A stack is a term commonly used among computer scientists to describe the collection of tools and technologies that one uses. Stacks, by their very nature stacks are a mix of personal preferences and the core essentials. A famous example of an unusual stack is George R. R. Martin’s writing computer for the Game of Thrones novels. His writing computer is an ancient DOS computer from the 1980s that runs Word Star. While most people may look at this as outdated, he is more comfortable using Word Star for its simplicity. While it is not his primary intention, George R. R. Martin works on an air gaped computer system. His writing stack is not Internet comparable which means he is immune to modern computer viruses and hackers. The DOS machine also protects his attention as he is able to write on a computer without the distractions that come with an Internet connection.
Computer programmers and writers have custom designed stacks for their needs. So what is preventing us from having a custom designed spiritual stack? After all it is impossible for technology not to interact with our spirituality. Sure some people may use old technology but they still use technology. If we own or even use a Bible, we are making use of some type of technology. This holds not only for electronic Bibles and audio Bibles but also paper Bibles. Even a series of clay tablets written with a stick would be making use of the technology of writing.
So I ask you: what is in your spiritual stack? What technologies do you use in your spiritual life? I assume you are using a Bible of some shape or form. This may be supplemented by another book be it a daily devotional booklet, hymnal or formal prayer-book. You may use a calendar, planner or to-do list to help keep yourself focused. There are also various newsletters you can sign up and either get them in your postal mailbox or your email inbox. You may also make use of some type of inspirational artwork or other materials. This may take the form of religious Icons, posters, or desktop wallpaper. You may have meaningful Bible verses cross-stitched on a pillow, a wooden plaque or post-it notes. Who knows you may have taken Deuteronomy literally and written Bible verses on your door frames and fence posts. We are surrounded with ways that we can make use of technology to benefit ourselves spiritually. Yet all too often we get hung up on the negative that we lose sight of the positive. So please take the time to reflect upon the ways that technology can and has already blessed your spiritual life.
“The Internet is like alcohol. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.” ~ Esther Dyson
When it comes to the role that material objects in our lives, computers are one of the most complicated. While a computer is a physical object, it is primarily a gateway into the more abstract digital world. So when it comes to a more focused and simple life, computers can be either a blessing and or a curse. It all comes down to how one interacts with computers. More likely than not computers are a mixed blessing in your life that at times both helps and hinders you.
At their best computers are powerful tools that make our lives easier. When used mindfully computers can greatly improve our lives for the better. The modern minimalist movement was only made possible by laptop computers and smartphones. Think about all the devices that a laptop computer and smartphone can replace … alarm clock, bookcase, camera, CD player, DVD player, filing cabinet (via computer scanner) GPS, library card, television and video camera. This alone allows one to not only save space but also money thanks to the virtue of the multipurpose nature of computers. Computers also allow us to streamline our workflow to get more done in record time. Not to mention how much information computers can store which rivals even the most advanced paper filing system. Digital file storage is also easy to backup which greatly lower the risk of losing things. Of course, this is not to say that computers are not double edged. If one is not organized in their file storage structure computers can enable a new level of disorder. Information is only useful if it can be found in a timely manner when needed. Digital clutter and disorder can multiply much faster than physical clutter in our lives. Not to mention computers can also make it possible to lose things faster than ever before if one neglects to keep proper backups. Finally, computers can only help one be more productive when they are used mindfully. Digital distractions unfortunate allow us to take procrastination to a new level.
As a society, we have reached the point that it is unrealistic to avoid computers due to their potential pitfalls. Thus as Christians, our spiritual lives need to be inclusive of computers. Anything that plays a large role in our lives has the potential to help or hinder us spiritually. Ideally, our spiritual approach to computers should be positive and focus on the strengths. So what are some ways that computers can support your spiritual life?
