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My phone died today.

Well, that might be an exaggeration. I guess I should say that the ability to use all the normal functions on my phone died today.

I’ve been having issues over the last few months with sending group texts; couple this with having a charging port that hardly works, and a broken speaker that leads me to not being able to hear most notifications that my phone would normally alert me to, my phone is really on the decline. I can live with the charging port and the unseen notifications, that’s fine.

Sometimes the messages go through. Sometimes the messages take hours to send. Rarely they’ll go through all together. I figured out a trick with the long group texts where if I screenshot the message, then send it as a picture it will go through. Regardless of what does and doesn’t work, and needless to say, this is not how it should be happening. What’s causing me far more annoyance and difficulty is the messages not sending. Over the last few days, the problem has somehow managed to get worse. The messages now look like they successfully sent on my end (says the checkmark next to the text), but the recipient will never have gotten them, and this is only on some of the messages that I send. If my phone is going to have a problem, the least it could do is to be consistent. This whole problem is frustrating, awkward, and inconvenient.

I know, there’s many solutions to this problem: buy a new phone, seek tech support, or even just call people individually. I’m stubborn though and refuse to spend money on a new phone unless it’s shooting sparks out of the cracked screen (forgot to mention that).

I even tried a factory reset of my phone today in hopes that it might resolve all the issues. Unfortunately I don’t think it really did anything other than create the annoyance of having to resubmit all my passwords and login credentials to apps or websites I frequent.

The next step would be to reset my sim card information…blah…technical details…blah blah….boring things….what’s the point of all this moaning about how hard my life is because of my phone’s slow descent into madness?

I would agree with someone that may be reading this and thinking, why should I care? Except I don’t agree, because to me this feels like a very real problem with potentially bad side effects. For some reason, I feel wildly isolated and disconnected from not only the people I’ve sent these (unread?) messages to, but also in some way disconnected from the whole world. Even though I still have access to virtually everything I did before this malfunction, for some reason the lack of 100% functionality makes me feel this way.

Why is my phone causing me so much uneasiness and discontentment? Why, as someone that has had a spiritual experience with God, do I not feel these same kinds of things when I’m not talking to or sourcing myself from God? Should I feel guilty because I don’t feel the same way? Should I feel unsure of how strong my faith actually is? I don’t think the answer to either of those questions is yes. I think it actually presents an opportunity for growing in my faith, and reprioritizing what is actually important to me in my daily life.

God is not flashy. God is not noisy. God doesn’t send push notifications. God is not a cell phone. God’s far more.

God desires relationship and intimacy with us, but is also respectful of our free will and allows us the time and power of choice to come into that relationship of our on volition. Similar in many ways to the what I think of when I think of a parental relationship: with my four year old I’ve learned that no matter how hard I push, he just doesn’t share the same interests in hobbies and entertainment that I do. I don’t push it onto him, but I do harbor a hope that he’ll eventually take the same enjoyment that it from I do. God sits and waits for us, and hopes we’ll join him.

God is up at 6:00 am hoping we’ll join him for early morning coffee; instead we often choose to sleep in. God is in our passenger seat as we speed to work because we took too long to throw our lunch into a container; instead we choose to continue speeding as we tightly grip the steering wheel we’re hunched over. God walks in tandem with us as we mow the lawn, and instead of talking to him over the din of blades cutting grass, we turn up the sound of our newest podcast, to drown out the noise of the mower and God’s voice.

The possibility for connection is always right there and yet I choose to remain unaware. And because of the times I choose to remain unaware in those small moments, the moments slowly amount to a stagnation of relationship and the drying up of hearing his voice.

How do I develop and fear losing my ability to talk with God and have relationship with him, in the same way that I fear and am caused anxiety by a piece of technology not working correctly? Or how can I learn from the ways my daily life flows and functions around my phone?

My first thought is to remember the good times in talking to God, just like I remember how when I initially got my phone the ease and consistency of it working as it was supposed to.

A recurring theme in the book of Genesis is forgetfulness. God and the ways he has been faithful to his children and how he has come through for them in their times of hardship. For example, after the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and eventually finds himself in a drunken stupor. In my opinion, he most likely did this to avoid the trauma of the events of the flood. He chose the easy way out, the comforting way out, rather than maintain relationship with the God that warned him of, and protected him throughout the course of the flood. Regardless of whether or not the flood story is a word for word account, or some creative liberties were taken to create a more interested parable, the theme of remain close to what has been good and faithful to you rather than trying to make your own way, or believing that what has been good will not continue to be good is a goal to remember. When we enter into darkness, we must remember that our vision still works, and that the sun (in this case, hope) will always rise again. If you keep the conversation flowing between you and God, you’re now walking through the darkness with a flaming torch that provides you light, heat, and the ability to create fire. You now have a source of protection and peace until the sun does rise again; in fact, the source of protection and peace. If you stop talking to God during the darkness, your fire goes out.

