Social Media and the Divine Disconnection

twabsence [twæbsəns] n. a break taken from use of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook (coined 2011 by Jason Sims and Mathis Sneed)

This post has no point. Sorry.

Or, at least, it has no conclusions. This is me working through feelings about a subject that’s too nebulous to have concrete thoughts on at the moment.

It goes back two or three years. I have a friend who quits Twitter and Facebook. A lot.

These days, you don’t even notice. You get a friend request from him, or see that he’s following you, or that someone’s saying you should friend or follow him. And you realize that he’s been gone again.

The part that’s odd to me is that, frequently, in the time he was gone, he’s become someone else; his user name is slightly different than it was the last time you followed him, indicating that he’s actually creating new accounts each time, instead of just returning to the unused one. Why, I don’t know.

But the subtlety of the way it happens lately is a change from the past. In the past, each departure would be marked with a long period of tweets or statii about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media.

That’s right — he was spending time on social media talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media (talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media [talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media {ad nauseum}]). The solution seemed simple — stop talking about it, and then you won’t be.

It’s not uncommon. Author Anne Jackson, whom I follow on Twitter, recently began a month-plus-long Twitter break, having just returned from another two-month break last month. One can look at her Twitter feed and see where it would be overwhelming. If I used Twitter like she does, I might sell more books. Promoting awareness has always been one of my weak suits, and she’s far better at it than I.

Also not uncommon, and very fascinating to me, is the social media Lent break. At least one good friend of mine has stopped using Twitter for Lent. Another person I follow has stopped tweeting after 5 p.m. for the duration.

Others are curtailing their social media use in other ways for Lent. It’s fun logging in on Sunday and watching them catch up on what they’ve missed saying.

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about Lent and what I was doing this year, but I don’t know that I got deep enough into one of my major issues with the way a lot of people treat Lent — they either give up something bad, or they give up something good.

Many people use Lent as an opportunity to give up something they really feel like they probably shouldn’t be doing anyway. And then, after 40 days, they go back to doing it. If it’s really something you shouldn’t be doing, don’t give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period.

Other people give up things that are actually good things, in order to give something up. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, the time is always right to do the right thing. If you should be doing it, don’t stop.

The better approach I’ve seen is to give up luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not needed, and their absence prompts an awareness, and that awareness can lead to the contemplative discipline that I think is at the core of Lent.

The problem there is that, again, there’s often little long-term beneficial take-away from it. People often choose luxuries that they believe they over-indulge in. So for Lent, they give it up. And after Lent, they all to often return to the way it was before. Because nothing has changed. Because the secret isn’t in being able to give something up temporarily.

The secret is in moderation.

Which brings us back to social media.

Personally, and this is just my bias, I disagree with giving up social media for Lent. The reality is, we live in an age when social networking is an important part of how we communicate. As Christians, we have an obligation to communicate. Our job is to share our gospel. In my opinion, at the point where we make ourselves less effective communicators, we fall down on our divine obligation.

I’ve had several people say they don’t use Facebook or Twitter or other social media because they don’t want what it is.

Well, what is it?

Many years ago, I toured William Faulker’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, Miss., and the tour guide said something I wish I could remember about how Faulkner used the telephone. Basically, the upshot of it was that Faulkner believed that the telephone in his house was not there for other people’s convenience, it was there for his convenience.

Amen, brother.

But we lose track of that. We carry a cell phone so that other people can get in touch with us. It becomes not a convenience, but an obligation.

Me, I believe that’s why my cell phone has voicemail. Leave me a message, and if I believe it’s worth my time, I’ll call you back. Otherwise, I’ll respond in a way that’s respectful of both of our time.

But I digress.

Social networking is no different. It is what you make it.

Facebook, in particular, is one of the most versatile tools to come down the pike in a very long time. For one friend, it’s about keeping in touch with classmates. For another, it’s about rescuing dogs. For another, it’s about promoting her writing. For another, it’s about playing games. And those are just personal accounts, without getting into pages and the like.

