Time and Technology March Together

Later this week will cIMG_5435.JPGross into not only a new year but a new decade.

Time is a funny thing, marching on continuously oblivious to whatever is happening at the moment. Wars, technology, even climate change (ask the dinosaurs). But the one thing for sure, no matter how smart we think we are, the future will always be unpredictable.

At the turn of the 20th century, many thought technologies rendered war fruitless. The invention of the airplane would allow scouts to fly over troops formations and record their positions and movements making field maneuvers useless. Technology would finally end the scourge of war forever – or so was the original thought.

Then, as legend has it, a reconnaissance pilot took a firearm up and shot at another observational pilot and the rest is history. Bombing was introduced in 1911 during the Italo-Turkish War and soon became fully an offensive tool during the Great War of 1914 – 1918. Technology, in a story as old as time, was again weaponized.

Fast forward to the development of the internet – a remarkable network of connections between scientists to share information. Tracing back to 1983, the idea was to flatten the world of scientific research and accelerate the speed of developing solutions for the benefit of mankind. A decade later the door to commercialization began trickling in and quickly compounding its intrusion into our daily lives at a head-shaking speed. Today’s economy and even how we contact our dear old aunt two time zones away is unrecognizable to a shoulder-padded citizen of the 1980s.

The original promise of easy sharing of opinions and information and allowing everyone to make informed decisions based on trusted information quickly came off the track. While commercialism prospered, so did the attraction of bad players with a different set of goals – to use the platform for their gain. Thieves will always find a way into a room full of gold and political forces will always show up where a group of people is hanging out. And in the blink of a historical eye, the internet became stained with residue of bad actors using the platform for their gain.

As we sit on the cusp of a new decade we are staring into the eyes of AI or artificial intelligence. And today’s narrative sounds remarkably familiar, one filled with ultraistic potential: the ability to make your life easier without any sacrifice on your part. Self-driving cars are no longer science fiction. Limitless server space gathers and indexes everything you do and say. We even now have digital devices in our homes, aptly named ‘digital assistants’, serving as little more than fancy tools to tell us the temperature outside in exchange for hearing and capturing every word we say.

AI is fueled by Big Data. And as much as the caretakers in the clouds assure us that the collection of our information harmless, I can’t help but be skeptical of their promises whenever I see a plane fly overhead.


Learning To Help Is Not Exclusively Holiday Spirit

Did you ever think of how little each of us would have if we only had what we needed?

The holiday season seems to bring a reminder of how truly blessed we are and how many others need our help.

God promises He will provide. And to His word, he generally does. But too often, we tend to split hairs here, allowing our selfish wants to blend in with our needs. We need to get over ourselves.

Each day I drive past people with nothing more beyond the shirt on their back. To them, everything is disposable and temporary. Survival does that to one.

I understand there are reasons for people to be displaced, in pain, or alone. And many times, this is self-inflicted. But if we are honest with ourselves, this should not prevent us from us helping them gain – or regain – their self-respect.

God put us on earth to do good towards each other and watch out for those who can not. Unfortunately, most of us, me included, come up short. The distractions of daily life – the need to earn, the keeping up of outward appearances, and the managing of all that comes with our everyday life – can prove to be powerful distractions.

Forgive me as I blend the gospel of Jesus Christ with Dr. Seuss, but both support the concept that happiness does not come wrapped in ribbons and bows, but rather in our love for each other. Material possessions are temporary. Regardless of what many believe, we do not leave this life with our toys.

Most of us live better than 98% of the earth’s residents. And if you want to argue this point, I’ll be happy to suggest a few spots to visit. But better yet, you might want to look under the bridge you are driving across in the morning.

In the past few months, I’ve seen children run along the water’s edge chasing plastic bottles they’d tossed into the waves. They laughed, played tag, and not one owned an iPhone. They were happy in the absence of all the essential material possessions a kindergartener in our zip codes would expect.

Here is a painful exercise if you dare: how many pairs of shoes do you need? How many shirts? How many boxes of cereal? How about knives and forks?

It does not take long to appreciate most of us harbor enough possesions to change or improve the lives of many.

Let’s do a better job of taking care of each other, especially those in need. Regardless if you are religious or a big fan of Dr. Seuss, we all owe it to ourselves to help improve the world we occupy – no matter how large or small.

Give generously to charity or volunteer your time – or both. Find opportunities to help, even if that means slipping a few dollars to someone who looks like they could use a hand. The world needs all of us – even those who are afraid to or can not ask.


Storytellers Wield Magical Powers

I love a good story.

