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Friday, July 29, 2011

The History of Technology and Communication - the Future

So, what does the future of communication hold? The way that human brains work is that the more we do something, the more our brains are shaped to do things that way. It's called plasticity. Every action we take sends impulses along a neural pathway. The more times we do the same thing, the wider that pathway gets, until our brains default to sending impulses along a huge highway. This is similar to developing muscle memory from riding a bicycle - you never forget.

The more human communication is shaped by electronic media and the internet, the more our brains will function in that way. We will stop storing as many facts because we can easily find them online. We will seek filters, both relational and technological to weed out the bad sources of information and direct us to the good sources of information. We will see things as interconnected and relational rather than logical and linear.

And that will change everything. It took about one hundred years for the invention of the printing press to rearrange the brains of medieval Europe into the brains of Reformation and Renaissance Europe. The speed at which the internet as been adopted and spread around the world has drastically foreshortened the time that it will take to change everything again.

A few of the changes that are starting now are:

  • Authority does not equal power or leadership. A look at the 2008 election will show that the majority of people who voted for Barack Obama were younger, internet connected people. One of his main campaign strategies was to connect with people through the internet. His message during the campaign was one of challenging the establishment and speaking for the people. He developed a relationship with people through social media and provided leadership based on an emotional appeal.
  • Facts are decreasing in importance. In a world where a Google search can bring any bit of information at any time, knowledge of facts is not very important. They are cheap. Disposable. The ubiquity of knowledge makes it mundane and the mundane is ignored then forgotten. But connecting facts into new ideas is hugely important. Being able to discern which facts are valuable and which can be tossed into the growing heap is the skill of the future. Schools used to teach the memorization of facts, in the future they will need to teach the processing and creation of ideas.
  • Relationships are getting cheaper. It used to cost to maintain relationships. It took time and effort to remain connected with people. Especially when people where far away, it would take calls and letters to stay in touch. But with the internet and social networking, a few hours allows you to re-connect with all of your acquaintances around the world. You can keep in touch with hundreds of people. But the quality of the relationship suffers. There's no real connection. The term "Facebook friend" carries the connotation of not a true friend, but someone worth keeping connected. If relationships are only dealt with through technology they begin to lose value. 
Everything will change. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The History of Technology and Communication - the Internet

At the end of the 20th century the internet changed communication again. Rather thank keeping the power and the message in the hands of the wealthy, the internet decentralized all of it. Examples like Wikipedia and Linux are proof that the masses can come together to create something that is both free and high quality.

Giving a voice to everyone with an internet connection hasn't destroyed the positions of power in the world. There are still publishing houses, newspapers, television networks and movie studios and they still command a huge portion of the eyes and ears in the world. But what the internet does is provide competition. CNN has to compete with users on Twitter to break news stories. The Encyclopedia Britanica can no longer justify printing new volumes annually when Wikipedia is updated daily. There is no longer one, voice coming from the people of power; now the people without power can speak as well.

The flood of new voices, new words and new messages has required us to develop new skills. We are getting better and better at filtering and searching. We filter out messages that we deem to be false or useless. We weed out most of the ads that bombard us and we ignore most of the voices shouting on the internet. We filter things by our bias, by our knowledge and by our relationships. If we already believe something we aren't very  likely to listen to voices saying the opposite of what we believe. If we already know something we don't want to know something different. And if our friends trust voices that are online, we are more likely to trust those voices ourselves. The effect that used to be called "word of mouth" is now called "viral." If a video or blog goes viral, it's passed from friend to friend until it floods the internet. If anything, the invention of the internet has made the way we get information even more relational than it was before. Many people use social media as their primary news source, letting their friends sort out the important stories from the mundane.