The flip side of that, however, is that, because there is so much it can be, it can become more than you want it to be. Let Facebook become how you play games and how you keep up with friends and how you promote your band and how you do whatever else, and it gets to be too much.


Twitter’s more focused, but even in the one or two things it does well, it can become too much. It would easily be possible to follow enough people who are posting enough that it would take all your waking time to keep up with it.


But the same thing is true of any means of communication. You could write letters all day. You could talk on the phone all day. You could read books all day.

Any of that would be unhealthy. But so would not communicating.


My challenge would be, don’t give up social media for Lent.

Develop a social media strategy for Lent.

But whatever your reason for taking a break, don’t take a break that’s going to return you to being overwhelmed after Easter or in May or after a month or whatever you’re giving it up for.

We share the Word by sharing our lives. And in this day and age, social media is one of the best tools we have for doing that. Every tweet doesn’t have to be about God for it to serve Him. It just has to build relationships. To make connections. So that those may let Him be seen in you.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re giving up social media for religious reasons, my challenge would be this — am I using this in a way that serves God or not. If so, don’t give it up. If not, then don’t just give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period. And ask yourself how it could be better used.

In moderation.

I Had A Dream

From a Plinky prompt: “Have you ever had a recurring dream?”


My longest ongoing recurring dream started not long after I began my current job.

Prior to that, I worked in newspapers.

I assumed I always would.

For me, being a newspaperman wasn’t so much what I did as it was who I was. I had the proverbial ink the veins, and, all too often, the literal ink on the hands.

Leaving newspapers to come to work for NASA was a big deal. I wanted the new job, and was excited about it, but the move involved some loss of identity. It would be cool, but involved giving up a little bit of myself.

But I did it. And was glad I did.

However …

Not long after I started the new job, the dreams started.

In the dream, I realized that I had made a mistake. A terrible mistake.

I was a newspaperman. I wasn’t supposed to be working for NASA. I was supposed to be working for a newspaper.

So I went back to work for a newspaper.

In the dream, I would go back to Indianola, and resume working at the newspaper there.

That part was pretty much the same every time I had the dream.

There was a little bit of difference in the next part.

I would realize that I had made a horrible mistake. I would realize that I wanted out. I would realize that I had romanticized newspapers, and that NASA really was much better.

The difference in this part was how long it took. Sometimes I made this realization the next day after I went back to the newspaper. Other times, I didn’t last that long.

Fortunately, in the dream, almost invariably, I never, technically, quit my job at NASA. I had just gone back to the newspaper without letting anyone know.

So, thankfully, I was always able to just go back to work the next day as if I’d been sick or something the day before and pick up where I left off with no one the wiser.

The dream was a good thing for me.

Leaving newspapers really was hard. And I really did have second thoughts some times. The dream let me live out those reservations without having to actually live out those reservations. It gave me a picture of the “what if…” scenario of going back that rang pretty true.

I was happier at NASA. And my rational mind knew that. But it was good for my heart to be able to experience that as well.

Newspapers were a very important part of my life, and I’ll always have fond feelings of that part of my past.

But that doesn’t mean that the present isn’t much better.

Powered by Plinky

“Mixed Fruits” Playlist

So Heather was looking on my iTunes for Strawberry Wine, which, at the time, I didn’t have, but came across other strawberry songs, and somehow or another that ended up with my making her a Mix CD of fruit-related songs, including but not limited to:

  • Strawberry Wine — Matraca Berg
  • Peaches — The Presidents Of The United States of America
  • Watermelon Man — Albert King
  • Raspberry Swirl — Tori Amos
  • Black Horse And The Cherry Tree — KT Tunstall
  • Another Bite of the Apple — Neil Diamond

And so, in honor of Mrs. Tutor, for whom I’ve not done one of these in way too long, I thought I’d do an old-school playlist post:

Since I’ve already listed some fruit songs, I’ll open it up a bit — What songs belong in a proper “Fruits And Vegetables” mix playlist? Bonus point for each fruit or vegetable that hasn’t already been named.

