29 March 2008

Lost Data

Yesterday at the ATS Ed Tech Conference (first-ever) I presented my job logging scripts. Today I thought I'd upload the presentation materials to my website. Sadly, no materials. I'm certain they used to be on the USB Flash Drive I brought down here. It's the drive I have misplaced. Feh.

(one hour passes ...)

Found it. Now everything is posted.

21 March 2008


While in Chicago I saw the following ad plastered all over Millenium Station:

"Mach 3 disposable. Enough said."

I'm greatly relieved, as the only thing preventing me from purchasing a Gillette Mach 3 razor was the fact that I couldn't throw it away.

18 March 2008

Conference Incident

Today I attempted to slip past a fellow conference goer without disturbing him. In doing so, I dropped my (nearly full) water bottle on his head. Oops.

17 March 2008

Shoe Polish

Yesterday, as Esther and I were walking around downtown Chicago, we noticed my still quite sturdy, but also quite scuffed, shoes. The only pair I brought. And we stopped in at the Clark's shoe store in Water Tower Place. After trying on a pair of shoes, we walked away without them.

Last night I was thinking about this more, yearning for new shoes. Then, this morning, it occurred to me: shoe polish is much cheaper. One might reasonably ask at this point how it happens that I have come so far from my Mennonite roots that shoe polish was not the default answer to spring to mind when my shoes were scuffed; that is a separate investigation.

I went to Walgreen's, and purchased some scuff coverer and a cloth. Then I went back to the hotel room, sat on the bed, opened the scuff coverer, and promptly dumped it in my lap -- on the only pair of pants I had.

Long story short: instead of sporting a new pair of shoes, I am now sporting a new pair of pants. They're wrinkle resistant, and quite comfortable.

13 March 2008


Well, the peach trees are pruned. I guess we'll know whether I did the right thing come August, eh?

06 March 2008

Borgmann Consultation: Sessions 3, 4, 5

Three sessions, each introduced by a person. One session on pastoring a suburban congregation; a second on community; a third on friendship. Highlights:

Notion of pastor as technology so that people don't have to deal with the dirty work of ministry; pastor as ministry outsourced.

AB: glad to hear other people telling the same stories he tells his students. Now they don't need to think he's quite as lunatic.

Interesting that good stewardship can break down community -- live near to work, so live close to work since one drives there five days a week, but live far from church since drive there only once.

Parable of lost sheep is not just about seeking one lost individual, it is about bringing that individual back into community. "I am uncomfortable using the word 'community' for anything that happens online."

AB: "cult of counter-example" elaboration -- start with intuition, but then temper and test. And what social sciences can teach us, anecdotes are misleading. Must ask what is typical. Analysis is a careful phenomenology. Another peril is to speak only in the abstract -- so you can say that a person could lie in physical community by, say, removing their wedding band, but the typical case is that this does not happen -- need to be descriptive, not normative. Think concretely, not abstractly.

AB (on what traits are most important for people to have): "Generosity comes first, then sense of humor, then intelligence. Nonetheless, it's (intelligence's) helpful in philosophy."

The whole discussion on friendship was way too involved, and it's way too late to summarize now. Basically it involved getting the church to think about friendship as integral to church life -- a robust ethical friendship, not the cheap loose friendship as we think of it; the friendship from which the term koininia originally sprung. Question: how does friendship relate to agape? AB: friendship requires equality, devotion to others' moral improvement, sharing a common good, and finding pleasure in the other's company. Agape does not require mutuality. Someday the poor will no longer be with us (hopefully). At that point, Agape will be irrelevant and friendship will be key.

Borgmann Consultation: All Campus Forum

Borgmann distilled his thinking into a brief lecture about the material and the moral. Essentially:

150 years ago we used to have to move around physically, deal with physical objects, have some skill. A person could not establish himself in society, e.g., without being married. Listening to music required either (1) making it yourself or (2) going to a function where other living beings were making it. Technology has lifted this from our shoulders.

The new reality is the economy, which is like water for sea creatures. Either we learn to swim in it or we drown. Due to technology, things that were once material necessities have become moral tasks; tasks not forced upon us due to the material nature of our reality. We still have a need for community, for physical activity, but we need to recreate, on moral grounds, conditions that were once the gift of material circumstance.

But even in these new "material" communities, the water still exists; the Old Order, for example, are more like an island in an ocean than a continent. And even recreating the conditions does not make it the same; 150 years ago no one could opt out. Now we can.

So the moral must work back on the material. The water won't go away, but the islands can be made larger. Critical mass of people can change the culture at large.