We also have had to learn how to search for information. It used to be that finding knowledge meant going to a library or other repository of words. Then with television, the news was piped into our homes and our searching was comprised of button pushes on a remote control. But with the internet, the knowledge available is far exceeding our ability to store it. As of today there are 19.58 billion pages online. That's three web pages for every person on the face of the earth. With so much information available, we need to sort through it better than we ever could before. We rely on tools like Google to search the internet and bring back the best results. But because of that, our brains are adapting to remember fewer and fewer facts. When we know that the information is readily available, we are less likely to commit it to memory. Having the internet on phones has exacerbated the issue since we can now use Google nearly anywhere.

In a world where information has become incredibly cheap, filters, searches and the ability to draw conclusions from the information are increasing in value.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The History of Technology and Communication - Electronic Media

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, communication jumped from static, written forms to dynamic, electronic forms. The telegraph, telephone, record player, radio and movies all hit the communication spectrum and transformed how we communicate. In a way.

See, before the advent of writing, communication was primarily oral. Speakers spoke and hearers heard. Moving to electronic media was actually a shift back to the oral communication that humanity started with. The pace and structure of communication shifted as well. Books are, of necessity, linear. They depend on a flow of thought and a logical process. Engaging in understanding books meant that human brains were re-wired to think in linear, logical patterns. But when communication shifted to a dynamic, emotional process that's a part of the oral communication culture, brains were re-wired again to process information from that perspective.

Moving to electronic media at the beginning of the 20th century made the communication faster and ubiquitous, but it kept the content firmly in the control of the people who could afford to produce it. The power structures shifted slightly, but only so far as to be able to incorporate the new players in places like Hollywood. There was no dissemination of power, just the accrual to different wealthy people.

At the end of the 20th century with the invention of the internet, all of that began to change.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The History of Technology and Communication - Printing

In the middle of the 15th century, one Johannes Gutenberg changed the world. There's debate about whether he actually invented the printing press with movable type, but the reality is that he made it a staple in Europe. He started by printing a bible, but soon the press was employed in printing everything. The classics of Greece and Rome were able to be reproduced and sold at a much lower cost. The learning that had been lost to Europe for centuries, exploded across the continent and then the world.

Printing drastically lowered the cost of written works. Once a book had to be hand copied by a scribe, but all of a sudden it could be mass produced. The written word was no longer captive to the wealthy and powerful. It was given to anyone with the ability to read (which was still a minority in most of the world). The spread of ideas to more people brought the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Reformation and a host of other events that transformed history and culture around the world. The idea of democracy was made manifest in the reality of ideas being shared by everyone in common. Benjamin Franklin took the concept to the next level by proposing the public library so that all people could have access to the wealth of knowledge available in books.

Words became cheaper, more common and more influential with the rise of the printing press. The more eyes and ears that encountered the words, the more influence the words could have. But  the industry of publishing kept a hold on what could be printed. The bottleneck of the printer kept every person from being able to espouse their ideas to the world. Only those deemed worthy (or marketable) by the printer would be published. This led to a sort of trust in the printed word. The hurdles to having a work printed prevented false, misleading and subversive work from being publicly disseminated (in general, most of the time). So words printed in a book or newspaper were to be trusted. The Yellow Journalism of the 19th century manipulated whole countries due to the trust that was placed in the printed word.

It took the rise of electronic media in the 20th century to shatter that trust.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The History of Technology and Communication - Writing

The technology we use to communicate has as much to do with the message as the content of our communication. Or as Marshall McLuhan said: "The medium is the message."

The first technology that was applied to communication was that of writing. It started with marks on stone or clay and then progressed to ink on papyrus and parchment. Communication changed dramatically from being spoken words with the context of relationship to voiceless words without human connection. Anyone who could read had access to the words that were written and could move forward with them. Learning wasn't limited to the human memory and what could be passed down from a master to an apprentice. Over the course of thousands of years, humanity was able to develop a body of learning that encompassed science, mathematics, astronomy, politics, literature and religion. Without the simple tools of writing, the pursuit of learning was limited.