“Listen to Jesus, and every day the word of Jesus enters our heart and makes us stronger in the faith. I suggest taking a little copy of the Gospels, a little one, to carry in your pocket, in your bag, and when you have a bit of time, when you are sitting here or there, and you can read, pick up the Gospel and read a few words. The Gospel is always with us!” ~ Pope Francis
Years ago there was a little email parable going around that compared Bibles to cell phones (before smartphones). In short, it challenged the reader to treat their Bible more like their cell phone. In the sense that most people carry their cell phone with them at all times and will return to retrieve it upon realizing they left it behind. Without a doubt, this was a very creative and well-meaning illustration to make us think about how much we value the Bible in our lives. Although it neglected the obvious differences between Bibles and cell phones. Cell phones unlike books, are designed to be portable and easily fit into our pockets and purses. As compared to Bibles which tend to be a bit too large to carry around like a cell phone.
A more helpful question for today would not be if you treat your Bible like your cell phone but are there any Bible (and possibly prayer) apps on your phone. Smartphone Bible apps are best suited for quick reference and short readings. As phones are too small to be well suited for longer devotional readings. So for practical purposes, Bible apps are the little pocket Bibles of our modern age. I am referring to the pocket Bibles the size of a man’s wallet. They generally contain the New Testament and maybe Psalms and Proverbs in tiny print. The pocket Bible of the previous generations did not replace full-sized Bibles at home. So while a Bible app on a phone is not the best primary Bible, it allows one to read the Bible in the little bits of time during the day. Chances are that all of us that have Bible apps on their phone, also have games and social media apps on our phones, myself included. Let me be clear there is nothing wrong with games and social media in moderation. What matters is that we should seek to become more aware of the activities that we tend to default to during pockets of unexpected free time throughout the day. This is because the things that we naturally drift toward reveal what we focus upon most which reflect and influences our values. It is just like how companies know that the more they expose you to images of their products in advertisements, the more likely you are to buy it. This is why the Bible tells us to take care and be aware of our thoughts and the ideas that we are taking in. It is not any different from a person that wants to get in shape and lose weight. If they are serious about their goal they will immerse themselves to fitness and nutrition articles and videos. This helps increase their chances of success by reshaping their values and lifestyle to be in line with their goal. In the same way, the Bible instructs us to expose ourselves to God’s thoughts and ideas, in order to be transformed into the people that God is calling us to become. Thus the more we focus on the things that God values, the more God’s values will become our own and shape how we live out our daily lives.
“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” ~ Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)
A few years ago, I got a Windows system pop-up message on my computer. The message was that Windows believed that my hard drive was about to fail. I am sure this would have been a source of panic if not absolute terror to most people in my situation. Yet in my case I remained calm. This is because I had an up to date backup of my computer data. So the worse case situation would only be the moderate inconvenience. The act of having a current backup of your computer will free you from a lot of computer related anxiety. According to the Bible, being ready for potential setbacks in the future is a trait of the wise. Contrary to some current “folk theology” this is not at all a sign of having a lack of faith in God to provide. Given that the Bible calls us to also be responsible and take reasonable precautions. Your files on your computer and phone likely account for hundreds of hours worth of work and irreplaceable pictures. So it only makes sense to take a few minutes a week to back up your data from potential loss.
Please keep in mind that my intention is not to write an all-inclusive backup guide. My goal is to give simple backup suggestions that can be quickly put into action. A simple backup is better than no backup but if you want to do a more complete job, by all means do more reading on this topic. The most important thing is that if you do not already have a backup is to create a simple backup today. Then once you have a simple backup you can start to think about what type of backup system would be best suited for your needs long-term. Trust me if you ever have a need for a backup, you will be glad that you maintained a backup. Likewise even if you never need to use your backup, you will enjoy the pace of mind that having one provides.
When it comes to backing up data that is of high value, you should follow the computer backup rule of three. The rule of three in computer backup is that you should have at least three copies of your data. It is also important for at least one of your three copies to be stored at a remote location. The classic example is that if your computer and backup are in the same place, both can be destroyed in a fire or flood. Your remote backup does not have to be anything fancy. A remote backup can be as simple as a USB memory stick in a safe deposit box, gym/work locker or secure place at work or school. You can even swap USB flash drives with a friend or relative for your remote backups. If you use a remote backup on physical media depending upon the nature of the data you may want to encrypt the data. Especially if it contains any sensitive information such as business or financial records. Another quick and simple option for personal use would be to pick up a USB flash drive for your key-chain or extra-large SD card for your phone to store copies of your most valued files and pictures. Just keep in mind that physical storage works best with files that are constant like pictures.