Interplanetary Invasion 101 (A “Battle: Los Angeles” Non-Review)

Say, for a moment, that, hypothetically, you needed to invade Earth. What would you do?

Or, perhaps a better question — what would you not do?

I went and watched Battle Los Angeles with my friend Mathis last week, at his suggestion. This isn’t really a review, per se. But my review would be this — it did what it said it does well, and that was both its biggest strength and its greatest weakness.

The high concept of BLA is this — a realistic modern war movie in which U.S. soldiers fight aliens using realistic conventional warfare tactics.

On the plus side, it was enjoyable to watch. Think Black Hawk Down with extraterrestrials. It was, indeed, realistic, and gritty and a competent war movie; an alien battle film that didn’t feel like a science fiction movie; much more Saving Private Ryan than Independence Day.

The problem, however, is that the realism made it realistic. In avoiding the science fiction feel, Marines were dispatched into combat against extraterrestrials with almost no acknowledgment that there was anything unusual about that.

Worse for me, however, was that it made no sense from the alien side.

Yes, the movie did a great job depicting warfare against aliens using realistic, conventional, real-world battle tactics.

But … um … why exactly would aliens use conventional battle tactics?

Spoilers follow, but that’s probably OK. If you go to the movie, go for the look and feel, not the plot.

OK, first, say, hypothetically, that you are an alien race wanting, as in the film, to harvest another planet’s water.

I’m biased here, but let me heartily recommend you check out the Jovian moons before coming to Earth. I mean, yeah, sure, I have personal reasons for preferring you not kill all humans, but it’s better for you, too. Sort of a win-win. Yes, it’s harder to access liquid water, but if you have the technology to transport water from one planet to another in bulk that just becomes a small technical challenge to be solved.

Earth’s water supply, however, is inhabited and contaminated, and the technical challenges of cleaning it are going to be greater. More importantly, it’s filled with Earth-based bacteria, and, in case you’ve never read War of the Worlds, that’s a recipe for a bad day. And water’s a notoriously effective radiation blocker, so it’s going to be more difficult to do anything about that. Easier to go with the pure stuff orbiting Jupiter.

That said, if you feel that you absolutely must have Earth’s water and feel the need to invade, be sure and do it right. Starship Troopers is unrealistic in its execution, but the basic idea has merit — if you can move enough mass through space to steal water, you should have the ability to push mass into a collision course with Earth. No reason for you to actually land yourself until you’ve bombed the planet back into the stone age from space.

Oh, you WANT to come to Earth yourself? Well, OK. You’ve got automated aerial attack drones, so you can just beat the planet’s population into submission with those. It’ll take longer, but maybe you have time. All you need to do is leave the control platform for the drones in orbit, that way you can communicate with them while remaining virtually untouchable to humans. (In fact, we only have three human orbital spaceports right now; take those out immediately and there’s no chance of an against-the-odds space mission to blow them up.) Independence Day is no War of the World or Starship Troopers (the book, at least), but there’s still lessons to be learned.

What? You want to LAND your control centers? Um. Well, OK. Your invasion, you know? That’s cool. By the way, jumping back a bit, why are you even attacking us to get the water? You could just set up in the middle of the ocean and defend your equipment, without having to waste resources to kill people that aren’t in your way. I mean, gracious, here, go watch Spaceballs. I mean, it’s no War of the Worlds, Independence Day or Starship Troopers, but at least they know that when you want to steal a world’s resources, you don’t have to kill everyone to do it.

OK, sigh. Fine. Come on and take our water. Invade the planet. Land your control centers. Keep a bevy of drones defending them, and you can send the rest out to bomb Earth’s military forces. You dominate the planet, take the water, kill its inhabitants, all without wasting a single life. The Phantom Menace was the worst of the Star Wars movies, but at least it understood the value of a droid army. (Yes, they lost, but only because they didn’t follow the advice about eliminating any chance of a space attack in their first volley.)