Script communication, however, communicated something apart from the words on the page. It communicated the power of those who could afford the scribes and the libraries over those who couldn't afford to read and write. The wealthy could afford to learn, which gave them more opportunities to earn money, which increased their ability to devote time to learning. For the majority of the history of written communication the literacy rate has been in the ten percent range. Learning to read and write wasn't a luxury afforded to the poor 90 percent.

So, power accrued to the powerful and poverty increased among the poor. Writing didn't change the state of things between the two groups. The rich saw nearly all of the benefit of learning and communication, but the benefits could only survive so long as the rich could maintain power. A glance at the drastic changes in medieval Europe is enough to show that the progress gained by the Romans was soon lost when the illiterate tribes overthrew the Roman rule. Europe, by and large, was lost to all learning for centuries while the Middle-East added to the learning of the Greek and Roman scholars. The continued stability of the powerful in the Middle-East allowed for the benefits of writing to continue, but the Europeans lost nearly all of the progress with the loss of the ruling Romans.

It wasn't until the writing came back to Europe in the Renaissance that they began to lead the world in learning again. But that is the story of the printing press.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gracious Online Debate

So my book came out on Tuesday, I blogged about it on Wednesday and so did a friend of mine, Matt Dabbs. By Thursday night, there was a comment on Matt's blog about how the first chapter of my book doesn't interpret scripture correctly.

This brings up the issue of how we should debate online. The internet is a world unto itself. There are different levels of debate that exist online from what would normally take place in person. A large part of that is due to the lack of tone available in online communication. Spoken communication is all about the tone. Yet when we type things out, the tone doesn't go with the words. We may have a tone in our own head that accompanies the words, but there's no way to be sure that the same tone is interpreted by the people reading the words. But a tone will always be applied to the words we read.

My wife and I have developed a tool to use when we're disagreeing with people online. We read back through our words, out loud, with the worst possible tone we can muster. If the tone can fit the words, then we need to rewrite the words. It's only when we get the words refined to the point where they can't be interpreted as offensive or abusive that we're allowed to post them online.

I have to confess that I've learned this rule the hard way. I've said things online that have been interpreted as offensive. I've even been upset and said things that were intended to be offensive. That's the danger of the internet, you can type something in a heated moment and it's now online forever. I'm working and learning about how to be gracious online. Please don't hesitate to help me, just be gracious when you do it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spotify Review

I recently received an invite to the launch of Spotify. It's a streaming music service that's been running in Europe for a while now, but it only came to the US in mid July. If you're like me, you're probably wondering why you would bother with switching to Spotify over other services like Pandora or GrooveShark which also offer streaming of music.

Specific song searching and playlist creation.

That's the killer feature, at least for me. I created my account and got to searching. Spotify includes your music along with all the millions of tracks they have available online. So you can play local stuff right along with the streamed stuff. What I love is the ability to sample music from all over the place. Lately I've been listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Orff as I write. But instead of listening to one track or one movement from a larger piece (like the music I have in my library), I get to grab whole works. Yesterday I listened to "Matthew's Passion" by Bach and "Carmina Burana" by Orff. That's three hours of music, but it was glorious to hear them all together rather than in bits and pieces.

In between some of the songs, Spotify will serve up tips or ads. It's admittedly jarring to move from "Moonlight Sonata" to gangsta rap. If I wanted to I could pay for the premium service and not have to listen to the advertisements. For now I'm willing to put up with the interruption for the pleasure of all the songs.

You can also take your playlists with you. You create a Spotify login and that's where your playlists are stored, so if you log in on another computer, you have access to all the same playlists that you created on your primary computer.

So, instead of searching for songs like other songs, like you do with Pandora. In Spotify you can search for specific tracks and listen to those tracks. It's up to you. You don't have the surprise of hearing songs that you didn't expect, like with Pandora, but you also don't have the shock of hearing songs that you don't like. The search tools use clickable filters under the headings Artist and Album, so you can narrow down what you're looking for with just a few clicks.

