Month: April 2018

Computers and phones: distraction central

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to give up Facebook and Twitter.  It’s not even the first time I’m blogging about it.  What I did last time helped, but not enough.

I find computers and smartphones a terrible distraction.

The “efficient” part of me thinks that being beeped at by emails/etc is efficient because I deal with things when they come up, rather than checking my emails every so often.  Edge triggering is better than polling, right? (that was nerd humour, feel free to look confused)

But this really doesn’t work for me.  What actually happens is that I get beeped at, and that triggers off a round of distractions; getting back to the task in hand can take me quite some time.

Part of my identity has been found in my interest in computery things.  This leads me to spend too much time on technology news & forum websites.  And a bit on general news websites.  I used to be able to use the excuse that this was related to my study or work but now it’s not.

Now I don’t see “going and looking at some news” as inherently bad but it is one of the ways that I can fritter away time.  It draws me away from what I was doing and doesn’t release me for some time.

A lot of the stuff I read is interesting in a general sense but not terribly useful, even in my old IT career.  Low grade news.  Junk food for the brain, PKE for the soul.  Hacker News is full of stories about the latest Javascript frameworks and NoSQL databases and general middle-class-nerd startup-wannabe wish-we-were-rich-like-Zuckerberg verbiage.  Geekzone has some good stuff but quite a lot of talk about expensive gadgets and services that is ultimately boring and comes from a middle-class lots of discretionary spending money world.  If the last will be first and the first will be last, then the technology nerd forums might find themselves a little lower down the pecking order than they currently imagine themselves.

But spending too much time reading this stuff has been a thing for me since the late 90s.  It’s a habit of over half my lifetime.  Carrying a “device,” internet-connected or not, is something I’ve done since I got a PalmPilot in 1997, and I’d read books and some tech news on that.  At some point I even had it set up to get internet through my non-smart-phone, back when that was exciting and new.  I remember browsing the web, much the same as I do now, on a second-hand Nokia 6600.  That was a good phone.  But I digress.

How do you break a habit that’s so ingrained?  Just saying no is quite hard.  It doesn’t stick.  When your default “I’m tired/bored/procrastinating” response is to pull out your phone and read something short and unfulfilling, how do you stop?

Using the cloud makes this hard.  Google Docs doesn’t work too well without the internet.  I do use online resources during my sermon preparation.  So just turning the internet off is tricky.  I am trying to wean myself off some cloud services, but I’m not there yet.

Technology can help here.  I’m using Mozilla Firefox on my PC and my phone, and it lets you install “add-ons.”  One of those is called LeechBlock, and it lets you set time limits and complete blackout periods for website.  So news websites can be helpful sermon input and the church has a Facebook page, but I can limit myself to a maximum of 15 minutes of news & facebook per four hour period.  Twitter, not useful for ministry, just block it outright during work hours.  Geekzone, the same.  And maybe I should be blocking or limiting this for all time, not just during defined work/study periods.

An aside: Firefox is produced by a non-profit, which has some Christians involved, some of which I hope to meet someday.  One of them heads their Auckland office.  Mozilla are not out to track your every move online so they can better target advertisements at you — at the root, online advertising is about making money out of distracting you — and that’s how Google makes its money, that’s how Facebook makes its money.  This can only make my problem worse.  It’s telling that the smartphone version of Google’s Chrome browser doesn’t let you install add-ons on your phone, so you can’t install ad-blocking or distraction-blocking add-ons.  Surprise!  Global megacorps do not have your best interests at heart!

This is part of the reason I’m trying to wean myself off the cloud: those wonderful free services I use are at root paid for by selling my attention to the highest bidder. And the ones that cost money tend to be outside my budget.

So: this is an ongoing battle for me.  I’d appreciate prayer.  And do point out what I’m doing if you see me staring at my phone for more than a minute.  It’s so easy to pull the thing out, meaning to look at the weather forecast, and realise ten minutes later that you’ve been sucked into the world of the little screen and you still don’t know if it’s going to rain today.

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A new chapter

For many years of my life I saw my identity as, to put it bluntly, a computer nerd.  See, for instance, most of the old posts on this blog.

When I went to university, I studied computer science.  I was at it long enough to leave with a Masters degree.  Ask me some time about ownership in dynamic object-oriented programming languages.

Then I went out to work in industry.  I did horrible things to cellphones, built build pipelines, and worked on a secure document management system.  I’m very, very, very good at this stuff.

But I’ve chucked it all in for Jesus.

In the middle of the “being a nerd” story three big things happened.

I rediscovered my faith.  I’d always gone to church and believed in God but hadn’t thought about how this affected what I did with my life.  I started reading books.  I joined a community mission group and would help run an after school programme for kids in the council flats.  I went on a mission trip to the Philippines.

I met my now-wife Angela (at church!) and eventually realised that of course I was going to marry her and merely (ha) had to work up the courage to do it.  Since then we’ve moved towns and had two children.  Angela is very smart and studied all sorts of actually useful stuff at university, like criminology and psychology, not just nerd stuff like me.

Not too long after getting married, I received the call (from God!) to become a minister.  I’ve done a theology degree, part-time, and finished that in 2017.


So we got our belongings loaded in a container, hopped on the ferry, and headed to the mainland.


I’m now the ministry intern, sole charge, at Point Presbyterian in Pleasant Point (pop 1,300) in rural South Canterbury.

I’ve got the next two years to work out what that means.  There’s lots of work to be done.  Leading worship, preaching, visiting, organising.  But there’s something more.

I look out my window and see people who need God in their lives.  And a community that needs the salt and light of Christians, the healing touch of Jesus, and a solid, thriving local church.

This is a part of the world that still knows how to do community.  They’ll all come out for working bees on the steam rail museum.  The local towns still have proper A&P shows.

But the town has 1,300 people.  I’d hazard a guess that no more than 5% go to church in Point, some make the trek into Timaru, and of course most won’t go to church at all.

So what’s missing?  What are we doing wrong?  Are we so caught up in doing “church” together that we’ve let our gaze drift downwards and forgotten that an open door is only half the story?


Time for a lot more prayer, and a lot more listening.