Wait? You’re going to send TROOPS? As your FIRST line of attack? But … you could rely entirely on drones. You could bomb us from space. You’re going to send your people in front of our machine guns? FIRST? Why? Do you hate them?

Do they have elections on your planet? Here, give me Spaceballs and Independence Day and Phantom Menace and Starship Troopers back. Instead, let me give you Nixon and Seven Days In May. Bad military strategy is the least of your problems.

Song Challenge Day 1 — Your Favorite Song

To make the Post A Day 2011 challenge a bit more bearable, I’ve set up a couple of regular features. Saturdays are for reviews (yesterday being an exception) and Sundays are for song lyrics. But I’m out of song lyric ideas, so I wanted a new regular Sunday feature. Keeping the music theme I’ve been using, I’m undertaking the 30 Day Song Challenge as a weekly project.

Week 1 — Your Favorite Song

“Witness To Your Life,” Lori McKenna

It’s no shock to readers of this blog that I like the Lori McKenna, so it’s probably no surprise that my favorite song is one of hers.

I heard this song because I like Lori’s music, but I love Lori’s music because I heard this song.

It speaks to a desire of my heart — To be known. To have someone care.

All you really need is someone to be here
Someone who never lets you disappear
And I will be that witness to your life
This may just be a softer place to fall
But somebody will answer when you call
And I will be that witness to your life

As a writer, the idea of “story” is important to me, and that carries over into relationships. I want someone to share my story with, I want someone to share their story with me, I want to be able to share a common story with someone.

(One of the blessings of being in a relationship with your best friend — Heather knew my story before we ever started dating.)

I love the sound of the song, the music, and Lori’s incredible ability to use her voice to make the song real; the way she sings it like she means it.

I love the writing; in addition to the idea of the songs, there’s another little nugget that really speaks to me — “Stopped listening to all your friends / They think this is where life begins and ends / No one reaches, no one trandscends — they just learn to live with it.” I want to lead the sort of life that no one would ever say that about me. It’s a nice challenge.

And that’s my favorite song.

Next week — My Least Favorite Song

“Duh, Losing” — Of Weight Loss And Haircuts

So after the last weigh-in for the weight-loss contest we’re doing at work, I stalled.

For like a week, I was plateaued in this three-pound-or-so range, and couldn’t break out of it.

It was frustrating.

And then, finally, progress!

Big losses (more than a pound) two days in a row!

Like, three pounds in a two-day period!


But —

On the second day, I’d gotten my haircut.

I mean, like, a serious haircut. Probably the most substantial haircut I’d ever had.

david hitt, haircut

And it occurred to me —

What if that day’s weight loss was really just the haircut?

Could I have had a pound of hair cut from my head?

Heather and I debated it. She pointed out that her pony tail couldn’t weigh a pound. I replied that her pony tail was less hair that I’d had cut. She said that it wasn’t, that her pony tail was most of the hair on her head. I disagreed. Sigh.

But —

Then I realized, that if there’s one thing I’ve learned from romantic comedies in the mid-90s, it’s that the human head weighs eight pounds. (If there’s another, it’s that you should show me the money.)

And there’s no way the hair I had cut off was an eighth of the mass of my head.

So I must be losing weight.


(I’m still not above the idea of getting another drastic haircut before the last weigh-in, though.)

Fear My Fantasy Film, Folks!

It’s that time of year, again!

I wrote last year about the Fantasy Film League, in which you cast your own movie, and it makes money over the course of the year based on the box office performance of your actors and director’s real-world movies.

My movie for last year, “Bible Song,” ended the season around number 30, out of more than 200 movies competing.

The new season is about to start, and I’ve already entered my movie, “All The Queen’s Men.”

I’d love to have you play along.

First, go to the Fantasy Film League homepage and sign in to create your movie.

You’ll be given $70 million to cast your film with, and a price sheet of actors and directors.

Pick a combination six actors and a director whose films you think will make the most money in real life next year.

Then, join my “Movies In My Pocket” private league by using the code 0cd6e69b. That way you can compare results easily with this group, in addition to the entire league.