Once you've found the track or tracks that you want, you can just drag them over to the playlist area on the left. Drop them on the "New Playlist" area to automatically make a playlist, or drop them on an existing playlist to add them to that list. Drag playlists or tracks up to the "Play Queue" to set up your listening for hours to come.

I've had problems with some tracks not playing. I'm not sure if it's the streaming that's broken or the track itself. I could usually click to the next track and it works fine. Also, I had the problem when looking for individual tracks, but not when I grabbed entire albums.

How do you like Spotify? What tips and tricks do you have to share?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My First Book - People of Purpose

Hey, look at that! My first book is up for pre-orders. It's called People of Purpose: Studies in Ephesians by James Wood 
It's designed to be an inexpensive bible class curriculum that can be used by anyone to lead an engaging, discussion oriented class. The pricing is set so that everyone in the class can get a copy ($3.75). I'm proud of the work I put in and I hope that it helps many people to understand the purpose God has for them. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish

The old saying is: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.

But what if it's a woman who doesn't like fish?

More seriously, who is it who already knows how to fish and can teach people? It's the fishermen (er, fisherpersons) of course. They have the knowledge necessary to teach fishing, but they also have the motivation to keep their trade a secret so that they can charge for the fish that they catch.

There is this idea that knowledge is a zero sum game. That if we give up our knowledge to someone else then we lose out on the opportunity afforded us by that knowledge. I know how to use PowerPoint, so instead of teaching people how to use it, I should charge for my skills using it. Because if I teach everyone how to use PowerPoint then I'm no longer special and I'm not in demand anymore. I would work myself out of a job - if knowledge were a zero sum game. But it's not.

Knowledge isn't subtractive, it's multiplicative. When you more people know how to fish, they all improve at fishing and everyone is better off. When more people know how to use PowerPoint we all improve. It helps me for you to be better at using PowerPoint and it makes me better at it too.

Together we're better than we are apart.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Know what You Don't Know

One of the most dangerous things you can do is to pretend that you know what you don't know. But, for some reason, we do this all the time. If someone asked you if you know how to repair high tension electric wire, what would you say? Hopefully you would tell them that you don't know so that you aren't asked to risk your life doing something you've never learned. But the problem comes when we're not willing to admit our lack of knowledge in other areas. We pretend to know things so that we won't look foolish. We fake knowledge about fine cuisine around connoisseurs. We pretend to know what the guy at the car shop is saying. We act like we know what we don't.

But then you're called on to recommend a fine restaurant. You're on the hook for making a decision about your car repair. And you don't know. Now you can't back out. You have to save face by sticking to your bad decision. It's dangerous to not know but act like you do.

Repeat after me: "I don't know." Good. Keep saying that, or change it up, if you want. Say: "I'll need to research that." or "I'm not sure, tell me more about that."

So, here's the moral of the story: too many people think they know how to use PowerPoint because they can open the software and start entering bullet points. That's like saying you know how to paint because you can put a brush on canvas. Artistry takes time and work, so does using PowerPoint well. Admit that you don't know and then ask for help. Hey, I know of a place where you could get started (hint, it's right here).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Work is Hard

It takes quite a bit of work to improve. And the worst part is that you'll never finish the work once you start trying to get better at things. You can work until the day you die and you will always be able to improve. You can be the best in the world at something that you invented, and you will always be able to improve.

Work is hard. It takes effort and time and the reward for all of that is just more work.

But the work can become the joy as well. Learning and growing, challenging yourself to constantly get better at what you do, can bring satisfaction that you couldn't find otherwise. The skills that you develop make the product of your work constantly better.

It's hard to learn how to use PowerPoint. It's hard to stop using notes. It's hard work. But it's worth it.