For data that changes more often, cloud storage would likely work better. Cloud storage includes services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive. The act of syncing your data across your devices with an online copy doubles as backup. Cloud data syncing services are also computer backup rule of three compliant. So placing your active working document in your Dropbox folder, will provide real-time backup. As an added bonus all of the above services include mobile app versions with an option to auto upload your pictures as you take them. So your pictures will not only be backed up automatically but also synced to your computer for easy access.
So remember be smart and choose to be among the wise in making sure your computer has an up to date backup. The few suggestions that I gave were only quick and simple things that anybody can quickly and easily put into practice. I encourage you to do further reading about the best backup for your current needs. There is no one size fits all solution, when it comes to the best method of computer backup. So please do not consider me the final authority and seek out more information for your computers. If anything every happens you will be glad that you had a current computer backup.
When it comes to deeper Christian spirituality, computers are rarely considered a good companion. In recent years I have heard of people giving up social media sites for Lent. I have also heard many people talk about fasting not from food but from the Internet. Much like there are now unplugged spiritual retreats that outright ban electronic devices. This is enough to make one wonder if Christian spirituality is Luddite in nature. Given how it is clear that a lot of Christians today feel that deeper spiritual focus does not mix well with computers. The detail that we need to remember is that computers in all shapes and sizes ranging from desktops, laptops, smart phones & watches and tablets are simply tools. Tools by there very nature are neutral and this it is impossible for a computer to be hostile toward Christianity or any other religion. It is true that computers, just like any other tool, can be used in ways that are either helpful or harmful to one’s spiritual health.
I wonder what it was that more recently changed the church’s view of technology. Christianity has a long legacy of being on the cutting edge of information technology. Early Christians soon became known as the people of the book to those outside the church. This not only refers to the value the church placed upon the Bible but also to their advanced technology. At the time, the codex was the latest breakthrough in information technology. A codex is the oldest form of organizing written pages that we would recognize as a book today. In short a codex is a stack of pages with handwritten content that are bound together on one side. I am sure it comes as a shock to a lot of us today how big of an information technology breakthrough the codex was at the time. Compared to the scroll, the codex is superior at every level. A scroll has sequential access memory which makes it awkward to use and even handle. As compared to the codex with its more advanced “random access memory” which makes it much easier to use. This new style of data access forever changed how people of all faiths read their sacred texts. The ability to turn to any page with ease was what led us to index the Bible into chapters and verses. The codex was also much more economical than the scroll for several reasons. First the codex is bound in a way that allows for easy use of both sides of the papyrus, vellum or paper. The second is that codices are more durable because the pages are bound within a protective cover. The Bible was the first major work to be widely published as a codex. The codex was developed by the Romans and not the church. Yet, the church’s early adaptation of the codex happened at just the right time. This is why the spread of codex technology is associated with the rise of Christianity.
The next major point of early information technology adaptation was the printing press. The first modern book to be mass printed on a printing press in the West was the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible was produced over several years in the early to mid 1450’s. The Bible was also the first book that was electronically indexed in a computer system. The Univac Bible of 1955 was both the first ebook and the first instance of computer Bible software. The Univac Bible was used to create a concordance for the Revised Standard Version Bible. This was so ahead of its time that few people realized how big of a deal it was. The first Bible ebook predates Microsoft(1975) by 20 years and Apple(1976) by 21 years. Yes the first electronic Bible came decades before the first household personal computers. (Click here to see pictures of the Univac Bible project)
Unfortunately, the technology explosion created by the computer revolution has become a stumbling block. The church is not alone in the struggle to adapt to the increasingly computer driven world. Now is not the time to get bogged down pointing fingers at each others in the blame game. Even if it was possible to name names and explain how we dropped the ball with computers, it will not help. What matters most is that we week to get back on track with information technology. As the church we need to work on figuring out how to best use computers to our spiritual benefit. We need to find a way to develop deeper Christian spirituality in the increasingly shallow cyber-world of our Internet driven culture.