Why Smartphones are Better than People

Smartphones are ubiquitous. Most families have at least two, maybe three or more if the children are old enough to speak, which means that there are more smartphones than refrigerators in America today. (This information comes from a highly scientific survey, conducted by yours truly, in which I sat thinking for almost a minute about the people that I know and noticed that most of them have only one kitchen but many of them have more than one smartphone. Solid stuff right there. Trust me; I would never mislead my readers by presenting mere speculation and calling it “research”). You will occasionally encounter a family that uses a phone just for making “calls” and does all that other stuff on a “computer,” but for the most part, people will give up cable, pizza delivery, and running water before they part with the Shiny Rectangle of Power.

Some old-fashioned types like to commiserate about the Death of Society and how all this technology is killing our ability to communicate or whatever, but they said the same thing about television and boy, were they wrong about that! They probably said the same thing when the printing press was invented, too. Naysayers and progress-inhibitors will always try to hold us back, but I hope to enlighten some of them – and reaffirm those of you who already use your smartphones to make the world a better place – with my list of:

FIVE REASONS SMARTPHONES ARE BETTER THAN PEOPLE

1. Smartphones Prevent Boredom
Remember when you would be in a waiting room or an airport or a train station and have to endure minutes upon minutes of sitting there with nothing but three-year-old magazines and equally bored strangers to help you pass the time? Thanks to smartphones, you no longer have to pick up a Reader’s Digest or even make eye contact with other people, much less strike up a conversation. They probably didn’t want to talk to you anyway. I mean, they now have smartphones too. If people were interested in conversing, they wouldn’t have bought them.

2. Smartphones are Always Interesting
People are boring sometimes. Decades ago, if you were at a dinner party or a family reunion and the conversation lagged, there was nothing to do but suffer through it. Your options were limited to (a) pretending to care; (b) stuffing your face so at least your tastebuds wouldn’t get bored; or (c) making up some lame excuse to leave, like saying, “This is boring. I’m going to go sit in my car and listen to talk radio for an hour.” Now, however, you can just whip out your smartphone and check Facebook, right in the middle of the conversation. Of course, some traditionalists hold the quaint belief that this is rude; however, we all know that it would be even ruder to actually comment on this. So you’re good.

3. People are Messy
You know it’s true. People – maybe even you, sometimes – have bad hair days, get crabby, and are generally unpredictable. We occasionally say things that aren’t as clever as possible, and sometimes we have emotions, and people who come into contact with us have to be sensitive to that. This is WAY too much work for everybody. Communicating solely through handheld devices ensures that you will never have to deal with unwanted conflict, let somebody see you without makeup on, or be embarrassed by not having a witty remark prepared in real time.

4. Smartphones Know Everything
How many people do you know who fit that description? That’s right: none. This is the Information Age, which means that knowing stuff is important, which means that the human brain is becoming hopelessly outdated. Keep in mind, of course, that “knowing” is different from “remembering.” With a universe of information, statistics, and cat pictures at your fingertips in the Shiny Rectangle of Power, you no longer need the ability to process complex thoughts, tackle difficult issues, or acquire lasting knowledge. Google will tell you what you need to know what you need to know it. Conversely, while talking to people might help build relationships and so forth, it involves precious little data transfer.

5. You Can’t Turn People Off
I think this one is self-explanatory. People…they’re just always there. And sometimes you don’t want them to be. With Facebook, text messaging, and comment sections on controversial articles, you can just log off and go watch reruns of Dr. Who when the interaction becomes too strenuous. Done. But if you accidentally engage in conversation with a person who’s physically present, and it becomes tiresome in some way, what can you do? Sure, you can whip out your smartphone, but the person will STILL BE THERE. Better to embrace the technology and avoid getting yourself into that situation in the first place.

 

As smartphones become even smarter, my hope is that everyone will eventually realize how much easier life is when we leave things up to technology. The sporadic bouts of human interaction that inevitably occur will be simpler and more efficient than they are currently, as each person involved will know that the safety of a smartphone is within arm’s reach. With your help, I believe we can make it happen.

