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Coffee Table Tales - Sharing Ourselves

There was a time when coffee tables held the central place in our living rooms. Upon them rested the symbols of our lives. Scattered in plain sight, the magazines, books, and nick knacks of our interest quietly broadcast the message of who we were. You could tell a lot about us by our coffee table tops.

My childhood coffee table was made of 1970’s metal tube legs and glass. The top was a framed glass panel, revealing what appeared to be a star-burst pattern of small, rectangular tiles. The ‘tiles’ were actually a plastic sheet, molded and dyed to the pattern. We kept National Geographic magazine’s 3 or 4 most recent issues fanned out on the table. A center piece of plastic fern in a gold wooden dish was always slightly askew from the bumps and table top activity of us kids. If no guests were around, you would have seen the current homework project tossed into the mix. It wasn't uncommon to find green toy soldiers tucked into the fern or climbing down the metal gold legs.  If company was expected, the soldiers and homework were always replaced by Better Homes and Gardens and a sculptured ceramic ash tray. Ours was a coffee table that told the story of a modest family, intrigued by learning and with aspirations of being normal. My grandmother’s coffee table wasn't the same.

My grandmother’s living room (and it was her living room, even though my grandfather was allowed in to sit in his chair and watch the nightly news) sported a large, round cypress coffee table. Always on the top of it was a bowl of artificial fruit and a combination ash tray-candy dish. The ash tray was never used and the candy was off limits except to guests. You were not allowed to lean on, write on, put anything on top of or run near the table. Once a year, at Christmas, the center piece was replaced by a bowl full of gold and white ornaments. The table told a story of constant order, measured hospitality and fragile balance.

From what I can remember, the coffee tables of old served as statements – sometimes intended, often unconscious – of who we were. I don’t see as many coffee tables in living rooms today and lately have wondered if we might have found something else to take their place. When I look around I see a number of coffee table tops: Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, websites…. On these spaces we can broadcast much easier our likes, wants, feelings and interests. Posting a photo on Facebook, an emotive 140 characters on Twitter or a personal story on a blog all give us a means to set the table for others to see. So, today I’m wondering – what do my digital coffee tables tell about me? What do you see in the things spread before you on your friends and families spaces? How do you present yourself when you know friends are coming by your digital place?

Random thought: Is there a coffee table app? A virtual table with digital objects we could display to tell our momentary mood or story? Should there be?

My Tim Tebow Problem

With Denver’s loss in the playoffs, the dust is settling somewhat on the Tim Tebow news hype, and it is time for me to vent a bit at the media frenzy that has made this an event.  I have some thoughts about this public praying, football slinging, media promoted, and public adored Tebow event.

First, the good stuff. What I like about the high level of attention in the media and in the public includes the following:

1. The media is talking about something in the religious realm other than political issues.
2. It is nice that the news about a professional athlete is about personal faith and not guns, crime, and dog fighting.
3. That a conversation about prayer and its impact on a person’s life is in the news.
4. It is good to see that people, youth in particular, are finding some hope in faith and prayer.

Then, the stuff that drives me crazy:
1. Do we really believe the somehow Tim Tebow has been chosen by God to demonstrate God’s power through football victories? Does God invest in the outcome of the NFL games?
2. Since when did a nationally televised dramatic display of prayer posture become the symbol of spirituality? I’ve always had a problem with drama around public prayer. Tebow is too much of an exhibitionist for me. Tebowing isn’t praying - it’s parading.

The amazing thing is that apparently the US population, fueled by the media, still has interest in the David and Goliath paradigm.  You know the story: small undersized boy, undergirded by God and a simple faith, sleighs the giant warrior of the evil empire. It is an enduring story and one that has been popular for centuries. David, Luke Skywalker, Tim Tebow… ? The problem is that the storyline needs to deal with something that really matters – on a universal and spiritual scale to make sense. I just don’t get how Tebow’s situation is anything more than a passing sentimental David and Goliath story. Is there really anything of godly significance here? This is football we are dealing with – not global military domination or genocide.

When a professional athlete, parading around in prayer and Jesus language becomes the poster child for faith in action we have a real problem. One glance at the lives of some real spiritual warriors - Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Fox, Desmond Tutu, Mata Amritanandamayi – reveals lives lived in self sacrifice and service of others for causes that were not self promoting.  While I have reasons to believe Tim Tebow is a caring person, it appears he has, unfortunately been led to (and willingly followed) a position of a plastic and shallow public display under the guise of spirituality.  All the while, we have run screaming to adore the latest rock star of American Christianity (Tim Tebow has over 1.5 million subscribers to his Facebook page).

Forgive me if I wish him well, kick dust on the media and walk the other way while trying to remember something of more substance.

6 things I Hate About Social Media and Why I'm Not Stopping

1. Social Media consumes time like a hot dog eating record setting chow hound! Sure, you can manage the time by planning your Social Media activity around goals and a set strategy, and you can use third party tools (Hoot Suite, CoTweet, etc) to manage multiple accounts and platforms - but in the end, it ALWAYS bites off one more chuck of time than you planned - and then your lost...

2. Social Media eliminates the art of descriptive and erudite conversation. No matter how many links, abbreviations and pictures you include in your tweets, or how descriptive your Facebook status is, you'll never capture the beauty and eloquence of a single paragraph as uttered by the likes of Garrison Keillor. Sometimes conversations need to ramble and flower with articulacy.