When asked what the most common criticism he faces is, Borgmann mentioned two: from philosophers, he hears that he is irrelevant (or that he is not doing philosophy); from liberals and Marxists he hears that he is politically naive ("What about the power structure?"). He quickly indicated he does not much care whether philosophers think he is relevant, as they are mostly irrelevant (and he challenged anyone to name the most important currently living philosopher ... one person proferred MacIntyre, everyone else was silent).

One quote regarding philosophy, Borgmann described the guild as being consumed by the "cult of counter-example," that is, the tendency of philosophers to hear an argument and immediately begin casting about for the one thing that will destroy that argument. Nice phrase, that.

Borgmann Consultation: Session 2

(Note that I am restarting numbering with each session, so P1 in Session 2 is not necessarily the same as P1 in Session 1. I'll probably regret this later.)

DK starts out with some explanation of Amish culture.

P1: What impulse led to the Amish starting to distinguish themselves from broader culture technologically? If they were basically indistinguishable in the 1800s, what changed?

P2: Well in the 19th century the split was over church polity, and the Amish favored tradition and local orientation so they did not accept Sunday School (which would have entailed getting curriculum from outside their community). This type of decision parallels how Amish respond to technology, but whether we could predict this outcome (that is differentiation by way of technology) is uncertain.

P3: It is worth noting that accommodations to technology tend to happen in the realm of male work.

DK: technology is gendered in Old Order communities. They distinguish between earning a living and being at home.

P4: Two points about this consultation: 1) regardless of the specific practices, Old Orders create space to converse about technology; that's one thing we want to accomplish here. 2) Old Orders evaluate the impact of technology on the community based on values they hold high. We don't do that either.

The Discussion that Ensued

As alluded to in my previous post, much discussion ensued following Borgmann's opening remarks. The other "official" guide at the consultation is Donald Kraybill, sociologist. Apart from Kraybill (DK) and Borgmann (AB), remarks of other participants are indicated with numbers. And, no, none of them are me.

Kraybill: What is the good news? What do we proclaim in a culture of high tech? To what do we attend. Focal practices in Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, focal practices seem individualistic and oriented toward leisure. Where is the community? Resistance and transformation (as in the Amish) are only possible in community; by participating in communal focal practices.

Borgmann: Yes, TCCL lacks emphasis on community. I attempt to address this in later books. Communities in a traditional sense lived together; we are scattered. How can communities of celebration function to give a gathered body strength to carry on as a scattered body?

P1: culture of technology allows me to live alone; supports my isolation while allowing me to bridge the isolation by keeping in touch with those at a distance.

DK: This is the paradox; tech allows connection with diaspora community, but usually only two people at a time; dyads, not communities.

P2: The state has vested interest in virtual communities over against physical communities; virtual communities are powerless.

DK: But virtual community has given power to citizen groups, right?

P3: movements of bodies are not just from material to virtual but also from virtual to material; moveon.org works virtually to get people to meet materially. We are our virtual selves; they are not disassociated (I am myself in an e-mail not in a way different from how I am myself in a letter).

P4: Yes, but that is a bluff; we have the illusion of power, but it is power the state allows.

AB: I don't think it is all that complicated. Virtually the problem is low cost of entry and low cost of exit

P5 (responding to P4, above): Isn't part of the complexity that the culture turns even resistance into commodity? Protest is great media; you design the protest for 30s soundbites. And what about the evidence that digital brains are wired differently? Cab drivers in London, for instance, literally rewire their brains as they learn the street system; why would we expect the brains of digital natives to be the same as ours?

AB: Not much research on multitasking, but what there is indicates we can only multitask on unimportant things. On important things, multitasking does not happen.

AB (responding to P3, above): The significant thing of the internet is ambiguity. Resistance of the medium makes people more thoughtful. The ambiguity consists of the impoverishment of what gets to you.

P3: I merely want to challenge the neat separation between the virtual and the physical.

P6: What do we mean by community? By quality of community? F2F does not necessarily equal good community. Furthermore, we tend to tell horror stories -- let's also think about tech in service of community; in service to our bodied selves.

AB: Where connections are strong, technology is helpful. What it cannot do is generate community -- there must be at least a cause in common.

P7 (responding to AB's opening remarks that it would be morally irresponsible not to have a cell phone): That is too quick of a summary. Say more -- we cannot leave technologists to determine what is acceptable risk. Do we not have moral obligation to say no?

P8: To whom are we responsible? Christians looks somewhere not in technology; clarification wrt the Amish: if we are all implicated we all have responsibility to reform the system. Is that the Christian calling? I think we're called to neither to embrace nor reform but to model difference.

