social media

Should I get my kid a smartphone?

A few weeks back my church hosted a screening of the film, Screenagers. Afterwards I was part of a panel that helped parents process the movie plus answer questions about social media use in the home.

The crux of the entire documentary was this exchange between the mom and her teenage daughter:

Mom: “How can you convince me to get a smartphone?”

Daughter: “I’d look cool.”


social media

Applying Tuning In Principles in the Local Church

My new book, Tuning In: Six Ways to Get Your Life Back from Technology comes out on April 12th. But the content in the book has been leaking out in my discussions with church leaders over the last several months. I’m really passionate about helping people find some health in their lives and ministries when it comes to technology!

social media

Are You Ready for a Technology Tune-Up?

In the following pages, you’ll discover a series of essays which deal with everyday challenges you and I face as a direct result of technology. I believe that most of these challenges and bad habits creeping into our daily lives are happening because none of us made a careful and conscious decision to allow technology in. Instead, things like smartphones and social media have crept into our daily routines out of convenience or fascination or some other cultural force.

In each essay, you’ll see a repeated theme: As you tune things out that aren’t important, you’ll have better focus and more energy for tuning in to things that are really important to you.

The goal isn’t guilt, it’s action.

Introduction to Tuning In

As I worked on Tuning In two things become clear:

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(Less) sex, (less) drugs, and the smartphone

New research is suggesting that married couples are having less sex than in the past.

New research is suggesting teenagers are abusing fewer substances.

Both studies point to the smartphone as a possible reason: The smartphone.

When looking only at married people, the drop was even sharper — from around 73 times a year in 1990 to around 55 in 2014 — bringing their frequency of sexual activity below that of never-married people. People in that group have sex an average of 59 times a year. (Washington Post) 

But researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?

The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence. (New York Times)

Now, let’s be careful, researchers are merely suggesting this as a hypothesis at this point. They are correlating the rise in smartphone use among teenagers and adults to decreases in substance abuse among teenagers and sexual activity among adults.

But it is an interesting correlation nonetheless. 

Over the past few years I’ve tossed out a similar hypothesis at my parent workshops… if we take the phones out of our bedrooms we will probably have a better sex life.

But should we extend that to say that teenagers should spend more time on their phones so they’ll smoke less weed? Probably not. 

In Tuning In we explore this… well, not these scenarios exactly, but we explore the idea that when and where you tune in to what’s happening on your smartphone is nearly as important as developing sacred places in your life that you tune out of technology altogether.

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Why I Wrote Tuning In

“So, why did you write this book?”

Here’s two things you need to know right off the bat.

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I can’t wait for the new book to come out!

As my new still nameless book makes it’s way through the editorial process I am getting more and more excited for a few specific reasons:

  1. It’s the book I had to write, not the book the market was demanding I write. I’ve not done well over 100 parent workshops and along the way I’ve learned that people’s felt need is to want to know “how” about social media.  “How do I do this? How do I keep my kids from that? But along the way I’ve taken the time to really listen and come to the conclusion I think that they need to spend time thinking about “why.” The new book takes you uncomfortable places and requires you to ask “why” a lot.
  2. It’s timely. Particularly in this crazy political season I’m concerned about who is engaging in the conversation, who isn’t, and how we can all do it better. I think the book provides a framework for every Christian to engage with people in a way that reflects their Christian witness.
  3. It’s hopeful help. The book provides a way for people to recalibrate their lives to include, but not be overwhelmed by, social media. The current narratives and solutions don’t work… I think we can all agree on that. So I take a look  backwards to point readers to a more healthy relationship with social media and technology going forward.

A friend who read the manuscript highlighted this quote from the introduction as a summary of the book:

“The goal isn’t guilt, it’s action.

I believe each of our personal callings in life are far too important to waste our lives tuning into the wrong things.”

Hopefully, soon we’ll have the title and cover ready. Until then, if you’re on Goodreads, I’d love to connect there.

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Parents, Look Out for Curious Cat

Here we go again. Another app lying to users. 

There is yet another anonymous question asking/confession social media app floating around the internet claiming they’ve solved the bullying (and suicides) that plague older confessional apps like, this one borrows it’s name from the ever-popular cat movement online: Curious Cat.

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New Research About the Online Harassment of Teenagers

27% of victims, which translates to 11% of all internet users, experienced trouble in a relationship or friendship because of something that was posted about them online.

This morning I read a newly released Data & Society study about the prevalence of online harassment in America. The lead researcher is Amanda Leinhart, formerly of Pew Internet. (Press release, Full report)

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Understanding Social Media and Teenagers – My new online course!

Since… forever… I’ve been helping youth workers understand and better use social media for their ministry. Seriously, since the AOL chat room days. 

And for the past several years my “go to” seminar at training events has been called “Teenagers + the Small Screen” where I help you get a framework of understanding why teenagers are so into their phones and specifically social media as well as current trends, stats, etc.

