know why this book sat on my shelf for so long before I read it last week. It became a #1 New York Times best seller, perhaps because it’s so practical, engaging, and built on a business model that’s more about finding purpose in life than just making money, getting noticed, or being successful. Here are highlights among others that apply to any of us:
- Find your own story then tell others. Like Blake, if you keep your eyes open you might find that your purpose, niche and calling appears right before your eyes.
- Face your fears. Starting something new is scary. Expect mistakes. Ask yourself who encourages you. Where is God in this?
- Keep things simple. “Complicated lives and heaps of stuff don’t necessarily bring happiness [or success]; they often bring the opposite.”
- Build trust – so people trust you. In turn, trust others and give credit where credit is due.
- In whatever you do, build a mentality of giving.
I’m giving this book to several of my friends. Not surprising: for every book purchased, Blake and his publisher give books to kids who are learning to read. What do you think? Please comment.
Assume that someone you know wants to become a coach. He or she finds the best coach training program available and enrolls for all of the courses. Instead of paying the $2000 or more that such courses usually cost, the potential coach takes all of the courses for free on the Internet. Unlikely? Not in the world of Massive Online Open Courses, best known as MOOCs.
If you work in higher education probably you’re familiar with MOOCs. Harvard, Stanford and MIT are among the institutions that post most, if not all of their courses online for any who want to enroll. A Time cover story (October 7, 2013) reports that the MIT courses have enrolled 150 million learners worldwide. Harvard has reached 1.25 million since their MOOC initiative began 17 months ago. Time argues that well-designed online courses are better than traditional on-campus lecture courses. I know from experience that interactive online courses, even those that charge tuition, can create better learning experiences for students. If done well they also are more demanding both on students and teachers. An educator-blogger in India suggests that MOOCs could change the world of education and impact billions of people. And what applies to university courses applies as well to professional training and other forms of education.
Of course online education works best at transferring information. Face-to-face interaction has something that online education cannot duplicate. Skills learning (like learning counseling, coaching or leadership skills) can’t always be taught well online. “For all the strengths of today’s digital technologies, some things are transmitted most effectively face-to-face. [These include] …the judgment, confidence, humility and skill in negotiation [and counseling] that come from hands on problem solving and teamwork; the perseverance, analytical skill and initiative that grow from conducting frontline lab research; the skill in writing and public speaking that comes from exploring ideas with mentors and peers.” Critics note that over 95% of those who enroll in MOOCs or other non-interactive online courses never complete them.
Nevertheless, the time has come to move from on-campus or online teaching that is limited to lecture talks, boring (often outdated) video lectures, or grueling modular courses. Changes like these can be disruptive but also exciting. Do you agree? Please comment.
Is this a struggle for you like it is for me: finding ways to keep up to date and be informed enough to plan realistically for the future? Probably you will remember the term “Renaissance man.” This refers to a person (male or female) with a wide range of interests, knowledge in many fields and often a multitude of accomplishments. In our era of ever increasing information overload, few of these people exist. Most of us struggle to keep up with our own specialties or fields of interest and expertise. For each of us there are fields where we feel woefully ill informed and way out of date. For me this includes my understanding of popular culture and emerging technology.
I find it helpful to connect with people who have interests and experiences that differ from mine. I also read broadly, including the books and articles that form the basis of this blog every week. Most recently I read a book by journalist Ben Hammersley, a “British writer and technologist, specializing in the effects of the Internet and the digital network on the world’s political, cultural and social spheres.” Editor-at-Large of Wired Magazine, he also advises British Prime Minister David Cameron about digital and technological trends that have relevance to political decisions about the future. His new book, Approaching the Future: 64 Things You Need to Know Now About Then, is understandable as he explains complex technological and sociological topics to lay audiences. At the same time, the book is overwhelming in it’s diversity and descriptions of what’s here and what’s coming.
There is value in being as informed and updated as possible, but God alone is omniscient. He never expects his creatures or even huge data banks to know everything. Our challenge is to keep as updated as we can and to use what we do know to serve Christ and impact the world from where we are. How do you keep up to date, especially in areas where you lack expertise? Please comment.