AB: The Old Order claim, legitimately, to be a city on a hill. But that is insufficient. Three ways of dealing with the world: 1) service to others; help unto death; 2) don't worry about the world, our reward is spiritual; 3) attempt redemption of the material culture knowing it will at best only approximate the reign of God.

AB (responding to P7, above): Yes, there is a continuity between acceptable and unacceptable risk. In some ways the line drawn must be arbitrary. "The world is getting so soft and squishy that we're going to need some hardness ... we should not find that resistance in risk." Resistance with legitimate claims are in relationships, sports, gardening, etc.

P9: What if we made Christian community even more demanding than it is? What if we stopped catering, for example, to those persons who miss worship, and require that they work to find out what happened?

P5: Do we live in a society that is inherently wicked, or in a society where good things are desired badly?

AB: The latter. But we also live in a society where good things are desired rightly.

*** P10 introduces a new set of questions, not directly tied to preceding ***

P10: 1) how is culture of technology tied to other cultures of which we find ourselves a part? A culture that rejects tradition (American, e.g.) gives guidance to people by using fear and anxiety - technology does the same. So how does culture of technology fit in with larger culture? 2) Can technology itigate against a culture of anxiety and fear as well as play into it?

AB: say more about culture of fear

P10: Political appeals are not to vote for the person who mosts reminds you of your father (tradition) but the one who is most comforting.

P11: What is at the root of culture of fear? Is it fear of mistake? Injury?

P6: We cannot distinguish between real fear and unimportant fear (quoting some young Christian ethicist whose name was never mentioned).

P12: But, AB, the Amish are quite fearless (referring to ABs remarks in opening that the Amish seem to have conquered envy but perhaps not fear). AB, you've made different choices on the types of risks you take on.

AB: Using Aristotle, recklessness is the inability to see what you are up against; it looks like courage, but it is not. Defiance is not enough. The Amish seem more defiant than courageous.

AB (picking up on P10's opening questions): There was a sea change in the culture when misfortune changed from being a providential burden to being an intolerable scandal. Technology moves from removing intolerables to removing inconveniences to eventually removing even frivolous "problems." Fear of misfortune (picking up on P11, above) is evolutionarily ingrained in us. But society was structured in such a way that it made sense to overcome and compensate for that fear -- we had to face our fears to get berries and to hunt because food was scarce and difficult to get. Now the scarcity is no longer there, and technology has removed the threats, so we overindulge. Technology has transformed the environment in such a way that our reactions that were once beneficial are now detrimental.

P10: Would you distinguish between overindulgence and distractability? Are they interchangeable, or are they two different ways of not being engaged properly?

AB: The latter.


This was the most free flowing session of the day. The others seemed much more disjointed, so I'll probably just drop in highlights if I do anything at all.

Borgmann: Introductory Comments

Just some quick notes on Borgmann's introductory comments at the consultation this morning. I'll try to detail the rest of the conversation later.

Borgmann articulated three reasons it is important to understand technology: fear, mission, and our condition.

As regards fear, "we," that is, citizens of the US mostly, have a sense of not being able to take on the power structures that govern our lives -- that is, we are afraid of it. But not only that, because we live in the system we are all implicated in it. For this reason we are required to understand it.

As regards mission, Borgmann notes that often missionaries were the ones who introduced grammars and dictionaries into native cultures. The natives did not need grammars and dictionaries, as they were, well, natives. But in order to understand the culture to which we are to bring good news, we require those tools. Hence, we must understand technology to be good news in a culture saturated with it.

As regards our condition, Borgmann notes that we, as members of the culture to which we are to bring good news, are also suffused with technology, and that this technology (largely, but not exclusively, information technology) is invisible. In order to understand ourselves, we are required to understand technology.

And just a couple of fun quotes: hope, according to Borgmann, is found when people do something they know to be good. Or, quoting Henry Bugby (?), "There are certain things that cannot play you false."

A second quote, regarding why he (Borgmann) owns a cell phone. Apparently his children are concerned for his and Nancy's relative safety living on a mountain in, fittingly, Montana. So they have cell phones, and recognize that there is a certain moral requirement to do so. "It would be irresponsible, once it's available, not to have it." Borgmann recognizes that this sort of attitude can cause troubles, and follows up by arguing that there is always a continuum of use, never a sharp break, so that any line that is drawn, and lines are constantly drawn, is necessarily somewhat arbitrary.

Much disucssion ensued.

05 March 2008

He's here

Dr. Albert Borgmann is on campus for a couple of days to participate in a consultation with a bunch of Anabaptist scholars, activists, pastors and other people who were picked based on criteria to which I am not privy. I'm very excited.