3. Social Media is overrun with self proclaimed experts selling Social Media skills. Every day I have to wade through DMs, emails, blog comments, Facebook suggestions and LinkedIn invitations from Social Media sellers just to use Social Media. It feels like listening to a hoard of doctors scream their prescriptions at me as I walk to the medicine cabinet to take the medication I already have.

4. Social Media restricts communication to short, cursory blasts of information and replaces interpersonal communication with information exchange without human context. Social Media is rampant with one way information presentation. Everyone is 'telling' and there is a real lack of mutual discovery of new awareness by virtue of caring conversation. What I would give for a single "ah ha!" moment out of Social Media.

5. Social Media gets too intimate, too fast. Your Social Media sharing tells me too much about your life and preferences without me having to get to know you - at all. Intimacy doesn't follow shared experience via actual time spent together on Social Media, it comes just by virtue of my data stream crossing yours (didn't "Ghost Busters" warn us about crossing streams?)

6. Social Media hurts my brain in a BORG like way. The pace, variance and mass of information traveling via Social Media is mind numbing. Perhaps because I'm 'old school' and not a proficient multitasker, but I find my mind gets tired from so much incoming data and not enough time to process and assimilate that data - much less the time to reflect on the meaning and ramifications of said data. I feel like I am being sucked into the collective mass of information without the space to remain in touch with my thoughts, my ideas, my perspective.

Having said all of this, I am still an avid fan and user of Social Media and don't plan to stop. For all of its quirks and peculiarities Social Media does offer a novel and unique access to others and information. Social Media is the voice of the masses. It is a ground swell movement through which we all get to speak and influence our world. News is quickly dispensed (if sometimes erroneously) and public opinion is rapid fire available on social, political, business and consumer issues - and much more. Social Media is becoming a platform for businesses to more directly engage consumers and has the potential to evolve into a new and more agile way of marketing. It may be that in a matter of months all of this may change and we may remember the Social Media craze as a flash in the pan occurrence (I don't think so really), but at least I can say I was there when.

Digital Disengagement

Digital Disengagement

I'm confessing upfront that I don't know where this experiment will lead, but I do know that I must do it.

I have been spending too much time engaged with the Internet lately. Between my work (Digital Marketing Agency) and my personal 'play' in the realms of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Four Square, I have been constantly engaged with the digital world. I enjoy all of the connections that this interactive world allows. I have people who I know and value only via the web and others who share with me in the flesh-and-blood world and enhance that sharing via the virtual world. I enjoy the pace of interactions, the laughter, the positive massages and the extension of myself that Digital allows me.

My work involves some measure of interaction on the web, as well. Yet, when I really analyze my work-related time (and I have this week), very little other than email and research is critical to my goals vocationally.

I do enjoy the digital world and its constantly changing and ever teaching environment keeps me stimulated and growing, but I am paying a price.

Here's the rub. I've noticed some changes in my life - more my experience and enjoyment of life - that just won't do. I will not go into the details here, but will generalize my concern thus: I am not a natural child of the digital world and to continue to process and engage at such an intense and constant level is tiring and is changing the way I think, process and most importantly the way I care for myself.

So, here's my confession. I will be backing away from the Internet. If you are a regular reader here, you will likely not notice a difference in my blogging frequency. Blogging, as I practice it, is less about frantic, quick thought and more about thinking, writing, and creating. I'll not stop blogging. I am backing off of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in terms of frequency of interactions. The same is true with my non-work related email interactions.

I will be blocking time (some of the 86,400 seconds of every day) for non-digital engagement, and limiting my online time with a timer. My commitment is to the next 21 days. Already, this weekend as refreshed my spirit as I have only spent 3 hours online and left my iPhone sitting by itself for hours at a time. I have spent the newly reclaimed time: hiking, reading, listening (just sitting and listening) to music and song lyrics, playing with my dogs, and talking face-to-face with family and friends. I like it.

Wish me success.

Photo taken October 2008, Appalachian Trail Hike

5 Things Only Facebook Can Do

1. Reconnect me with 6 classmates from High school, 25 years after the school closed.

2. Allow me to peep in on my children’s lives to get a clue how they are really doing (NOTE: never actually engage them over Facebook – not a good idea.)

3. Stay connected with friends and business colleagues on a daily basis. Oh the joy of status updates!

4. Make it easy for my Mother to ‘see’ her children, grandchildren, great grand children and yes great-great grandchild moving through life – and all of us each other and her!

5. Encourage all of the above to have a little fun each day with status update games, apps, photo tagging and more.

Thank you Facebook!

3 People I Would Like To Find On Facebook

There are a couple of people I have lost touch with over the years that I would love to reconnect with and have NO earthly idea how to find them. My list is below. What’s yours and why?

1. Sharon Stewart – my first love. She and her parents use to vacation at my grandparents hotel every summer. We ‘dated’ for one week every year for years. I know she got married, but have no idea of her married name.

2. Frank Ford – now there’s a name too common to search for. Frank and I were best buds in Military School. We lost touch a few years after high school. He always made me laugh.

3. Laura Harris – one of the kindest, thoughtful people I ever knew. Her father was the doctor that brought me into this world. Laura went off to the College of Charleston and we lost touch after college.

So, what about you?

Another Word Thought...

I often find myself looking at words or sayings and asking things like "where did that come from" or "what does that really mean?" Today I typed my status into Facebook " finding Friday to his liking."

What does it mean to find something to your liking? The image that came to me was one of taking the something (in this case Friday) by the hand and walking it over to wherever my "liking" was - and helping them "find" or get to know each other.

Could that be where the saying originated?