Notifications: The Twenty-First Century Squirrel

It is the season of Lent and as I noted in a post earlier this week on that topic it is a time where many people give something up. Like chocolate, booze or soda.  There is a right interesting list of things here and some pretty good options.  The idea is basically to deny yourself something you like (this is important – giving up something you don’t like is cheating) as Christ denied himself for our benefit.

Another approach is to take on a spiritual discipline.  A Lenten devotional, a focus on your prayer life or a commitment to worship during Lent.  Those kinds of things.  All good things that serve the purpose of enhancing our faith life.

I’ve decided to combine the two this year.

I’m giving up bacon for Lent this year.  I really like bacon.  I don’t eat it every day but I like bacon.  I had a frozen pizza wrapped in bacon while the Super Bowl was on.  I wasn’t actually watching the Super Bowl (a subject for another post) but not watching the game is no reason to deny myself game day goodies, right?  And one of the kids challenged me to it so there you go.  I’m giving up bacon for Lent.  The irony of giving up a pork product to honor a Jewish carpenter is not lost on me.

More importantly for my mental health and faith life is the discipline that I’m taking on.  A few weeks ago I came across a WNYC podcast called Note To Self. The current series is called Infomagical and deals with the idea that we live in the middle of a constant onslaught of data and information.

Can’t argue with that  but what to do about it?  Many people suggest giving up social media (the list I linked to above suggests this).  Not a bad idea but for a number of reasons giving up social media isn’t appropriate.  As a pastor living in the digital age social media is an important part of our ministry.  Not to mention I have friends on FB and Twitter that I chat with, pray with and for and basically do what friends do.  Every day.

Others suggest turning off electronic devices entirely.  Again, not a bad idea but once more, not appropriate.  As a pastor there is a certain expectation of availability.  I’ve noticed that people don’t always wait until office hours to have an emergency like dying.

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H/T to my daughter, Starsha Canaday

But all is not lost.  Infomagical has some interesting approaches that work with real life instead of a binary on/off kind of world.

The first episode deals with the fallacy and delusion of multi-tasking.  The reality is we can’t and don’t.  What we actually do is shift from task to task, a fairly inefficient process compared to focusing on one thing at a time.

Looking at a screen shot from just this morning it would appear that I delude myself into thinking I can multi-task.  Just how many tabs do I need open at one time?  Broadcast email program, personal email, work email, Facebook, Twitter, a sermon research website and my blog.  Not to mention a couple of Word docs down below.

Hmmmm…  Methinks I delude myself and the truth is not in me.

The real issue for me is the notifications on these various and sundry pages.  I’m pretty good focusing on the one page or another; right up until a notification shows up. And then?  Squirrel!  Even if I don’t go check it right away my train of thought is derailed.

Screen

One approach is giving up social media and avoiding all those pesky notifications.  But as we’ve already discussed, that isn’t such a good fit for me. Infomagical offers another, rather obvious, solution.  Close the windows you’re not actually working on.  Wow, thanks so much Obviousman!

So that’s my discipline from Day One of Infomagical.  Close out what I’m not actually using and focus on what I actually am doing.

Day Two of Infomagical was similar in nature but more phone related.  According to the podcast the average user has 80 apps on their phone.  Eighty?  I threw the BS flag and went to count mine.  I didn’t get past the home screen after realizing my iPhone 5S has 24 on the home screen alone.  Just one of those is a folder with 11 weather apps.  Ummmm….

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This is what 45 apps on the home screen look like

Kind of like cleaning your closet, get rid of what you don’t actually use and turn off notifications for the rest.  I’m using some wiggle room there because there are a couple of things I never check unless notified so the notification actually helps me stay out of the app.  For the rest?  Off with the notifications.  Off with the apps.

Haven’t really processed Day Three yet but it deals with not following the trending memes and topics.  Here’s why.  How many times have you been sucked down the rabbit hole of something trending and then had no idea what you’d just looked at.  Why did I look at “The Dress?”  I really don’t care what color it is.  Why did I look at anything that Donald Trump has done?  It isn’t likely to change my opinion. How much time have I wasted chasing down potentially interesting topics that I know won’t do anything toward filling my soul?

You get the idea.  Give it up.  Clear it out.  Stay focused.  And be healthier.  Seems like a good discipline to me.

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