Let me know which movie you create, and good luck!

Bible 2.0 — Scripture and Technology

Want proof times are changing? A boy recently told me he couldn’t read scripture because his phone was dead.

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

Image via Wikipedia

How is technology changing the way you relate to your Bible?

Two feet from where I’m sitting right now, I have a copy of the Holy Bible. It’s a nice copy, too, NIV, red leather bound with gold printing. Nothing too fancy — my good Bibles are in places I use them more — but functional nonetheless.

I rarely use it.

Instead, I’m far more likely to leave it on the shelf and access the Bible electronically. Google makes it easy to either look up a particular passage I know the address for, or to search for a verse if I can’t remember where it’s found. It’s easier and more convenient than pulling the print version of the shelf.

I’ve sat in my Bible study group with my Bible in my lap, reading scripture on my iPhone. At times, I’ve got both going at the same time; my Bible open to the chapter we’re reading, my iPhone searching for passages elsewhere I think relate, flipping between translations to make sure the connotation is what I’m looking for.

And I want more. I want to be able to read a verse, look up what a word is in Greek, and determine if it’s the same word used elsewhere all from my phone, and then read commentary on the verse to see how it lines up with what I just read. I want to click on a verse in Matthew, and find the corresponding passages in the other Gospels. I want to read an epistle, and go immediately to what Paul says about the same subject in other letters.

I suspect the Bible is undergoing a major evolutionary change today. It’s not the first time. In fact, the “Bible 2.0” title I used for this post is somewhat misleading; in terms of user interface upgrades, the Bible would be on at least version four already. Translations, the printing press, and separation into chapters and verses all change the way people read and use the Bible.

In fact, all those things change the way people think about the Bible. It’s hard today to really comprehend the idea of a Bible without chapter and verse distinctions. It’s very natural to us to pull one verse out of a passage and use it separately, as if, because it has its own address, it’s a self-contained entity. I’ve been working for the last couple of years to break myself out of that mindset — to focus more on the narrative than the excerpt, to never take a verse, regardless of where I see it, as many anything until I’ve read the context that it’s in.

Electronic versions of the Bible have the potential to make that challenge much easier or much harder. On the one hand, it’s now easier than ever to pull verses out of context and deal with them individually. I can e-mail or tweet a verse by itself with just a few keystrokes, and broadcast it without its context. Never has it been easier to share scripture out of context than it is today.

On the other hand, it’s easier than ever to deal with the Bible as a whole. Right or wrong, you can Google the Bible now, finding things in it that you might otherwise have missed. It’s easier now to look at the microcosm of a verse, but it’s also easier to look at the macrocosm of the Bible as a whole. It’s easier than ever to take the whole Bible with you wherever you are.

The Bible is changing. And while that may sound sacrilegious; it’s still within spec. This change, like translations and like the printing press, was anticipated by God when He inspired scripture to begin with.

I said earlier that the title “Bible 2.0” wasn’t entirely accurate. But it’s not entirely inaccurate either. This may not be a second iteration of the Bible, but it is the Bible in a Web 2.0 world. It’s the Bible in a world that’s interactive, that’s accessible, that’s peer-to-peer, that’s dynamic. We live in a world where the published world is no longer dead, but living, growing, interacting information. The Bible has always been a living book. Technology is finally catching up with it.

What does that mean for you? How does technology change the way you read the Bible? What electronic tools do you use to interface with it? What would you like technology to allow you to do? How does technology change the way you share scripture? How does technology change the way you share God?

Cutting The Cable

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Leisure Time.”

The last thing I watched on my cable at home was a Discovery channel special.

It had a segment on Skylab. I like Skylab.

I had my cable turned off when I realized that it had been almost four months since I’d turned in on. Not even since I’d actually watched a show, but since I had turned on the television other than to watch a DVD.

That’s been two and a half years ago.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t completely done without television shows. I’ve watched Futurama, Lost and Battlestar Galactica via iTunes.

