#FridayFive: Another 5 Interesting Medium Posts

Hey folks! Back this week with another group of Medium posts that I found informative and/or challenging, and that I think you may appreciate:

Confessions of A Failed Female Coder – Caroline McCarthy tackles the topic of women in STEM (specifically in Computer Science) and provides some perspective on the infamous “Google memo” by James Damore. McCarthy’s insights on how education and learning style influence the way girls interact with STEM subjects gave my wife and I some good things to discuss regarding how we will raise and educate our daughter.

Las Vegas, Murder, and Gun Control – Rick Thomas wrestles with some of the political/cultural conversation around the latest mass shooting in the US. Most helpful for me was his breakdown of the 3 arguments used by cultural evangelists, in regards to guns.

You Weren’t Very Persuasive Today – Cody Libolt provides some good ideas on how to have productive and persuasive discussions with people with whom you disagree. In an age of people screaming past each other into the digital abyss, this post is worth some consideration.

Killing Television – Michael Marinaccio cites a few Pew Research results about the demographics of news consumption and media trust, as he considers the possible effect of a generational shift from visual news back to print news as a more trusted resource.

Why You Should Quit Reading Paper Books – I disagree with Andy Sparks’ premise entirely*, as do apparently ALL of the commenters (the answer to your problem, Andy, is a combination of marginalia, pocket notebooks, and highlighters), but I’ll admit he has some useful tips for how to capture and review ideas and quotes from your digital reading. So take that for what it’s worth, and leave the rest, I guess.

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There you go, gang. Some fun reading for the weekend.

If you’re on Medium, let me know! I’d love to check out your work. I’m on Medium, too, if you want to follow me there–though I haven’t produced much of anything in that forum. Yet.

Have you read any useful or challenging articles online lately? Post the link in the comments below!

 

 

*Much to the possible dismay of Mr. Sparks, I’m actually playing around with the idea of reading EXCLUSIVELY print books in 2018, and limiting myself to books I actually own as of January 1. I figure it’s a good way to battle my tsundoku tendencies.

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#FridayFive: 5* Interesting Stories I’ve read recently on Medium.

So I have a confession to make: I use the “bookmark” function on Medium entirely too much.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Medium is a free public blogging platform in which anyone can submit articles. (And I mean anyone.) If you subscribe to certain people’s feeds or click that you are interested in certain topics, you can get a daily (or weekly, I imagine) digest email from the site with links to articles that might interest you. And you can even “bookmark” things you want to read later.

What happens when you bookmark a whole lot and don’t actually read that much? You get a backlog of articles that may number into the several hundred. Or so I’m told.

So I figured, at least for a few weeks, I was going to go through this backlog and pull stories to tell you about that I found interesting, informative, funny, and/or generally worth reading.

Disclaimer: I will try to warn you in advance, but in these posts I will link to articles with bad language from time to time. I’m going to trust that you and your conscience will make good choices, based on your convictions. If I link to the article, it’s because I think the content is worth reading, despite objectionable verbiage.

So here you go–5* stories I’ve read recently that I thought were worth sharing:

I Envy Your Fake Life — Stephen Altrogge talks about the confluence of social media and comparison. I appreciated his honesty, and the reminder of how God’s sovereignty speaks to our contentment.

The Only 3 Types of Writing People Actually Want to Read — Okay, so a lot of the stuff I read on Medium has to do with content creation, writing, publishing, etc. This piece by Ayodeji Awosika was a very useful and direct reminder about what people want to get out of online content (or really, any written content).

Read Like You’re on a Diet — Okay, this one hit a little close to home, as Cody Musser describes the glut of reading material online, the temptation to try to catch it all, and how overwhelming it can be. He’s also frank about how writers’ motives can cloud how good or useful content is. And he emphasizes the need for creating, not just consuming. Worth considering. (NB: language)

23 Ways to Immediately Get more Traffic to Your Blog — Okay, this post is SEO’d to the max. Unsurprising, since it’s Jeff Goins, who’s a pro at platforming. BUT it’s also got some good and useful ideas for boosting the number of eyes that land on your writing, so if you’re into such things, this is a good one to read.

Reading to Learn: Why You Shouldn’t Read Beginning-to-End and What You Should Do Instead — Michael Motta discusses what looks like a very effective method for reading non-fiction (especially textbooks) with an eye to better retention and comprehension. If you’re in school, this may especially be worth a look.

BONUS:

Jesus Took Away My Freedom of Speech… — Couldn’t wait until next time to include this one. Billy Schiel reminds us in this great article about the implications of being servants of Jesus Christ, including how it affects the way we speak (or blog or tweet). Don’t miss this one.

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There you go: the first “Medium” edition of the #FridayFive. If you are already on Medium and are so inclined, you can follow me there. No, I don’t have much content up at this point, but I will be rectifying that in the next few weeks–both with cross-posts from this blog and some Medium-exclusive content as well. Looking forward to that!

Have a great weekend, do something fun, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day if you’re a believer, and I’ll be back next week (hopefully).

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?

(Un)Happy Warriors.

Hey, Christian friends–can we talk just a minute about social media?