My second thought is recognizing and reacting to the symptoms of not talking to God.

My life is significantly more difficult when I begin following my own path and believing my choices are the best ones for my life. It’s as though I’m malfunctioning, responding slowly, freezing up, and I need a reset; just like a cell phone when it needs to be updated or it’s becoming obsolete. When I reset though, thankfully I have a stored backup (just like my phone). My backup comes in the form of something I heard referred to as “pillars of faith” that is referred to in the old testament: in the book of Joshua, God tasks Joshua with having the twelve tribes of Israel collect twelve stones to acts as stones of remembrance for the future children of the tribes; when the future sons and daughters would ask what they meant, they would be able to be reminded of when the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground, just as God had created a path through the Red Sea for the Israelites in captivity. When I find myself in situations of needing to remember, to “back-up” or “reset” my life, I remember my own stones of remembrance, or pillars of faith as I often call them. I use these to “restore” my own settings and be returned to my fully and correctly functioning state without any bugs or errors.

My third thought is how I should respond to God in a more devoted and reliant manner than my phone.

When Apple releases a big firmware update, or even a new phone model iteration, people flock to the stores en masse. People anticipate, review and immerse themselves in the newness of the things; you could even say people rejoice over it. As technology has gained more and more ground over the years and planned obsolescence has become an increasingly used technique of these companies, so few people are happy with their old phone or software. Even though there is usually some kind of sacrifice to acquire this newness, be it the monetary sacrifice of a purchase, or the sacrifice of time in waiting for a download, people still clamor to this new thing because it’s different, better, and more capable. Are people (and I myself) really so pacified and shallow that the desire for “better” stops at wanting a better phone, a better car, a better home? Why should I not desire to upgrade myself as a person? I’m not talking about Neuralink (big pass on that), I’m talking about who I am supposed to be as a person, the identity I was created for but maybe haven’t embraced yet, or have only embraced in part. If I were to seek this upgrade, in the same way that our old phone or firmware get replaced by the newer, cooler, better thing, we should replace our old selves with new. We must be careful though not to try and craft our own firmware version, or some kind of Frankenstein of old phone parts into what may look like a cell phone. There is a trustworthy developer that we should go to, that knows know what they’re doing. If we try to attempt our own upgrades, we may just end up creating more bugs that are too numerous to crush and to resilient to kill. Plus, the manufacturer has top of the line updates and security features that will keep us up to date if we just remember to install them.

The last reason that I can think of (for this list at least) is how in the same way our phones charge to have any functionality at all, we must also charge up to be able to have functionality and serve in the same ways we’re meant to. I’m not referring to the process of sleep, or consuming calories for energy, or even a quick espresso to make myself believe that I’m less tired, I’m referring to installing a whole new battery, a secondary battery that allows more power draw and capabilities than you ever had with just one. Abiding, dwelling, being present with, meditating, or my personal favorite “walking with God in the cool of the evening”, these are all ways of filling our spiritual and most powerful battery. I’ve seen it daily in my life when I am purposefully present with God that my day goes better. The same can be said for my wife and those in my life that follow Christ. The best thing about him is that he is a perpetual motion machine, he is infinite energy, just waiting for us to plug in so that we never have to be charged back up. We don’t receive the energy if we’re not plugged in though, and that’s why spending time with him in his word, in conversation, and in walking out his ways is so important. That’s what charges us with his love and truth.



Recovery: Can You Have Stockholm Syndrome from Social Media?

As of today, December 18th 2020, I have removed myself from the gravity-well of Instagram and put myself into the outer orbit of Facebook. It’s been fifty-seven days of feeling -as cliche as this is- free and awake from the hypnotic powers of Mount Doomsta and Lord Zuckerberg. I have no regrets. I owe all my thankfulness of somehow getting out to a video I watched, ironically, on Youtube. The video was a Ted Talk called Here’s Why You May Be Depressed or Anxious.

The video wasn’t specifically about social media. It was specifically about how as humans, -and personally for me, someone living in a first world country- are living lives that are no longer meeting biological needs that we’ve developed over the our history as a species. What needs are the host talking about focusing on in the video? Deep connection between humans and sharing community.

Coming from someone who identifies as being highly anxious and intermittently depressed, I can vouch for the fact that isolation fuels my anxiety; which fuels my depression; which in turn makes me feel unwanted; which then finally circles back around to isolation again in the beautifully terrible vicious cycle of fear and loneliness. Basically, an Ouroboros of disconnection and despair.

