Sam Harrelson

The Sublime and Silicon Valley

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

— Read on thebaffler.com/latest/close-encounters-of-the-tech-kind-harnett




Prehistoric Proto-Writing System

While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.

Source: Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System




Next phase of the web

That’s what Peach is for. It is a place to be real with people who’ve chosen to be real with you. It’s friendly, it’s therapeutic, it’s cathartic. It’s necessary. When it’s not around, those of us who use it go a little bit mad.

We’ve come to lean on confessing out loud. And there are no priests left who can be trusted any more. The only thing we can trust is benign neglect.

Is that the next phase of the web? The web that hardly works, where no one’s paying attention because no one really cares? (Except your friends, including strangers, who somehow care so much?)

Source: kottke.org – home of fine hypertext products

Yep.




Breaking Gender Biased Language

How can we transition to a gender-balanced world, if these biases remain part of our vernacular?  ELaN Languages, an independent translation organisation in Belgium, wants to tackle our unconscious bias by updating their online translation tool with a new feature: ‘the unbias button’. The plug-in offers unbiased translations of biased words. Making us aware of our unconscious bias by translating bias words, such as job titles, into gender-neutral words.

Source: A NEW PRODUCT FEATURE TO BREAK GENDER BIAS – J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam (news)




The Next Social Network is Private Messaging

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication. There are a number of reasons for this. Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends. People are more cautious of having a permanent record of what they’ve shared. And we all expect to be able to do things like payments privately and securely.

Not saying I called it, but I called it. Look to WeChat for how we’ll be doing “social networking” here in the US within the next 5 years.

Twitter completely flopped and missed the ball by not shipping a DM app.




Gulp




My New Esee 6 Knife

This thing is pretty AND amazing.




Goodbye, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hello World.

Today starts the liturgical season of Lent. Around 12:03AM this morning (or last night, depending on your biological sense of time), I committed the ultimate mind crime of deleting my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Well, I began the process of deleting them since each of these advertising companies give you a 30-day “grace” period for you to “make sure” that you really want to disengage from the machine.

But, it’s time.

It’s time for me to stop making excuses about where I put my time and attention. It’s time for me to stop making excuses for participating in systems that I don’t want to encourage or necessarily be a part of even if there’s the offer of exposure and connections. It’s just not worth it.

Jump from the hook. You’re not obliged to swallow anything that you despise.




Been here a while




I’m 40 now and it took me all of my adult life to come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s Supper because of my Baptist upbringing

Similar story to mine here… reflecting heavily as we prepare to enter Lent yet again:

Having been raised in a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma, I never had learned to be sentimental about the Lord’s Supper; it was something we observed once a quarter on a Sunday night so that no one would confuse us with the Catholics and so that non-church members were less likely to be present. And thus, even as a pastor, I have been somewhat nonchalant about Communion. I often thought other people were a bit too mystical and misty about the whole thing.

Source: What if the church year began on Ash Wednesday? – Baptist News Global




Does Your Nonprofit or Church Need an Alexa Skill?

Anyone can create a trivia game and share it on the Alexa store.

Source: Amazon opens up Alexa store for anyone to create and publish custom skills – The Verge

Nifty new capability now for anyone to script out an Alexa Skill. I’ve been telling clients that they should really consider “voice first” capabilities when thinking about their messaging and marketing. It’s not a bad idea to really think about the possibilities for churches and nonprofits as more and more people adapt to the Alexa / Google Assistant / Siri paradigm of computing (and it will inevitably be the main form of home computing).




Podcasting’s Big Moment

It’s probably the biggest news in the podcast industry since it began in earnest, because it’s such a huge play from a company with an existing network outside of Apple’s. Plenty of podcast startups have come and gone, but what’s unique here is Spotify could help the format reach millions of new users overnight.

Source: Spotify: podcast giant or giant distraction? – Charged




Instagram egg is worth “at least $10M”

Some days… I just don’t know… wow.

Marketers, however, are taking the bait. Nik Sharma, the head of DTC at VaynerMedia, told The Atlantic, “being the first brand to crack out of the egg is worth at least $10 million.” He went on to say that businesses, in fact, should “spend on the egg instead of the Super Bowl.” Read that again, because that’s a quote a supposedly human being made about a picture of an egg!

Source: VaynerMedia exec: Instagram egg is worth “at least $10M”




Apple Cripples Facebook’s Internal Apps

What an insane story. Good on Apple…

That means Facebook isn’t able to distribute internal iOS apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger for testing purposes, and internal employee apps for purposes like food and transportation are nonfunctional.