*sound of stampeding feet*  GUYS, GUYS, WAIT, COME BACK!!!

Look, y’all–I enjoy using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, just like most of you do. I’ve developed many great interactions and (I think) some genuine friendships with people around the country through this medium. But it would serve us well to take a step back and think once again about how we’re using these gifts.

Maybe it’s the intensified political climate, maybe it’s because the issues of race relations and abortion are always topics of discussion in January, but as I’ve pulled up Twitter and Facebook over the last few weeks, I’m constantly seeing my online friends–solid, grounded, fruit-bearing believers–engaged in social-media slapfights with either believers of other tribes or with non-believers. Argumentation bleeds over into insult. Blocks and bans are celebrated with high-fives.

Here’s the danger, y’all: We can’t let gamesmanship get in the way of the Gospel. “Jerks for Jesus” are still just jerks. 

I’m not saying that you can’t engage and debate online in a healthy way. I’ve seen some of my friends do that also, and do it well, in recent weeks. I want to learn from those examples.

But some of us?  We just enjoy pickin’ fights.

bh-fight

In my experience, we Reformed (or Reformed-ish) folk seem to fall into this trap regularly, as we take our stand as warriors of orthodoxy and defenders against heresy.

I’ll be the first to affirm that doctrine matters, and truth is worth fighting for. However, we must be ever so careful that our love of truth is not overwhelmed by our love for the scrum and skirmish of ideological battle. We happy theological warriors can quickly become hardened and bitter. We turn our blades on each other. I’ve seen it happen.

My brothers, this should not be.

Confession: I do it, too. (I am Captain Buzzkill, after all.) As I grow more and more aware of this tendency in myself, I am trying to dial that down, to recognize when I’m growing pugilistic in my interactions. Because it’s not becoming of a follower of Jesus to sling snark on a constant basis.

And frankly, gang? It makes Twitter less fun, because it turns Twitter into a perpetual outrage party.  No thanks.

Maybe you think I’m off base. Maybe you think I’ve gone soft. You know what, brother, sister? I can handle that.

But, if you would indulge me, please take a few moments and think over these reminders of how we ought to engage other people (who despite their sin are still made in the image of God) on social media. Then, let’s go and do likewise:

Colossians 4:5-6  “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

I Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respecthaving a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Titus 3:1-8  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all peopleFor we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

[All translations are ESV; all emphases mine.]

No way I can stop at 7.

The current trending hashtag among my friends on Twitter is #7FavBooks. I have to admit that I’m a little intimidated by my friends’ selections, which are on the whole very theologically-inclined. (Goes to show you the calibre of scholars I pal around with on Twitter.) If I tried to limit myself to seven books, I think my list would be much more focused on fiction,and I would need to explain all my selections. So I’m going to break the rules a bit.

What I’ve included below is not my all-time list (I don’t know if I can come up with one), but it’s definitely my much-beloved list.

Seven Novels/Series I Love and Recommend (Mostly):

  • The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis. Yes, I have some problems with Lewis’ theology in a few places, but this series has been formative in my life. I’ve read through these books almost a half-dozen times, starting back when I was in grade school. I have a deep and abiding love for these books that won’t go away any time soon.
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve read this one, and I think that’s way too long. This Pulitzer-winning novel tells the story of an septuagenarian Iowa preacher named Aames, who is writing down his legacy of memory to give to his young son, since he probably won’t be around to see the boy reach adulthood. It’s a touching meditation on fatherhood and faith, and I need to get back to this one soon.
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. The summer between high school and college, I worked my way through the 1400-page unabridged version of this classic novel, and I loved every bit of it. Even the random fifty-page diversions in which Hugo would talk about the details of Napoleon at Waterloo or the particular history of an order of nuns in France. The story of Jean Valjean’s transformation of grace is one that has been depicted over and over again in film and on stage, because there is something compelling about the power of forgiveness and mercy. This book revels in that beauty.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Criticisms of this Puritan classic generally include that the allegory drives the story–that the story is just an excuse for the didactic sections. That may well be true, but if you’re a believer, I don’t think you can read this book without coming away encouraged and reminded of the spiritual realities of this world. This is a book I have appreciated more and more with each reading, and I think I’m going to start reading it every year or two because it’s so rich with truth.
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Dickens is still one of my favorite writers of all time, and it was hard to choose one title to represent that. However, I know that his wordy descriptions and multitudes of characters can be tough sledding for some, so I think Tale is his most accessible work with one of his most memorable scenes. No spoilers, in case you made it through high school without reading it, but let’s say that the final chapters produce a moment of nobility that is awe-inspiring. Worth another look, if you haven’t read it in years.
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  This sprawling story about the relationship of the three brothers Mitya, Vanya, and Alyosha is possibly over-long (it’s Russian, so that tends to happen), but within its pages are some of the greatest examples of a novelist wrestling with the realities of faith. There’s a LOT going on here, and it’s a daunting read at first. But it’s worth the investment in order to experience this story. This is another one I want to tackle again sometime.
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King. This one will get me some raised eyebrows, no doubt, but Stephen King’s books are one of my slightly-guilty pleasures. What fascinates me about King is that his novels demonstrate a startling understanding of the depravity of man, but he refuses to turn to Jesus as the answer to that depravity. (As such, religious figures in his books are generally painted in a pretty terrible light, focusing on hypocrisy and moral corruption.) That said, he knows how to spin a good yarn, and the Dark Tower series is his magnum opus–a sprawling fantasy epic that pulls in elements of westerns, horror, science fiction, and medieval fantasy, and shares points of contact with nearly half of King’s immense bibliography. I would definitely NOT recommend it to everyone for several content-related reasons. And I don’t know if I’d ever try to read it again. But I still regard it as a storytelling masterpiece and it holds a special place in my memory.

