‘Even when we are at our best, the gospel is powerful in spite of us, not because of us. Thanks be to God.’


May 31, 2012

When Facebook was founded in 2004, it began with a seemingly innocuous mission: to connect friends. Some seven years and 800 million users later, the social network has taken over most aspects of our personal and professional lives, and is fast becoming the dominant communication platform of the future.

But this new world of ubiquitous connections has a dark side. In my last post, I noted that Facebook and social media are major contributors to career anxiety. After seeing some of the comments and reactions to the post, it’s clear that Facebook in particular takes it a step further: It’s actually making us miserable.

Facebook’s explosive rate of growth and recent product releases, such as the prominent Newsticker, Top Stories on the newsfeed, and larger photos have all been focused on one goal: encouraging more sharing. As it turns out, it’s precisely this hyper-sharing that is threatening our sense of happiness.

In writing Passion & Purpose, I monitored and observed how Facebook was impacting the lives of hundreds of young businesspeople. As I went about my research, it became clear that behind all the liking, commenting, sharing, and posting, there were strong hints of jealousy, anxiety, and, in one case, depression. Said one interviewee about a Facebook friend, “Although he’s my best friend, I kind-of despise his updates.” Said another “Now, Facebook IS my work day.” As I dug deeper, I discovered disturbing by-products of Facebook’s rapid ascension — three new, distressing ways in which the social media giant is fundamentally altering our daily sense of well-being in both our personal and work lives.

First, it’s creating a den of comparison. Since our Facebook profiles are self-curated, users have a strong bias toward sharing positive milestones and avoid mentioning the more humdrum, negative parts of their lives. Accomplishments like, “Hey, I just got promoted!” or “Take a look at my new sports car,” trump sharing the intricacies of our daily commute or a life-shattering divorce. This creates an online culture of competition and comparison. One interviewee even remarked, “I’m pretty competitive by nature, so when my close friends post good news, I always try and one-up them.”

Comparing ourselves to others is a key driver of unhappiness. Tom DeLong, author of Flying Without a Net, even describes a “Comparing Trap.” He writes, “No matter how successful we are and how many goals we achieve, this trap causes us to recalibrate our accomplishments and reset the bar for how we define success.”And as we judge the entirety of our own lives against the top 1% of our friends’ lives, we’re setting impossible standards for ourselves, making us more miserable than ever.

Second, it’s fragmenting our time. Not surprisingly, Facebook’s “horizontal” strategy encourages users to log in more frequently from different devices. My interviewees regularly accessed Facebook from the office, at home through their iPads, and while out shopping on their smartphones. This means that hundreds of millions of people are less “present” where they are. Sketching out a mind-numbing presentation for the board meeting? Perhaps it’s time to reply to your messages. Stuck in traffic? It’s time to browse your newsfeed. Recounted one interviewee, “I almost got hit by a car while using Facebook crossing the street.”

Leaving the risk of real physical harm aside, the issue with this constant “tabbing” between real-life tasks and Facebook is what economists and psychologists call “switching costs,” the loss in productivity associated with changing from one task to another. Famed author Dr. Srikumar Rao attributes mindfulness over multitasking as one of his ten steps to happiness at work. He argues that constant distractions lead to late and poor-quality output, negatively impacting our sense of self-worth.

Last, there’s a decline of close relationships. Gone are the days where Facebook merely complemented our real-life relationships. Now, Facebook is actually winning share of our core, off-line interactions. One participant summed it up simply: “We Facebook chat instead of meeting up. It’s easier.”

As Facebook adds new features such as video chat, it is fast becoming a viable substitute for meetings, relationship building, and even family get-togethers. But each time a Facebook interaction replaces a richer form of communication — such as an in-person meeting, a long phone call, or even a date at a restaurant — people miss opportunities to interact more deeply than Facebook could ever accommodate. As Facebook continues to add new features to help us connect more efficiently online, the battle to maintain off-line relationships will become even more difficult, which will impact their overall quality, especially in the long-run. Facebook is negatively affecting what psychology Professor Jeffrey Parker refers to as “the closeness properties of friendship.”

So, what should we do to avoid these three traps? Recognizing that “quitting” Facebook altogether is unrealistic, we can still take measures to alter our usage patterns and strengthen our real-world relationships. Some useful tactics I’ve seen include blocking out designated time for Facebook, rather than visiting intermittently throughout the day; selectively trimming Facebook friends lists to avoid undesirable ex-partners and gossipy coworkers; and investing more time in building off-line relationships. The particularly courageous choose to delete Facebook from their smartphones and iPads, and log off the platform entirely for long stretches of time.