 

Worship Music: Good Taste, Different Tastes, and Pop-Tarts

Enter a discussion about church music styles today, and sooner or later you will encounter one of two buzzwords: “taste” or “preference.” “Traditional music just doesn’t suit my tastes,” somebody will say. “We all have different preferences, but the important thing is that we’re all worshiping God.”

True enough. Our tastes do, indeed, differ, and trying to make someone else like what you like is an exercise of questionable value – first, because it’s unlikely to work, and second, because there are better ways you could be spending your time. So in case you’re afraid I’m going to launch into a tirade about how everything written after 1904 is garbage, hang with me for a little longer. I know better.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ll be honest: singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” gives me more chills than “10,000 Reasons” ever has, and I’d choose a performance of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion over a Casting Crowns concert any day of the week (and twice on Sundays). Those are my preferences. Nonetheless, while I unabashedly maintain that Bach was one of the greatest composers of all time (okay, THE greatest), I’m not about to tell you that you’re an uncultured swine if the only time you hear “classical” music is when you’re on hold with your dentist’s office.

HOWEVER…

I don’t believe that music is only about taste. In fact, I believe that some music is good and some music is…are you ready?…inferior. You may now call me a snob. (But if you keep reading, maybe you’ll reconsider).

Honestly, I’ve learned to appreciate some contemporary worship songs. Though they lack the complexity of church music from past centuries, many of them have engaging melodies, thoughtful lyrics, unity between text and music…in short, artistic integrity. Fifty years from now, congregations may very well still be singing them.

Then there are the other songs. The ones that are purportedly new, but seem to have the same accompaniment as the new song you heard two weeks ago…and the one from a few days before that…and last month…and so on. The melodies wander aimlessly, the harmonies are weak, the texts lack imagination, and sometimes even the grammar is sloppy. These are not stylistic issues; they are issues of craftsmanship, of working within a given idiom to create something meaningful, beautiful, and enduring. A recent article I read provides an excellent summary of some basic components of good songwriting. Nowhere does the author suggest that, to write a good song, one must simply imitate the composers of 100-plus years ago; instead, using contemporary examples, he points out key musical and lyrical elements that differentiate a fresh, original song from one whose words and music are hackneyed and ultimately forgettable.

“But…but…” some might say…”that song made me feel feelings! And the person who wrote it loves Jesus!” Okay, yes, both of those statements are probably true. Pop Tarts make my taste buds feel feelings, and the people who make them probably like to eat, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy them. More to the point: the people who make them know what kind of junk goes into the recipe. They know better – but they keep making Pop Tarts because consumers like them. Songwriters know – or should know – what constitutes a good song. And yet, so often, it seems that somebody sat down at the piano, spent thirty minutes tinkering around with a melody, threw in some sentimental thoughts about God, and sent it off to the publisher. And because it has a CCLI license, heaven forbid that anybody express a negative opinion of that song.

Is that really the best we can do? Are so many of us really willing to settle for that? Psalm 33:3 exhorts us to “Sing to Him a new song,” so we are clearly encouraged to worship the Lord with our own modern music as well as the music of our heritage; however, the second part of the verse says: “Play skillfully with a shout of joy” (emphasis added). Whether a songwriter’s skill lies in grand orchestral and choral works intended for majestic cathedrals, or in simple but beautiful melodies paired with well-expressed, worshipful lyrics to be sung with guitar and piano, surely our Creator – the One who gave us beauty, and hearts and eyes with which to perceive it – deserves the very best we can offer Him in return.

Today is the Best Day of the Rest of Your Life

I’m not sure when it started happening, but I remember when I recognized a pattern. An adult acquaintance asked me how things were going in college, and I responded honestly. Swamped with papers, sweating through practice hours, running to and fro for rehearsals and concerts, and dealing with personal issues, I was seriously overwhelmed.

“Well,” she said, “try to enjoy it. These are the best years of your life.”

Outwardly, I conceded that, yes, college did present many opportunities that one might not have again, and that I was indeed actually thoroughly enjoying it. Inwardly, though, I confess to being much less agreeable. Am I a complete wuss for being stressed by all these apparently insignificant things? I thought. If life will only continue to get worse from this moment, I sure hope I don’t even make it to my sixties. But, at that moment, I saw the pattern. Simply put: At every stage of life, from the day you learn to hold a conversation, people will hasten to tell you that things will never be better than they are right now. Not all people – but just enough.