And, for the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that there were three episodes of Lost that I watched at other people’s houses. One of them was just a nice bonus, but the other two were because I really wanted to see them “live.”

But, beyond that, I really don’t watch television.

This is the greatest thing in the world.

I never watched a lot, but cutting that cable, eliminating the temptation or even possibility of turning it on for a moment’s entertainment or as just background noise has also eliminated the possibility of getting sucked in.

It’s given me time.

Time to read, to write, to act, to take classes, to spend with Heather, to spend with the boys, to cook, to go to baseball practice and on and on and on.

I’ll admit, I’m crazy busy these days. Possibly too busy.

But I like having the time to do it.

A message came back from the great beyond
There’s fifty-seven channnels and nothin’ on

Crushing The Hopes Of Tomorrow

VanCleave and Olden in front of the test article

Dee VanCleave and George Olden get paid to break things.

Not only that, they get paid to take physical manifestations of hopes and dreams for the future, and crush them. Under the weight of 50 years of history, no less.

Dee and George are test engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. They test hardware to analyze its load limits and related failure modes. In other words, you give them something, and they’ll tell you how much pressure it takes to cause it to buckle or break. And what happens when it does.

They do this using a facility designed for the development of the Saturn rockets that went to the moon. Later, it was used to do very unpleasant, and messy, things to test versions of the space shuttle’s external tank.

Now, all of that is pretty cool.

So I’m ashamed to admit, when I first heard about the test they’re doing Wednesday, I was a bit blasé about it.

We were called into a meeting to discuss providing education support for tomorrow’s test. The test, we were told, would involve taking a 27.5-foot-wide and 20-foot-tall cylinder, putting it in the test equipment, and crushing it like an aluminum can. OK, at that point, it sounded pretty cool.

But then it was explained that in this case “crushing” actually means slightly buckling in a way that you probably won’t be able to see easily. Less cool. But it will probably make a loud noise. Uh … kinda cool?

But then Heather and I got to go meet Dee and George at the facility and find out more about what was going on.

First, just being there was cool.

The particular room and equipment that will be used for tomorrow’s test hasn’t been used since the mid-1970s. You can see marks on the equipment from past tests, putting loads on Saturn rocket stages and shuttle external tanks. George noted that if you know the diameters of the vehicles, you can tell what marks were left by what hardware. We went up into the catwalks in the top reaches of the high bay, largely untouched since the 1960s.

It was one of those moments that I love when I was aware of the continuity — George and Dee and Heather and I work for the same NASA that went to the moon, and are continuing the work today that von Braun and Faget and Kraft and Gilruth and others started 50 years ago.

But, also, what they will be doing is cool.

If you build a rocket, you have to know that it’s going to be strong enough to withstand the crazy variety of loads it will experience during launch — axial loads from vehicle weight and thrust and air pressure and shear loads from wind and burning fuel and torsional loads from rolling and many many many others.

It’s the great conundrum. Making the rocket stronger adds weight which requires more fuel which adds weight which requires more fuel, etc. Make it too light, however, and it comes apart during launch. Not a good day.

Engineers today are still following rules on how strong a rocket needs to be that were born, in part, in that same room decades ago. Hardware was tested until it broke, and that told how strong it needed to be. Back then, it was a different age — analog and less precise. So engineers erred on the side of caution, going with stronger instead of lighter when there was uncertainty.

Today, there’s better equipment — computers and sensors and video and all sorts of other toys that will allow the measurements to be more precise. Tomorrow’s test is verifying a new computer model about what sort of loads a vehicle can withstand. If the testing validates the models, it means engineers will know more precisely how strong their vehicle needs to be. Smaller margins will result. Lighter instead of stronger.

The difference could be substantial. The weight savings will make rockets smaller or more powerful. They will make access to space easier and cheaper. Tomorrow’s test may not be as telegenically impressive as if it were the equivalent of crushing an aluminum can. But it’s revolutionary.

Appropriate that in a room drenched in the past, the future will begin tomorrow.

Heather’s got a great post about the test on her NASA Taking Up Space blog.