Is Facebook making you miserable? What other tips can you share?

This post is part of a series of blog posts by and about the new generation of purpose-driven leaders.

Philippians 1:21

May 24, 2012


Techie, part 1

May 22, 2012

Are We Replacing Conversation With Connectivity?

Technology is changing so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing.
by Dave Boehi
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You’re driving down a city street and find yourself stuck behind someone going 15 mph below the speed limit. What’s your first thought? That guy needs to get off his cell phone!

You’re sitting in the stands at a high school football game. You notice that many of the students are not only ignoring the game but they’re also ignoring the friends seated beside them—instead they are busy texting other friends.

You walk through an airport concourse and notice a man pacing back and forth, waving his hands while he talks on his cell phone in a voice that bounces off the walls 30 yards away. You think, That’s why I hope they never allow people to make calls with their cell phones on a flight.

Sound familiar? In the last 15 years the cell phone has conquered the world. I could make a list of 50 ways these phones have improved our lives. But if you’re like me and can remember what life was like before we all got cell phones, you may wonder if all the changes are really for the good.

Remember those days when you could go to a movie—or to church—and not worry about being distracted by ringing phones or by the white glow of someone texting a friend? Remember when meetings at work weren’t interrupted by phone calls that people just had to accept?

And here’s one more scene we all see regularly:

You walk into a restaurant and you notice a couple seated near you. And you notice that they really are not enjoying this opportunity to be together, because one is patiently waiting for the other to stop talking or texting on the cell phone. And you think, How sad that they aren’t talking to each other.

Adjusting to a new technology is nothing new. Electricity, automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, and many other new inventions sparked significant changes in our culture and in the way we related to our spouses, our children, and our friends. But the pace of change since 1995 has been breathtaking. We’ve seen the emergence of the internet and of mobile phones, and then the convergence of the two. We can now be plugged in wherever we are, 24/7.

The technology is evolving so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing. But we’re starting to wake up. Over the last couple years I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles and books on topics like, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price”, and “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”.

An interesting article that caught my attention recently is, “The Flight from Conversation,” an opinion piece in the New York Times. Sherry Turkle, an author and professor at MIT, writes of her concern that our new ability to connect easily through the web and through cell phones is causing many to forget the importance of conversation in developing a strong relationship.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. …

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring; we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places—in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

The drift from conversation to connectivity—from “talking to texting”—should be a concern for any married couple and for any parent. Other technologies—particularly television—have distracted us from conversation for many years, but recent advances give us the option to replace it. And how can you develop and maintain a strong relationship with your spouse or anyone else in your family if you aren’t talking to each other?

Some parents are starting to wonder whether their teenage children—obsessively focused on texting—are falling behind in their verbal and relational skills. Turkle writes, “A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, ‘Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.’” Think he may need to learn that little skill before he gets married?

I’ve got more to say about this, but I’d love to get some feedback from you as well. What do you think of the rapid changes we’ve seen in technology and how they have affected marriage and family life? Do you think I’m too concerned? Have you done anything to establish some limits in how you use web and cell phone technology in your family? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below, and I’ll use them in an upcoming issue of Marriage Memo.
This article originally appeared in Marriage Memo. Click here to read emails from readers to this article, or check out the comments below. And click here to read a follow-up to this article.

Techie, part 2

May 22, 2012

“Technology drives me crazy”

by Dave Boehi

I wouldn’t call it a “love-hate” relationship. Perhaps it’s “love-fear.”

On one hand, we love our new technology—our smartphones, our iPads, our laptops. We love the connection these devices give us to information and to people.

Yet many of us also fear what this new technology can do to people. We’ve seen how it can dominate their lives and sabotage their relationships.

When I wrote of these sweeping changes in my last column, it seemed to touch a nerve. “These mobile devices can take over your life,” wrote one reader in an email. Another said, “I understand technology has its advantages, but we are being ruled by the technology rather than using it as a tool.”

Another wrote, “It’s too easy to disconnect using technology. We all know of the people who check out from life by absorbing themselves in TV. Now we have the internet and cell phones and gaming systems to draw them further into non-reality but yet sooth them with the illusion of being connected or productive somehow.”

