The iPad ad shows the true colors of much of the tech industry. These companies stopped making tools a long time ago. They now make Everything Machines that are designed to free us from the shackles of the analog world. Up next: freedom from the shackles of the physical world. This is Gnosticism revisited, not by ancient religious leaders, but by tech moguls who are driven by far more than profit.

    I wonder how much of the push towards thinner and lighter is rooted in a desire to free the user from anything physical? Sure, these devices are (sometimes) easier to transport and (sometimes) easier to hold when they are thinner and lighter. But the ad suggests that thinness is about more than usability. The thinner the device, the less reliant we are on the physical realm.

    I am writing this on an iPad. I am well aware of the cognitive dissodance involved here. But my recent flirting with the idea of only purchasing used tech devices did just gain an extra measure of resolve.

    This ad reminds us that we have too weak a vision for the value of repair and restoration. As one whose views on automobiles and life have been shaped by decades of listening to Car Talk, and admires the folks behind The Repair Shop, the sharp contrast between this ad and the spirit of shows like these is palpable.

    The ad works, in a world where advertising is successful in so much as it is viral.

    We did not stop to ask why; we have been had.

    When you used to store your family photos in physical albums, and then you were convinced to store them all on a hard drive, and then you were convinced by a large for-profit company to store them in the cloud for free, until the cloud became the only place your photos were stored, and the company decided to charge a monthly fee in order for you to continue to store all of your photos online, you have been had.

    When you cannot imagine leaving home for an errand, a day of work, or a vacation without a device that did not exist throughout all of human history until the twenty-ninth of June ano Domini 2007, you have been had.

    When large for-profit companies spend significant marketing money to convince you to adopt their flagship product for free, you should stop to ask why.

    When a social media app invites you to choose who to follow—giving you the semblance of choice and control over the information you ingest daily—and then decides to decide themselves which of those posts you will see—and when—while also showing you content from people and companies you have not followed, you should stop to ask why.

    The first step is recognizing that you have been had. The next step is using that recognition as motivation to more quickly stop to ask why the next time you see something shiny in the world of technology.

    Smartphones and stoplights

    Smartphone and social media addiction is a real plague affecting younger generations. To deny this in any way is to be woefully and intentionally ignorant of reality.

    At the same time, part of the reason this is a problem in the first place is that the exact same is true of older generations. See Sherry Turkle’s excellent book Reclaiming Conversation for hard data on this front.

    An illustration from my commute this morning: traffic was held up at a left-turn light because the lady in front of me put on her readers to check her phone.

    Are you against computers, Socrates?

    Socrates: Of course not. Am I against brains? I am against confusion—against personalizing instruments and instrumentalizing persons—which is what is at stake in this philosophical question about human and computer intelligence.

    From Peter Kreeft’s brilliant book The Best Things in Life, which imagines dialogues that occur when Socrates visits a modern university campus. Even more poignant: this book was written in 1984.

    An attempt to harness technology as a tool to accomplish what I find to be most important in life.

    Blank App for shortcuts and Venite for the daily office.

    Moral idiots and a liberal arts education

    The paragraph below, from Alan Jacobs, is an important one to comprehend. The rest of his post helps frame some of the wider issues at hand, and points to other helpful works for those seeking to read more widely on these things.

    I want to make a stronger argument: that the distinctive “occupational psychosis” of Silicon Valley is sociopathy – the kind of sociopathy embedded in the Oppenheimer Principle. The people in charge at Google and Meta and (outside Silicon Valley) Microsoft, and at the less well-known companies that are being used by the mega-companies, have been deformed by their profession in ways that prevent them from perceiving, acknowledging, and acting responsibly in relation to the consequences of their research. They have a trained incapacity to think morally. They are by virtue of their narrowly technical education and the strong incentives of their profession moral idiots.

    While it is not the only point of the paragraph, I cannot help but revisit the final sentence (emphasis mine):

    they are by virtue of their narrowly technical education … moral idiots.

    Learning to lead, love, and serve our world does not require more technical training, either in K-12 or higher ed. It requires more humane teaching and learning.

    Your eight year old can learn to code from an app whenever they need it, whether that is this summer or twenty summers from now. They cannot so easily learn what it means to be a human being who is a member of a human society, while also learning to master the art of letters and numbers.

    One of the best things you can do now to prepare young children for the moral idiocracy of our age is to ground them in a rich education in the liberal arts.

    All work email is officially blocked on all devices for the next eight days. One of the few true breaks from work in the year. Looking forward to it … especially after the withdrawal dissipates.

    But a deeper question lurks beneath this debate: are these services making you a better or worse version of yourself?

    On social media and character, by Cal Newport.

    On using email as email

    At my best, I try to use email as its namesake suggests it should be used: as an electronic mailbox.

    As technology advanced in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the smartphone transitioned from an executive novelty to the norm, very few of us—including myself—stopped to ask whether this was actually a good thing. We can access email 24-hours a day on our phones, but should we?

    Are humans the type of beings who are able to flourish when we are never truly disconnected from our work?

    I would suggest that we are not. I know with certainty that I am not.

    My tendency, like most of us, became to use email as a slower version of instant messaging. I had email access on my phone and on my computer, and each of these devices notified me the instant a new message arrived. I then replied as soon as I possibly could, often feeling as though my work was not finished until I responded to every new email that arrived. This, as you can imagine, led to a sense of never feeling like I was “off-duty.” I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the “always-on” approach to email.

    (See Fortune Magazine’s article “How Checking Email After Work Is Burning You Out” or read the results of one of studies it references: ”Anticipatory stress of after-hours email exhausting employees.”)

    I am now back to trying to use email as an electronic mailbox.

    Like my actual mailbox, I may check it occasionally throughout the day if I am expecting important information. Otherwise, I will likely only check it once or twice. This means that I no longer have email or internet access on my phone.

    You cannot really disconnect from email after-hours if you have any possible way of accessing it on your phone. iOS 10 allows you to delete the native Mail app and disable the App Store and disable Safari. I could not break my email-checking habit without making it impossible annoyingly difficult to check email on my device. You might need to do this as well.

    But what about…?

    Several but what abouts almost ruined my endeavor to use email as email. Here are some ways I have talked myself back into it.

    If someone needs something from me immediately, they can give me a call. If they do not have my phone number, then I am probably not the person that is best equipped to handle their emergency.

    If you are thinking, “I would love to do this, but my industry does not allow it,” then I would suggest two things:

    (1) I thought the same thing; you are probably wrong, or (2) You are right, but I imagine you can find a way to limit the “always-on” email mentality to regular work hours.

    How to Stop Loving Your Phone

    Becoming detached from my phone and off-hours email access started well over two years ago. The list below represents the gradual progression to where I am today. (Notes in parenthesis are updates based on changes since the list was first written.)

    1. Disable all push notifications except Phone and Messages
    2. Remove native Mail app plus Gmail and Outlook apps (iOS 10 allows you to do this through Restrictions. It helps to have a friend/spouse create a restrictions code for you.)
    3. Install Moment App to see just how much time you spend on your phone each day. (iOS will now do this for you.)
    4. Remove Social Apps (I have since deleted all my social media accounts.)
    5. Disable Safari access via Restrictions
    6. Disable App Store access via Restrictions
    7. Remove all apps from first screen.
    8. Black and White screen via Accessibility options. Thanks Billie.
    9. Permanent Do-Not-Disturb mode; allowing phone calls and messages from a very short list of people to buzz my phone.
    10. Remain committed to redoing many of these as they creep back in over time.

    Number 10 may be the most important item on the list. The creep back is real…

    You should try it. I can help if you ask.