So, I watched and finished this video and I felt good. I felt heard and seen even though I had never heard of the host, Johann Hari; Nor was I fortunate enough to have met him. Post-video, I felt the euphoria and go-get-em attitude that usually arises in my optimist’s heart after I consume an inspirational piece of media and I sat there thinking to myself: “I’m going delete my Facebook! I’m going to delete my Instagram! I’m going to reconnect more intentionally and more often with my friends! I’m going to be happy!” Well, typically whenever this particular train of thought crosses my mind -because this wasn’t the first time-, the pattern usually unfolds as followed:

  1. Consume a piece of inspirational media, for example: a self-help book, a Ted Talk video, a Hallmark movie (joke), some music from Josh Groban, etc. We’ll call this media “M”
  2. Become introspective and thoughtful.
  3. Appreciate how interesting points or beautiful observations were made by “M” that I had never thought of and how eloquently the author or creator framed their thesis or message.
  4. Become enraptured by the positive benefits or feelings associated with what I just learned or heard from “M”
  5. Decide to make a positive change to my life that arose from “M”
  6. Begin to make the change, successfully acting out my new goal for a few days.
  7. On day number x, fail to do the prescribed action because of whichever excuse.
  8. Attempt to create the habit again and succeed for a few days.
  9. Skip a day because I needed to, for example, binge read a new book and I just couldn’t pull myself away to do the self-prescribed new action that I hoped to turn into a habit.
  10. Not too disappointedly give up trying because this is obviously too difficult, and how bad did I really want to start this new habit?

You might think, and I would confirm your thought, that I have a difficult time building new and positive habits in my life as many people do. A very difficult time in fact. Well, for whatever inexplicable reason, this time the new habit stuck.

As an often self-described social media and cell phone addict -we’re talking I filled any second of not being stimulated or engaged on my phone; and often I would use my phone as a way to actively avoid being engaged or stimulated- I figured the best place for me to start was by getting rid of those accounts in some capacity.

I took the basic first step distancing myself of this scientifically proven negative influence on my life by deleting the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone. Then, because that’s the easiest and least effective way of getting out from under the influence of social media, I tried blocking the websites from my phone. I’m not sure if I have the understanding of technology that an 80 year old has, or maybe I’m simply not technologically savvy, or maybe there’s actually no way to do this without putting child restrictions on my phone, but I ended up having to remove the JavaScript functionality of those websites on my phone and laptop to make them virtually unusable because I couldn’t figure out how to fully block the websites. Oh well.

This landed me successfully on step 5 of my life change pattern. From here, it was just a matter of seeing if this tech cleansing (cheaper, and probably more beneficial than a juice cleanse I might add) would stick.

Side note that will appear again later: People often say that getting rid of a negative habit is significantly easier if you fill the empty space the old negative habit held, with a new positive habit. Conveniently, I had just the thing to fill the empty space. I began the 2020 New Year with a modest resolution to read twenty-four books in the following twelve months.

The next step in solving my loneliness/anxiety affliction after having been digitally ‘clean’ for a few weeks, was to begin implementing the more important part of this whole shift, and to start rebuilding the friendships I felt like I had let shrivel in the past few years, begin new friendships, enter new communities, and reinvest in the ones I already had.

Well, that was a pretty tall order, so you know, I decided to take the easiest path I could think of for accomplishing this goal. I quit; kind of, not really, but I suppose I never started with that part. See, for me, having a child, being married, working full time, and having or if one -or two if you’re crazy- hobbies, shockingly takes up about 80% of your day at the very minimum. Once you enter the deep end of the adulthood and parenthood swimming pool you begin to run out of free time, especially free you time, frighteningly quickly. You think as a kid that people saying life passes by fast is an exaggeration, I can truly vouch as someone that has just hit the whirlpool of this bizarre time-acceleration whirlpool that it’s not an exaggeration. It’s a bullet train and the days are just the trees next to the track. Anyways, I needed to make new friends and revitalize old ones to feel like I was on the right path. In a classic cosmic punchline though, this certain crazy thing had happened six months prior, and it was like the anti-friendship storm. It was the Corona Virus. Yeah. You can have whatever thoughts you want about it, but regardless of what you think, corona put a planet size damper on connection and community.

As Corona was wreaking its all encompassing havoc, I gave myself a little bit of grace on the goals I had created by shaving just a bit of loftiness, and thereby difficulty, off of them. Physical proximity was mostly out which left distant connection. Unfortunately remote relationships aren’t my strong suit; I’m infamous for at the very least annoying people by not maintaining the conversation if it’s over text, and at worst literally avoiding answering the phone if I see someone calling. I’ve created an irrational fear of phone calls, associating them with bad news or future possible obligations I know that I will have zero desire to actually follow through on when the day or time suddenly arrives. This phobia of communication arises from a self-diagnosis of a combined problem of social anxiety, depression, and generalized anxiety (if there’s a difference). It doesn’t help that I’m naturally an introvert anyways. Going to a doctor or therapist would be the ideal and obvious solution to confirming this self-diagnosis but doctors are expensive, and insurance is also expensive and life is expensive, and my hobbies are expensive, and I simply can’t live without my fancy coffee, so I just have to choose my expensive battles; obviously fancy coffee takes priority over my mental health (this is a sarcasm. I jab at my own ridiculous behaviors and I fully realize that coffee literally just makes anxiety worse) every morning of the week.