Some readers told sad stories about the growing isolation in their marriages:

“I’m usually the spouse waiting for my husband to get off the cell, iPad, instagram, text messaging, Facebook, or some other game that has him hooked. I’m tired of having my conversations through text messages and would enjoy an old-fashioned conversation face to face. But the truth is we barely have anything to say to each other anymore.”
“My husband and I have struggled for the last 25 years of our marriage with conversation, but what has happened now is Facebook has taken over. If dinner isn’t ready when he comes home, he’s on Facebook until it is. Every morning he gets up and hits Facebook to see who’s been on. Sadly he does not see it as an issue. And I fear I am not alone in this.”
“I am one of those people at the restaurant with her spouse, waiting and feeling lonely. My husband is always looking at his phone, checking his email or his bank account, his Facebook, and his texts. I just sit waiting and thinking to myself, ‘Why am I not good enough for him? Why does he have to be entertained by everyone and everything else?’ It deeply depresses me and he just cannot understand my point of view.”
And many readers expressed their concern about the effects on the next generation. “Technology drives me crazy,” one said. “We had to limit our daughter’s texting as she was sending more than 12,000 a month and they were completely senseless.”

Others wrote:

“I have a 16-year-old son who has no idea how to have a conversation with a girl. He can text all night long, but take that privilege away and he is lost.”
“Co-workers and I talk all the time about how this new generation has no idea how to carry on a conversation.”
“Our young people in society may be technologically savvier than the prior generations, but they are also socially illiterate when it comes to common courtesy and manners.”
And then there was the man who told about his son and girlfriend who “met, fell in love, and have maintained a long distance relationship almost exclusively through texting.” During their six-month relationship they’ve only seen each other three times. “I keep wondering if you can really know someone with such poor communication,” he wrote. “I just see no way this could really prepare them to do life together.”

Some people gravitate toward texting or Twitter for communication just as they did years ago toward email—it’s simpler, faster, easier. What they don’t realize is that too much is lost in those mediums—emotion, facial expressions, tone of voice, and much more. One woman wrote about problems in her marriage: “… many arguments occur because of something that was texted and was misunderstood by one of us. Today my husband texted me after refusing to have a conversation last night. I thought the tone of his text was ugly and didn’t respond. Later he texted me asking why I didn’t respond and I said I would rather talk than text because texting can be misunderstood. His response was ‘I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.’”

What a classic quote, and so typically male: “I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.” The problem is that real relationships require real conversation and real emotion.

“When we text, email, Facebook, and the like, we lose a vital piece of relationships: the emotional connection,” wrote another reader. “Without the sound of our voices, the body language, the touch, we as humans lose what God intended to be a vital part of how we are supposed to relate and a vital part of how we are supposed to receive love and be in communion with others.”

Thank you for your thoughtful emails. I’ll quote from them again in two weeks when Marriage Memo returns (after a break for Memorial Day). In that final article in the series I will share the family rules many of you are implementing to control technology and encourage face-to-face relationships.

Prayer of the Day

May 17, 2012

Father, as I get older, please keep me fresh and green and fruitful through the gospel of your limitless grace. Fill my heart with your glory and love, and use me however you choose, all the remaining days you give me in this, your world. I pray in, Jesus’ magnificent and merciful name.

Gospel v. Politics

May 16, 2012

I’ve gotten caught up in politics recently. This was convicting.

1. Politics change. The gospel doesn’t (Matthew 24:35.)

2. The gospel will transform our politics, not vice versa (Romans 12:1,2.)

3. It’s what Jesus calls us to do (Acts 1:6-8.)

4. We are citizens of a different kingdom (Philippians 3:20.)

5. It’s what the early church focused on (Acts 4:23-31.)

6. It attacks the root of evil and not just the fruit of it (Romans 1:16.)

7. Politics can divide the body of Christ while the gospel will unite us. (Philippians 1:27)

8. The gospel calls us to pray for politicians we disagree with, not hate them (1 Timothy 2:1-4.)

9. The gospel brings political action soaked in love and humility, not pride and arrogance (Romans 13:1-8.)

10. Politics are a reflection of the moral compass of a society. The gospel gives society a new compass that is accurate (Titus 3:1-5.)

*My point is, not that we should avoid politics as Christians, but that we should focus more on the gospel.