What work do you need to start doing?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

PowerPoint Transition Tips and Tricks

You can access all of the transitions in PowerPoint 2010 through the Transitions tab, appropriately enough. Click on the slide you want to give a transition effect and then click on the Transition tab in the Office ribbon.

Now, my preference is to use "Fade" as my primary transition. Most of the time I want to subtly move from one slide to the next with the least amount of pomp. Fade is the best transition for that purpose. It's less abrupt than not using any transition, but the effect doesn't draw any attention to itself.

Once you have the transition selected, you can click the "Effect Options" button to adjust how the transition looks. For example with the "Fade" transition you can decide if it fades smoothly or through a black screen. For directional transitions, you can determine which direction they come from. Play around to see what works best for you.

Tweak the timing of the transition by changing the "Duration" value. If you like the settings for your transition and you want to use the same effect throughout your presentation, click the "Apply to All" button so that all the slides will share the same transition. You should use the same transitions throughout the slideshow. Do this. Please.

If you're creating a slideshow that automatically runs, use the Transitions tab to determine how long each slide will appear. In the "Advance Slide" area uncheck "On Mouse Click" and check "After" and then type in the number of seconds you want the slide to appear.

What transition tricks do you use regularly?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

PowerPoint Transitions

PowerPoint animations tell the text, pictures and objects on a slide how to act. Transitions get you from one slide to the next in your presentation. If animations are the tone of your presentation, then transitions are the gestures. The transitions signal something new is happening.

Sometimes you want the transition from one point to the next to be subtle to the point of being almost imperceptible. Other times you want the transition to be clear and dramatic.

Think about watching a movie or TV show. How do they move between scenes? Some movies use a smooth fade to and from a black screen. It signals the end of one scene and the beginning of another. But think about the scene changes in Star Wars, throughout the movies the scenes change with wipes where the old scene is wiped over with the new scene. There's visual interest, but it also communicates something about the transition. In the opening of Episode IV we get a downward wipe that tells us that the next scene takes place on the planet below the first scene in space.

When using transitions in PowerPoint choose them carefully. There are some dramatic transitions, which may be appropriate if you're making a dramatic point. But if your point is subtle and your transition is flashy, then the audience will sense a disconnect. They will be distracted and loose track of what you're saying because of the transitions.

What transitions do you normally choose?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Animation Basics

Adding and using animations in PowerPoint is a fairly straightforward process - once you know how things work. However, at the outset it might be a bit confusing or intimidating.

Animations in PowerPoint are handled in the "Animations" tab - surprising, I know. You want to start by selecting the item you want to animate, in the case of the example above it's the chart. Then you can click on the "Animations" tab and apply an animation effect. I would choose one of the more subtle effects like "Fade" since it is less distracting.

When you first apply the effect to something like a chart, the whole thing is set to fade in all at once. You can change that, though. Click on the "Effect Options" button and then choose an option like "One by One" or "Level at Once." If you just point your mouse to an option you'll see a preview of it on the slide. Click when you see what you want.

The standard setting is for animations to take effect after a click, so when you're giving the presentation you'll need to click the mouse to trigger the next animation. If you want the animation to happen automatically you can change it with the "Start" selection on the right side of the Animation tab. Click on the drop-down menu and choose "With Previous" or "After Previous" to have the animation happen automatically on the slide. Under the "Start" option you can see the "Duration" and "Delay" fields. Here you can adjust, in fractions of a second, how long the animation takes and how long it will delay after the start trigger. With these you can fine-tune exactly how the animation looks.

What animation tips do you have? Which animations are your favorite?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Emotion of Animations and Transitions

Animations and transitions are to PowerPoint communication what your verbal pauses and body language are to spoken communication. When you're speaking, your words convey the heart of your message, but the nuance is carried by the tone of your voice, the pauses between words and the way you hold yourself when you speak.

If you stepped on stage slowly with your eyes on the ground and then slowly lifted them to the crowd and said in a hushed voice: "We must all mourn the loss of our great leader." The crowd would mourn with you.