All of the apps that used the certificate “simply don’t launch on employees’ phones anymore,” and Facebook is said to be treating the issue as a critical problem internally.

Via MacRumors




Sam’s Bible Read Through Plan

I’m making something for you that’s available here for you to make a copy of for your own use, download, print, or save for your own additions and edits. It’s a work in progress and will be continually worked on in the coming weeks. But you can start using it now.

Over the last several months on Instagram, I’ve been posting images and short thoughts that come to me during or after my daily Bible studies, mostly with my old and rapidly deteriorating Harper Collins Study Bible I bought as a college sophomore in 1997 and continued to use to store notes from classes there and at Yale Divinity and then Gardner-Webb as well as the various classes I’ve taught and Sunday School series I’ve led over the years.

These Instagram pictures started as a quick way for me to share something personal in a format that I thought others might enjoy. Over the last few weeks as I’ve continued to post these, I’ve had a number of people ask if I’m using a certain plan or just going through the Bible and picking out my favorite passages.

These questions have caused me to formalize my approach and finally take the time to write it down. The attached read-through here is a work in progress but I wanted to go ahead and post this so that people can follow along in the New Year if they’d like (I’ve got January and February finished that includes Matthew – Mark in the New Testament and Genesis – Leviticus in the Old Testament). I say this is a work in progress because I’ll be continuing to add texts for March – December in the coming weeks. I’ also will be adding notes and thoughts directly on the document as I do my studies and interesting links and images that are relevant. But make a copy and make this yours as you see fit.

View this post on Instagram

We Christians love Matthew (Sweet Baby Jesus) until we get to the Beatitudes in Chapter 5. How do we process this? I still wrestle with it greatly, especially when taken over and against Paul.

A post shared by Sam Harrelson (@samharrelson) on

The read-through is the product of studying the Bible for the last twenty-two years from a Liberal Arts College perspective as well as an Ivy League Div School and a Baptist Seminary. Part of it is based on an old Cokesbury Bible reading guide that I picked up at the United Methodist General Assembly in 1999 shortly before I went into the woods to be a counselor at Asbury Hills UMC Camp in Upstate South Carolina. I fell in love with their reading guide while at Asbury and in the years after. I’ve certainly made alterations based on my own studies and connections I’ve made. But I’ve kept the overall structure of a yearly Bible read-through cover-to-cover.

Ultimately, we can all agree that we need to read more in 2019. I would argue that Americans can benefit a great deal personally and as a country, if we “read the Bible” more often. That doesn’t mean it has to be with a lens of a certain theology or with an aim to save souls. The Bible is a fascinating collection of stories of people wrestling with God and with each other and with the land and with the seas. We would all benefit to turn attention to these with the goal of understanding and making connections rather than just finding snippets of text that confirm our preexisting biases and unexamined privileges.




Putting the Days to Bed (My Paper Notebooks)

If you’ve met me IRL, you’ve probably noticed I have a notebook either in my shirt pocket or in my hand (or a stack of index cards tucked away somewhere). All of them make awkward appearances when I hear a good quote, someone has a question I need to look up, if I was trying to record a student’s robot time trials, or if the spirit moved me.

I’ve long been a doodler since my time in Mrs. Hinson’s 3rd Grade class where we learned that sketching helped with creativity (I might have made that up… but it stuck). When I got to Wofford College, my mentor Larry McGehee kept that alive by talking about his doodling process during staff meetings and other such nonsense. That was inspiring to me at the time, but his tips and tricks on the doodling life hack helped me survive countless staff meetings as a teacher myself as well as Board meetings and team meetings and all the meetings we have to go to when we decide to throw ourselves into grown-up world.

I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t have to attend so many mandatory meetings and for that gift I feel blessed (looking back, I do feel some regret for how immature/bored/inattentive/distracting I was during teacher staff meetings… I’m sorry Dear Administrators, but I do feel that I added spice to our gatherings by throwing out bombs to get everyone riled up and awake such as whether cursive was really necessary in Middle School). But with that gift comes a clear place of loss in my creative process. I have to make time to doodle now. It’s weird how you spend years thinking “Oh great, another meeting… it’s Doodling Time!” and then you find yourself secretly giddy because you know you’ll have 4 extra minutes to sneak in some surreptitious doodling while your toddler finishes their breakfast. But here I am.