Last week CBS news described findings from a new Pew Research Center report on caregivers (http://www.westwood-backup.com/pg/jsp/osgood/transcript.jsp?pid=36635). Thirty-nine percent of Americans care for adults and children with significant health Issues (up from 30 percent in 2010). Statistics weren’t reported from other countries but in the US these caregivers are primarily 30-to-64 years old, still working, and connected to the Internet. Most caregivers are not counseling or medical experts but they go online to find support and resources that help them deal with the stress of caregiving.
What if there was a way in which caregivers or anyone else could find emotional support on line, available 24-7, free or at minimal cost? What if callers could remain anonymous, connect with trained active listeners, and even select the kind of listeners they prefer? Suppose a caller wants a listener who has cared for a spouse with Alzheimer’s, experienced an amputation or post-traumatic stress, overcome a pornography addiction, is a preferred age or a member of the caller’s occupational group, denomination, or even the same church. What if these listeners and callers could be connected? The possibilities are mind-boggling but so is the technological expertise to make this work.
This has not deterred psychologist Glen Moriarty, one of my faculty colleagues at Regent University. Glen is one of the most innovative people I know, working this summer with expert advisors and partners in the Silicon Valley to make this vision a reality. Already caregiver organizations, businesses and churches are signing on to participate in a sophisticated test run of this technology. Technology even exists to evaluate every call to determine if and how this works. Dr. Moriarty calls this venture 7 Cups of Tea. He describes it as providing emotional support online, “whether you’re feeling stressed, confused, or just want to get something of your chest… It connects callers with real people from diverse backgrounds who have been trained in active listening. They do not make judgments, solve problems, give advice or to provide professional counseling or coaching.”
A team of lawyers has determined that this conforms with professional licensing laws. For more information go to www.7cupsoftea.com. To learn how this connects with churches see www.7cupsoftea.com/communitie/faith.php. To connect with Dr. Moriarty directly go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave a comment to give your input on this concept.
P.S. Anyone who wants to be a listener can go to the following address and put “Gary Collins” in the affiliation box: www.7cupsoftea.com/listener.
Until recently I had never heard of Baratunde Thurston. He’s a best-selling author, stand-up comedian, consultant, businessman, and New York Times columnist whose friends have called him “the most connected man in the world.” He writes about loving his devices, digital services, and never-ending connections with the global network. But the more connected he became, the more Thurston was aware of “the price we pay: lack of depth, reduced accuracy, lower quality, impatience, selfishness and mental exhaustion to name a few. In choosing to digitally enhance, hyperconnect, and constantly share our lives, we risk not living them.” For Thurston, “life was crazy” so he decided to completely disconnect for 25 days.” His experience is told in the cover story of Fast Company magazine (July/August, 2013.)
Perhaps this article has little relevance to most of us. We’re not teenagers or college students addicted to our devices. But are we as free as we think? How many of us would be willing to unplug for almost a month? The magazine editor notes that we all value our technological connections, even when we realize that “the triumph of digital culture hasn’t changed the fact that nothing beats face-to-face interaction with the depth and spontaneity that we can’t match via email, Skype, texting or video conferencing.” During his digital sabbatical, Thurston slowed down and rediscovered relaxation, reading, concerts and leisurely times with friends.
How do we keep connected and updated without being captured and controlled by the devices and messages that we love and sometimes hate? Here are suggestions:
- Consistently unplug for shorter periods of time: Sundays, evenings after 8 pm, during church services, times when we are in meetings or in restaurants. Maybe the height of rudeness is checking messages when we are meeting or having a meal with someone.
- Try making this a family rule: no devices including television allowed during mealtimes. What does this mean if you can’t do this?
- Try an unplugged weekend or even a vacation. Recently my wife and I took a two-week trip and left computers and cell phones at home so we wouldn’t be tempted. We loved it.
- Ponder how technological devices are adversely impacting your life.
What are other ways to keep the benefits without being controlled by digital devices? Please comment.