If you marched out on stage with your head held high and loudly proclaimed: "We must all mourn the loss of our great leader!" While pounding your fist on the podium. Then the crowd would fall into line as a military company.

If you pedaled onto the stage atop a unicycle while wearing a clown nose and then danced around while saying: "We must all mourn the loss of our great leader." The crowd would laugh at the joke.

PowerPoint animations are just as varied in the response they request from the audience. A subtle fade versus a sudden swipe across the screen carries a different connotation. Large, loud and garish animations are best used with similar content. If you're wanting to make subtle points, use subtle animations and transitions.

What rules do you have about using animations and transitions in your presentations?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Being Vulnerable

It's not easy to share deep emotions. Our Western world seems designed to hide feelings and numb pain. But numbing pain also leads to numbing joy, love and hope. You can't numb only one emotion.

We desperately need to know how to be vulnerable with each other. But no one will figure it out if someone isn't willing to take the first step. In your next sermon, be vulnerable. Show how it's done and let people see that it's ok. Sure it hurts, but the pain is only a part of the whole.

We don't have it all figured out. We aren't all perfect. We haven't arrived. If we can admit that and share it with each other in open ways, then maybe deep pain can open the way for great joy.

How can you be vulnerable?

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Transitions are inevitable. Sometimes you choose your transitions and sometimes they choose you.

When you're speaking, focus on your transition moments. Craft those sentences that wrap up a section and launch you in a new direction. Without clearly stated transition moments, or moves, the audience may not know where you're going or what you're doing.

Don't overwhelm with transitions. Aim for one about every ten minutes. That's the natural amount of time that the human brain can pay attention to one point. Use that to your advantage and organized things into ten minute chunks with a transition in the middle.

Respect difficult transitions. If you're sharing something that might be tough for your audience to grasp or something that challenges long-held beliefs, take it slowly. Be gentle with those transitions. Take several minutes to work through the process and make the transition smoothly and gently.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

At a Loss for Words

What do you do when you don't have the words? Especially when it's your job to come up with words the educate, enlighten and inspire other people. What happens when the words won't come?

There's any number of reason that words might fail you: shock, grief, pain. But the results are the same. The words aren't there. What do you do?

Stay Silent - even though you might want to find words, in the midst of pain and grief, your words will probably be the wrong ones. Just sit. Hold onto your words. The moment will pass and the words will flow again. Just not right now.

Borrow Words - find the words that have supplied others ahead of you. Look to the Psalms or Lamentations. Read out the words of sorrow and redemption that have sustained people for thousands of years. Meditate on them, read them or shout them.

Speak Truth - Use your moments of wordlessness to find truthfulness. When shock strips away all of the built up barriers that we typically carry with us, the truth can be exposed. It's raw and sensitive. It will hurt to touch it, let alone speak it, but speaking the truth of your situation can free others to join in the story with you and begin to find healing.

What do you do when the words won't come?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Say Less to Communicate More

I spent the end of June in Germany on tour with my community choir. You can read more about our exploits here.

One of the nights on tour we were in the town of Trossingen and we were invited to a garden party. We walked over to the location and were handed coupons for free drinks. We sat down and felt very out of place - at first. It took us a while to connect with the people there. They were speaking German and we could speak very little German. But when Helga brought out the accordion and they started singing songs, we were able to make our way over to join in the fun. We didn't know what they were singing, but we enjoyed it anyway.

I spent a good portion of the night talking to Uwe (OO-veh). He could speak some English (much more than I could speak German), but if I spoke to quickly or used a lot of American idioms he couldn't understand me. So I slowed down my speech, I used simple words and sentence construction and we had a great time talking together.

That night in Trossingen we communicated quite a lot. We shared songs and laughter, but relatively few words. Many words do not make good communication.

The photo is from TOB Trossinger Online Bilderportal.