-Greg Stier

The Church

May 15, 2012

“At no time, perhaps, since the Reformation have Christians as a body been so unsure, tentative, and confused as to what they should believe and do. Certainty about the great issues of Christian faith and conduct is lacking all along the line. The outside observer sees us as staggering on from gimmick to gimmick and stunt to stunt like so many drunks in a fog, not knowing at all where we are or which way we should be going. Preaching is hazy, heads are muddled, and hearts fret. Why is this? We blame the external pressures of our world, but this is like Eve blaming the serpent. The real trouble is that for two generations or more our churches have suffered from a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord.” -J.I. Packer


May 12, 2012

“That’s a public health issue, because breast-feeding brings so many benefits to babies.”

I think the government should step into take this over too.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The real issue with breast-feeding is this: Too few infants who could really benefit from it are getting mom’s milk.

Sure, Time magazine’s cover photo of a woman breast-feeding her 3-year-old is generating debate about how old is too old. But examples like that are pretty rare.

About 44 percent of U.S. moms do at least some breast-feeding for six months. But only 15 percent follow advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies receive breast milk alone for that time span. And fewer still stick with breast-feeding for a year, also recommended by the academy.

About three-quarters of mothers say they breast-feed during their baby’s first days and weeks of life. Then it drops off fast.

By their first birthday, fewer than a quarter of children are getting breast milk, according to the government’s latest national report card on breast-feeding.

That’s a public health issue, because breast-feeding brings so many benefits to babies.

By 2020, the nation’s health goals call for more than a quarter of babies to be exclusively breast-fed through their first six months of life, and for more than a third to still be nursing when they turn 1 year old.

To help reach those goals, the surgeon general last year issued a call to ease the obstacles that make it harder for women to breast-feed _ from the hassles of pumping milk at work to a general lack of understanding about how super-healthy it is during that critical first year.

“We have a lot more work to do,” says Academy of Pediatrics’ spokeswoman Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician near Los Angeles. “It would be much more beneficial to focus on breast-feeding infants and young toddlers,” she said, than on the rare older examples like Time found for its cover.

Not every mother can or chooses to breast-feed. And the surgeon general’s report said they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.

But the academy’s latest update, published in March in the journal Pediatrics, lists the benefits of breast-feeding for at least several months and up to a year: Breast-fed infants have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome. They suffer fewer illnesses such as diarrhea, earaches and pneumonia, because breast milk contains antibodies that help fend off infections until their own immune systems become robust. They’re also less likely to develop asthma, or even to become fat later in childhood.

Moms can benefit, too, decreasing their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

How old is too old for the child? The pediatricians’ guidelines say breast-feeding should continue along with solid foods to age 1 _ “or as long as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

The World Health Organization recommends continuing “along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or beyond.”

Toddlers sometimes make clear that they prefer a cup, but Altmann says if both mom and child are comfortable, there’s no harm in going longer than average.

Still, the clear nutritional benefit wanes as youngsters start getting most of their nutrition from solid food, and Altmann says parents need to teach their tots to soothe themselves.

“At some point it’s less about nutrition and more about comfort,” says Altmann, who breast-fed her own two sons until they were 1.


Cost of Children

May 9, 2012

Your little bundle of joy is going to require a wad of cash.

The cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 has surged 25 percent over the last 10 years, due largely to the rising cost of groceries and medical care, according to the Department of Agriculture, which tracks annual expenditures on children by families.

The government’s most recent annual report reveals a middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend roughly $227,000 for food, shelter and other expenses necessary to raise that child – $287,000 when you factor in projected inflation.

And, no, the bill does not include the cost of college or anything related to the pregnancy and delivery.

“If you sat down to tally up the total cost of having children, you’d never have them,” says Timothy Knotts, a father of four and a certified financial planner with The Hogan-Knotts Financial Group in Red Bank N.J. “It’s a very expensive adventure.”

Talk about a life-changing event. That’s a lot of vacations, clothing, and restaurant dinners you may no longer enjoy.

Plan Early

Ultimately, of course, the decision on whether or not to expand your family has little to do with dollar signs.

For most prospective parents, kids are the central priority around which all other lifestyle decisions get made – career moves, housing choices, where to live.

Because of its financial impact, however, it’s wise to begin planning for parenthood as early as possible, says Matthew Saneholtz, a certified financial adviser with Tobias Financial Advisors in Plantation, Fla.