It’s December 18th now, and I can unhappily admit that, for the most part, my goals of social connection and community have fallen through and I failed at taking any significant steps in breaking through my anxieties and following up on completing my goals. The few exceptions to this are the literally handful of times that I pleasantly surprised myself and invited friends over or requested to get together with certain people. I can count on one hand how many times I actually did this. If I’m honest with myself, at the time, those rendezvous felt like accomplishments to me, they felt like baby-steps in completing the desire of strengthening and growing my relationships. Those get togethers did offer up some lovely conversations and shared experiences, so they weren’t total losses. In fact, they weren’t losses at all; they were all small accomplishments that did apply towards my re-developing of social skills. This disillusionment with my own small accomplishments is another problem I’ve had for a long time. The problem is the false belief that small successes and more intimate lifestyles aren’t as fulfilling or grand as those that are prominent and momentous. What I’m trying to say is because I didn’t become friends with Oprah or Elon Musk, or instead, less famous but more numerous people, I feel like I failed, and while there’s an element of truth to that, it’s not the truth, because I did grow and learn about my relationships with a lot of different people this year, and that, by my own definition of the goal I had this year made it a success.

The only goal I can confidently and proudly say that I completed this year was reading a lot of books. I had conservative goal of twenty-four for the year. Thus far I’ve read 30 books which is a result I’m elated by. Many of these books have helped me grow emotionally, intellectually, as a lover of stories; and as a learning and growing writer.

As I finished that last paragraph, I felt like I was losing my train of thought and changing subjects from the initial community/connection/depression/anxiety topics I was hitting, but really those books have helped me grow a lot and engage other people I may not have, as well as being a priceless tool for trying to accomplish creating new goals and relationships next year. When I pause with purpose and reflect on the soup of disbelief that was 2020, I begin to see that there was so much I did learn because this year was such a reset in so many ways. I mean, of course every year is a reset as every day is, but something about 2020’s reset just felt bigger and more personal at the same time.

Next month I’m going to begin the year with new goals. Seeing the feasibility of completing 24 books in a year gave me a lot of confidence, and that isn’t even accounting for the fact that I deleted 90% of social media almost three quarters of the way through the year, which means that next year I’ll have nine extra months worth of free time I would’ve spent scrolling purposelessly through algorithmic quicksand the year before. Thinking about the fact that it wasn’t until September that I escaped social media, I want to give myself just a tad more credit for what relational goals I did accomplish. I got a late start trying to meet and learn about people this year, hopefully that means I’ll be four times as successful next year.

I think my goals in 2021 are going to put significantly more emphasis on the things I put priority on in 2020: Continuing to read, even more; learning and growing as a father and husband, riding my bicycle for fitness, mental clarity, and trying to be just slightly more environmentally conscious; writing more, both in the world of fiction and in the contemplation of life; and connecting with people more often and more deeply.

Maybe next year I’ll take the full plunge and make social media 100% inaccessible to myself, I guarantee both you and myself that I’d have even more time to invest the things that give me a tangible and meaningful return. Maybe I’d even forgive my digital captor (and myself) for making me waste days upon days made up of split-second glimpses of other peoples lives; and I’d realize that yes, I didn’t really enjoy the vast majority of my time on it, it just made it so easy to look away, to avoid, and to disconnect from social life.

I’m excited to see the physical manifestation of my goals being completed, things being learned, people being befriended, and hopefully a world slightly less chaotic. Next year as I re-immerse myself in the world and community I am a part of and try to cling just a little tighter to the moments that have begun to rush through my fingers like fog, I’ll get to thank myself for cutting a parasitic non-thing out of my life to replace it with more reality, more tears, more smiles, more hugs, more coffee, more of the things I love, and new things, real things. Hopefully everything I’ve set out to do thanks to Johann Hari will make me just a little bit less anxious too.

Although I will miss one thing on social media: Instagram contests. I did love me a good contest. Oh and the filters.

Things I’m enjoying at the moment:

Currently listening: Mount Alaska, Skalpel, Kevin Morby

Currently watching: The Good Place, Breadtube (left-leaning social commentators).

Currently coffeeing: Prelude Coffee Roasters single origin Rwanda and The Familiar Blend.

Currently reading: Bird by Bird- Anne Lamott, White Tiger- Aravind Adiga

Currently developing: my voice as a writer, the stacks on my bookshelves, my son’s jumping skills.