So I’ve been thinking a good deal about my paper notebooks and my doodling and my journaling and all those Instagram posts that I heart on a daily basis displaying some young person’s admirable bullet journal or Panda Diary or a Mom’s Moleskine Menagerie (wow, that’s a great name… Moleskine can run with it… I’m just the idea guy). I’ve spent too many hours thinking over this issue and watching YouTube videos comparing GoodNotes and Notability on the iPad Pro while jogging off the extra weight I gained sitting in meetings and doodling and reading blog posts that compare paper journaling to “digital” journaling.

The issue is complicated by the fact that I’m typing this on an iPad and I do love this form factor and device. The iPad Pro really has become my main computer when I’m not chained to a laptop working on a piece of code or having to review artwork in Adobe Illustrator for a brand client (but the iPad is getting there!). I’ve always been the “digital” guy or “techy teacher” or the preacher that preaches with an iPad (I’ve also preached from a Blackberry, a Palm T5 (loved that thing), and a Palm m100 over the years), or the consultant who has all the fun tech toys. So when I show up with a paper notebook, it’s a little jarring to some people and frequently leads to a conversation about my note booking style or journaling preferences or the types of pens I prefer. I’ve bonded with many clients over the benefits of a Pilot G2 Extra Fine 0.5mm refill cartridge compared to the competition.

But year after year I go back to my paper notebooks when it’s time to put the days to bed on another year. This year is going to be no different it seems. I’m an old man stuck in his ways, what can I say? “I’ve got my drip pan, ready for my nap” as Lightning McQueen says at the ends of Cars 3 (again, I have a toddler). But there is magic in opening a new journal and getting ready for the year while looking back at all the collected thoughts, doodles, dreams, failures, completions, incompletions, interceptions, and incantations from the previous trip around our closest star. It’s really magical in a self-serving and privileged way to pull down a notebook from ten or fifteen years ago and do the same. There is probably some magic in doing the same with a backup file in Dropbox of a PDF exported from GoodNotes in 2013, but magic, like notebook and pen preferences, is subjective.

So my prayer for me and for you in 2019 is… Blow up your tv, throw away your Twitter, go to the country, find you a home, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own… and do some doodling.




You’re not “addicted” to tech and why it’s dangerous to say you are

As a teacher from 2001-2006 and then from 2008-2012, I had the chance to work with dozens of young people and their parents at a time when so much we knew and thought about education and transmitting information was changing. There was a rapid cultural shift in that decade that was primarily driven by “technology” and the internet.

One theme that remained constant going back to the first time we set up a class blog in 2003 was the notion of “tech addiction”. It remained a constant question and concern of parents and education colleagues (particularly my administrators) over the years.

Since 2012 as a marketing and tech consultant primarily working with religious orgs, nonprofits, and community groups, I’ve encountered the same concerns about tech addiction and young people. From MySpace to Instant Messaging to World of Warcraft to Instagram to Facebook to Fortnite, the boogeyman of evil tech hellbent on ruining our children’s minds and attention and willingness to go outside and play stickball keeps a constant current over time.

However, tech addiction (in the mainstream cultural sense) is just that… a boogeyman. It’s much better to focus on our responsibilities and usage patterns… as adults and parents and community members… rather than blaming Zuckerberg for our lack of accepting personal agency and being responsible people with our choices.

Good piece here that says all this in a much nicer and more approachable way:

Nir says the idea that technology is “hijacking your brain” or that the general population is “addicted” to their phones is rubbish.“Yes, there’s a very small percentage of people that very much are addicted—which is a completely different conversation—but this ‘addiction to technology’ is not the generalized disorder the media and others would have you think it is.”

Source: You’re not “addicted” to tech (and why it’s dangerous to say so) – RescueTime




Government shutdown cuts nearly all food stamp office staff, adding to SC uncertainty

In 2016, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was used by 16 percent of South Carolina residents. More than 72 percent of the state’s SNAP participants were families with children. Across the nation, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person in 2016 was $127, or $1.41 per meal.

Source: Government shutdown cuts nearly all food stamp office staff, adding to SC uncertainty | News | postandcourier.com




United States of Amazon

“The company’s focus on Washington as its most lucrative customer was reflected in its decision earlier this year to choose nearby Arlington, Virginia, as one of its two new US headquarters, along with Long Island City, New York. “Amazon wants to be the interface between all government buyers and all the companies that want to sell to government, and that is an incredibly powerful and lucrative place to be,” Mitchell said.”

Exclusive: Emails show how tech firm has tried to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts — Read on www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/26/amazon-anne-rung-government-services-authority




“the desert owl and the screech owl”