It even happens to kids. “You don’t know how good you have it!” Now, in some cases, this statement may be necessary…when, for instance, a kid complains that he doesn’t get enough candy, or that his friends have more video games than he does. Deal with it, kid. People are starving in Ethiopia. Sometimes, though, kids hear those same words when they’ve been shunned by a friend…picked last for the team…or simply frustrated by being unable to accomplish a task, whether it’s putting pants on the right way or building a block tower that won’t fall down. “Oh, honey, it’ll be okay,” they’re told. “Someday you’ll look back on this and wonder why it upset you so much. Life will be MUCH harder when you’re an adult.”

The trend continues as we mature. “You think high school is hard? Wait until college!” “You think college is hard? Wait until you have a job!” And then…you become a parent. And oh, that “you-just-wait” comment attacks you from all sides.

“Oh-ho-ho, look how cute and pleasant your baby is right now. Enjoy this time while she can’t talk, because as soon as she can, it’ll be nothing but backtalk until she goes to school!”

“You think three-year-olds are difficult? When they’re teenagers, you’ll want to ship ’em off to Ethiopia! And they aren’t even cute by that time!”

Here’s the thing: on a certain level, I get it. Eventually, most children figure out how to get their pants on correctly, and seriously, it’s just pants, not nuclear medicine. HOWEVER…it’s not just about pants. It’s about wanting to do something well, and feeling disheartened by repeated unsuccessful attempts…and don’t we all struggle with that? Whether you’re four or forty, it’s discouraging to feel like you can’t do something right. And does anything hurt more than standing on the field in gym class for what seems like an eternity until the team captain reluctantly calls you over because there was nobody left to pick?

Well…on one hand, yes. Since childhood, I’ve been experienced bigger and more lasting hurts than those inflicted in gym class. At those moments, though, my little elementary-school heart ached as much as it could possibly ache, and my capacity for feeling unwanted and inadequate was stretched to its limits. If my parents had told me, when I poured out my heart to them later on, that my problems were small and I was overreacting, those feelings of inadequacy and loneliness would have only intensified. I would have felt stupid for even having them. Moreover, I would have hesitated to share anything with them in the future, because I’d always have been wondering if I was just being childish and oversensitive. One of my favorite quotes concerning parenting addresses this concept:

“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” ~Catherine M. Wallace

In general, although I have occasionally heard children’s problems minimized by their elders, I think adults recognize this truth. The older we get, though, the more likely we are to hear that our current struggles are, in light of future events, not worth getting worked up about. I’m not sure why, and I think that analyzing it would require a whole other blog post; however, I will venture to propose that people often don’t stop to remember what it was like to be in the shoes of those younger than themselves.

When I was in college, it was harder than anything I’d done yet. Sure, I had some wonderful experiences, and loved what I was studying, but it was HARD. There was always something I needed to be doing, and I felt restless any time I was relaxing, because I knew I’d soon need to get back to practicing, get started on a paper, or study for an exam.

When I was teaching, it was harder than anything I’d done yet. I was responsible for more than just getting good grades; I was responsible for other people’s kids. I was earning a paycheck, I was in front of people constantly, and I couldn’t just slack off.

When I became a mother…my life turned upside down. I had never felt so exhausted, unsure of myself, and intensely desirous of doing things just right.

So yes, in a way, life’s challenges grow as we do…but here’s the key: we grow in our ability to handle those challenges. I’m not sure if college was much harder for me at age twenty than high school was for me at sixteen…and if it was, so what? High school prepared me for college. College prepared me for teaching. Parenting children is preparing me for parenting teenagers.

We are called to bear one another’s burdens, not to scoff at others’ burdens because ours are bigger. If you’re teaching right now, I might not offer to write your lesson plans for you, but I will listen as you tell me it’s been a rough semester. I will agree that teaching was, and is, incredibly demanding. And when my kids reach their teens, and a young mother confides to me that she’s barely making it from one day to the next with her little ones, I hope I will still know better than to offer some dismissive comment about how wonderful those years are compared with my current teenage-parent angst.

If I don’t, you can print out this blog post and hit me over the head with it. And that’s a promise.