Being raised in the Midwest, embellishment was frowned upon if not outright discouraged. In a land where the terrain rolls as flat as the accents, directly speaking was the rule. Wasting time with unnecessary words was considering insulting – regardless if the absence ruffled a few feathers or hurt one’s feelings. Walk it off.

Then I moved away and discovered storytelling was not a linear equation, but rather an art form as captivating as any gallery painting. And in the hands of a true master, few emotional experiences can compare.

Traveling the South on back roads is always a treat. Beneath the proud, majestic homes, landscapes with trees melting into the ground like something from a Dr. Suess book, lays the artistry of storytelling crafted over generations of time.

My wife and I recently stayed in a circa 1836 home along the banks of Mississippi River. There we discovered deep pools of master wordsmiths. In the South, the ability to tell a story is an honored – if not a critical – skill of survival. An artform where truth is blended with – or possibly absent of – a handful of details to deliver the listener to the desired destination of the storyteller.

“My mother once said her cousin was an outright liar,” said a new friend in the small town. “She’d say ‘I’ve known her since she was seven years old, and a good 20% of what comes out of her mouth is a damn lie.”

Curious why she would continue to associate with his aunt, he asked.

She leaned in and said, “Because it is that 20% is so darn interesting.”

Storytelling, like any art form, requires the knowledge and respect of the tools at hand: word choice, voice inflection, and a surgical sense of timing. Each must effortlessly play in the background, never revealing themselves for fear of breaking the intoxicating spell.

The owner of the house we stayed in was one of these men. With each story came a firey ignition of my imagination, willingly transporting me to whatever moment in time or place he wished.

Standing in a dining room filled with furnishings as foreign to a Midwestern boy’s eyes as the tall skyscrapers in New York City, he extended his arms as if to invite us.

“My grandfather always said to us, ‘surround yourself with beautiful things and beautiful people.” And then, after a pause, he nodded in our direction as if let us know we were now a part of his collection.

As he toured each room of the four-story pre-Civil War home, each room, each piece, each painting, carried a critical story to tell – as if they were books in a carefully curated personal library. And I melted effortlessly into each tale.

I cannot begin to catalog what I learned or heard, but then again, that is the result of true storytelling. Instead, I left drenched in the magical and emotional majesty of the artist. And I don’t care what part of the stories was 20%.


Angel Arrives Early For Christmas

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.

“Stop, stop!”

To my right, a woman runs out onto a street where a car and pickup truck are aggressively accelerating away from a nearby traffic light.

Her arms wave wildly overhead as if to make her body appear even larger. Shoulders and body squared towards the oncoming traffic, she is not giving up her ground. Her voice echoes off narrow buildings with the terror only a parent instantly recognizes.

The traffic pauses, and so do the sounds of life around us. The woman, dressed in an animal print top and black rubber boots, is looking to the other side of the street.

To my left, I see a man scooping up a small boy and racing back to the safety of the other side. A small car seat is tossed aside, abandoned when the man realized what was happening. The two jump back behind the protection of a silver pickup truck.

The small boy, now safely in the arms of his dad, deeply burrows his head into the flannel shirt of his dad’s shoulders.

The woman makes her way back to the other side of the road where a group of friends waits. I can see she is shaken. Her friends hug her, thank her, and kiss her.

Back across the street, the man is speaking with his son, at times holding the boy’s face in his large hands so they two can connect eyes.

From where I am standing, all I can hear are small passages escaping over the sound of the resumed traffic.

“Never, never,” seem to be repeating themes followed by extended and deep hugs.

About 50 feet of asphalt separate the boy and the woman who saved his life by putting herself in danger. At no point was she going to give up her ground to save the boy’s life. Adrenaline is most likely still powerfully pulsating through her body.

Her actions were selfless instinct, most likely those of someone never considering the danger to herself, but instead singly focusing on pain or death of a small child.

Today’s world is hyper-charged with people spouting hurtful words towards others based on everything from failing to signal a lane change in traffic to one’s choice of a political candidate. Unfortunately, we seem to be focusing more on what pushes us apart rather than what brings us together. And a pot of boiling separation soup never tastes good.

The man, with the boy in his arms, walks across the street to the woman. The boy gives her a hug next one, followed by the dad.

“I was a bad boy,” I hear the little boy says.

Soon his eyes spot Christmas decorations in a nearby window. A tree is dressed with blinking lights and decorated with boxes with bows below. The boy’s imagination is thinking of that magical day only a week or so ahead on the calendar.

Fortunately for him, angels also wear animal print tops and black rubber boots.