This month we took that seminar and reshaped it as a brand new Cartel Course, Understanding Teenagers and Social Media.

It’s got 5 video sessions of content where you’ll get to see and hear from me as well as 5 follow-ups which are going to help you cement and continue some of that learning.

We’ve been doing Courses now for 2 months and I have to say… my favorite part of it is that I get to interact with folks taking courses. When you take a course, I’m with you every step of the way. And that’s super fun for me!

If you want to learn more about my course, Understanding Teenagers and Social Media, click here. (It’s “on sale” for $30 until 10/31/2016)

social media

Stop Gawking

Rubbernecking, gawking, eyeball, peer, rivet, glare, ogle. 

These are synonyms for what the 24/7 news cycle wants out of you.

The antonym? There’s only one:



When the News is More than The News

About 18 months ago I had the epiphany. Huffington Post and CNN weren’t showing me news. They were showing me commentary about the news that was specifically designed to get me to react. I wrote about that in the post, Reaction Porn.

In some quite literal ways news organizations have used analytics and algorithms to shape content designed not to inform the public but with two specific goals:

  1. To keep you watching/reading.
  2. To garner a reaction. Specifically, share it on social media.

The “why” behind that is fairly simple. To keep the ad dollars flowing they need your eyeballs on the TV and they need the page views of getting your friends to click links so they can see ads, too.

It’s not evil. It’s not slanted. It’s not necessarily immoral. These are businesses, owned by some of the largest media empires on the planet, and they need their money.

But it is bad for you. It’s manipulative. For me, it literally seemed to control my blood pressure. And it wasn’t making me better informed: It was making me more angry. 

Turning Off the News

So I quit the news cold turkey. Just flat out took it out of my loop.

No more No more HuffPo. Deprogrammed Fox ages ago. I don’t go to their websites. I don’t follow them on Facebook or Twitter. I rarely watch TV anyway… but I won’t go online to their feeds or click on links to some specific sites from Facebook. Below I’ll show you how I completely block myself from seeing links to specific outlets or people who post nonsense.

And you know what? I don’t miss it.

When “Breaking News” happens I’ll turn on CNN long enough to get caught up with what’s going on. But as soon as they switch to the three idiots on their panel to start debating “why” something happened or “what it means” I just turn it off. (Why do I do this? See #1 above.)

My Sources for News

IMG_8696It’s not that I completely tune out. Not at all. I’m just turning off the commentary.

Let me introduce you to the AP News mobile app. (Available for free on Android/iOS) I scroll through it once or twice a day, it’s not in my loop. Instead, I look through their generic feed quickly to read a couple top line news items. What I like about the AP app is that it’s the straight dope. Other agencies use AP as their source, they jump off of the basics from the AP to add commentary. But the AP app is just a boring feed with little, if any, editorializing.

Of course, I read local news. And to get a more global look at things I enjoy reading the BBC app.

But that’s it.

Tuning Out the Nonsense on Facebook

Like more than a billion other people on our planet, I really like Facebook. But I also understand that EVERYTHING I see on Facebook is filtered through Facebook’s algorithm which is designed for one thing and one thing only… getting me to spend more minutes on Facebook.  Facebook isn’t a free service. It’s a company that turns your attention span into the product they sell their advertisers. (Full disclosure: I’m a Facebook shareholder)

I bring sanity back to my Facebook feed by using Facebook’s built-in features to eliminate biased nonsense.

First, I shamelessly unfollow people who post reaction porn. Best part? They’ll never know. You’re still “friends” you just no longer see their stuff.

Unfollow Button

Second, I block sites from my feed that are annoying…

Once you start paying attention to websites and links that tend to raise your blood pressure you can very easily eliminate them. (Note: I’ve done this so extensively that I’m using something as an example that I wouldn’t normally block.)


You could spend 20 minutes and eliminate 95% of the reaction porn from your Facebook feed altogether.

Engage Local Issues. Be Aware of National Ones.

Yes, there are big national things that we should be aware about. Yes, there are breaking news items that’ll stop me cold and bring me to watch. But we all need to understand that things we’re learning about national and international news items is one tiny– often times skewed— view of what’s really going on. Until you actually engage with a story with your own eyes and put your own feet into a situation, you only know part of the story. The fact of the matter is that it’s not your responsibly to form firmly held opinions or reactions to news items that aren’t local to you. You need to understand that the reaction your feeling was created by someone with their own agenda.

That’s not to say I don’t engage on national news items or political policies. I’m going to continue to talk about gun control, immigration reform, school reform… but the more I’ve tuned out of the daily grind of reaction porn… the better and more focused I’ve found myself on things I’m actually accountable for doing. (e.g. No one pays me for my opinion on the news item of the day.)

The 2-Week Challenge

Try turning off your favorite news feeds for a couple weeks and see if it helps you get a better perspective on things. Deal?