That’s my current seven for fiction. Tomorrow (probably), I’ll post my list of seven non-fiction books. See you then!

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Your Turn: Okay, I’ve given you my list; now what’s yours? What are some of your favorite works of fiction? Share them in the comments below (and, as always, be courteous about the opinions of others).

Vanity, 140 characters at a time.

Two (possibly contradictory) thoughts regarding social media (and Twitter in particular):

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I was all set to blast him.

I spent a few minutes crafting what I knew was the perfect, 140-character jeremiad against a political party leader. It was rueful. It was accusatory. It would surely be seen and echoed by others, gaining “likes” and “retweets.”

As my thumb hovered over the “send” button, I imagined this person somehow picking this tweet out amidst the thousands of social media comments he was surely receiving, reading it, and being struck by its truth and resonance.

And then I thought, “Wait–what if he does read this? What if this is the only interaction I’ll ever have with the man? Is this the impression I want to leave?”

I wrestled for a second…then deleted my perfectly-sharpened rhetorical barb.

Go ahead and laugh. I agree, it’s a patently ridiculous thought that my comment would be the one needle in the digital haystack that would actually scratch its intended target. But let’s bring it back down to earth a bit.

Rather than a major political figure, how about the random person on Twitter whom I have the chance to interact with sometime? In that one interaction, how would I want to be perceived? And would they be able to tell what I value?

If you knew that your only interaction with a person would be via 140-character messages, what would you say? More importantly, what wouldn’t you say?

The person you’re @-tweeting to, even if they’re a celebrity or political power player, is a real person with a living soul. Not just a face or a name or a persona.  A real person. (I know, I know, I’ve talked about this before.)

I guess I’m bringing up all this to say, sometimes I can be too much of a keyboard-cowboy. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m nobody from nowhere, and that Jesus is the only person who matters. Sometimes I need to be thumped in the head by the fact that every careless word I speak (or type) matters to God (Matt. 12:33-37). If I remembered that every time I pulled up Twitter, it would motivate me to represent Him better in that medium.

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On the other hand: If I’m not using social media for specifically spiritual purposes, am I guilty of sin?

A Twitter-buddy of mine posted a brave question the other day: “Based on the majority of my social media content, what do you think I value most?” From what I could tell, some of the answers he received disappointed him a little. I have to give him props for even asking the question. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answers I’d get, especially lately.

That question may be useful as a litmus test for checking for secret idolatries–the tendency we sinful creatures have to value things far more than they are due and make them more important in our lives than they should be (what the sages call “disordered passions”).

But I think the answers we get to that question may be a little misleading, as well, due to the nature of social media itself, and how we use it.  Often, I use social media to connect to people who enjoy the things I enjoy, and get excited about the same aspects of art and culture that I do. So it wouldn’t be outlandish to notice a large part of my interactions on social media are about just that: movies, music, TV, sports, politics, books.

However, what you see on Twitter or even on this blog isn’t the totality of my energies and thoughts. It may give indications, sure, and I should take those clues  seriously. But there’s more going on than what we see on-screen, even when it comes to ourselves.

All this to say: If your whole life (both online and offline) is consumed with temporary things, then pay attention. Re-adjust. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and get your head on straight.

But if you tweet or post about Steve Rogers, Barry Allen, and Jake Arietta because the only people you know who would be interested in discussing these heroic figures are friends on the internet? Well, I don’t think that’s an indication that your heart’s grown cold to the things of Christ.

But what do I know. Maybe I’m another frog in the pot with you.

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Like I said–possibly contradictory. This is the push-pull that I feel when it comes to this issue. I want to represent Jesus well with my words and actions. But I enjoy this life He’s given me, with all its temporary pleasures and unimportant joys. Baseball and comic books and board games and karaoke with friends–these are all gifts from God. I am thankful to Him for them. And on social media, I geek out about all these silly things. I don’t think that’s wrong, as long as these unimportant things don’t crowd out the Main Thing in my life.

Ironically, last night, after I finished the first draft of this post, my wife suggested that we both take a step back from media involvement for a bit, to focus some extra energy on spiritual things. For her, that’s mainly TV. For me, it’s social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter).  She’s right. It would be good to take a break. Regroup. Focus on weighty things.

 

I will try to get back to regular Monday – Wednesday – Friday blog posting, next week. I just won’t be as visible on other platforms for a little while.

Have a good weekend, friends. Jesus is Lord. Give Him the glory due His name.