“You don’t want to get too hung up on whether you’re ready financially, because no one is ever really ready and it works out in the end, but you do want to think about how you see that first year with a new baby,” he says.

Among the first issues you’ll want to address:

Will you both return to work or will one of you quit to care for the child?
Does your employer offer maternity or paternity benefits?
Are you going to need a bigger car?
How much will your health insurance premiums climb after baby makes three?
You won’t necessarily have control over the process, but you should also discuss how many children you’d like to have and when you’d like to have them, as that affects the timeline for getting your financial house in order.

Ideally, says Saneholtz, you should pay off your credit cards and put retirement savings on autopilot before you welcome a baby.

The four-bedroom house with a fully equipped nursery can wait.

Couples should resist the urge to splurge on a house at the top of their dual-income budget, says Knotts, since you may change your mind about whether or not to return to the office after the baby arrives.

“Our advice to clients is any time there’s a life changing event, be it a baby or your own retirement, don’t make any huge changes,” he says. “Take your time. Do you want to be in a different school district, or closer to relatives or work? There’s a lot to think about.”

Testing 1-2-3

Prudent parents-to-be should also practice living on less before the big day arrives, says Chuck Donalies, a certified financial planner with Investment Planning Associates in Rockville, Md.

“Review all your expenses and cut out what you can,” he says. “Almost every household budget has some fat in it.”

Keep in mind that your annual medical expenses will almost certainly rise after you bring your newborn home.

Mark Lino, a USDA economist, notes that healthcare costs for the average family have increased 58 percent over the last decade, faster than any other expense component in the survey.

“With kids in particular, you’re going to have emergencies, and while you might go without for yourself, you’re going to take your kids to the doctor when they have a fever,” says Knotts. “Someone’s going to break an arm or knock out a tooth, and that could cost you a few hundred or thousand dollars each time.”

As a starting point, Knotts suggests living on 90 percent of your after-tax income, using the money you save to fund an emergency account worth three to six months of living expenses.

If one of you plans to quit work to care for the child, your new spending plan should reflect the projected loss of income.

You can also apply those dollars toward a life insurance policy after the baby comes along, says Donalies, providing protection for your little one (and your spouse) in the event something happens to the breadwinner.

Donalies recommends a term life policy that covers your family until well after your child is out of college.

“The cost of a term life policy is so low that you should have a policy until your child reaches age 30,” he says.

Ka-ching: Child Care

If you both plan to continue working, and you don’t have family willing to provide free labor, you’ll have to factor child care costs into your budget.

Such costs vary by region, as does the type of care provided, but the average annual price tag for full-time care in 2010 for an infant in a child care center ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 in the District of Columbia, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies reports.

The average annual cost for full-time care of a 4-year old drops to $3,900 in Mississippi to $14,050 in the District of Columbia.

Nannies are more expensive still.

According to the International Nanny Association, nannies who live outside your home can cost more than $3,000 per month for full-time care, and as an employer you’ll be required to pay their Social Security taxes.

Ka-ching: College Tuition

There’s no rule that says you have to help your child with college expenses, of course, but if you plan to do so, you’d better start budgeting for that as well.

The average cost of a four-year college for in-state residents, including tuition, fees, room and board, climbed 6 percent for the 2011 and 2012 academic year, averaging $17,131, the College Board reports.

A public four-year school for out-of-state students cost an average $29,657 this year, while four-year private colleges cost more than $38,000 per year.

Knotts cautions parents, however, to save for retirement first before throwing money into a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan. After all, there are no scholarships or loans for retirement.

Manage Money and Expectations

Finally, remember that it’s ultimately you who decides how much you’re willing to spend on your kids.

Families with higher incomes, for example, tend to spend more on discretionary expenses like Apple (AAPL – News) iPods and Decker Outdoor’s Uggs – things your child may want, but doesn’t need.

The USDA report shows that a family earning less than $57,600 per year can expect to spend a total of $163,440 on a child from birth through high school; parents with an income between $57,600 and $99,730 can expect to spend $226,920; and families earning more than $99,730 can expect to drop $377,040.

“Kids don’t have to have all this stuff,” says Knotts. “We are a generation where we feel like we need to give our kids all of these experiences, but you can do a lot with your kids without spending a lot of money.”

Children may be a blessing, but they don’t come cheap. Families that plan ahead not only have better control over their budgets, but are often able to do more with less. They’re also better positioned to ensure their own financial goals don’t get derailed along the way.