Friday, December 31, 2010

Inventory Time

As this year draws to a close the time has come to conduct an inventory of my life and stuff. For my wife and I this year has been one of purging and paring not only possessions but also relationships and other parts of our lives that didn’t seem to fit or suit our sensibilities anymore.

Early in the year, we unloaded several electronic gadgets that had just been collecting dust and from there we proceeded to get rid of hundreds of books, pieces of furniture, my wife’s bicycle, assorted lawn equipment, extraneous clothing items, and sundry household paraphernalia.

Propelling us to action was the landing of a neighbor’s tree on the roof of our house, which resulted in our getting the house fixed and placed on the market. Once we embraced the thought of moving, the idea of a more mobile lifestyle motivated us to quit what wasn’t working and to get rid of the unnecessary possessions weighing us down literally and figuratively.

We have made exceptional progress but are not yet at the place where we can move on a whim. For example, as much as we’ve whittled down our media library, we still own about 500 books, 100 compact discs, 20 digital video discs, and miscellaneous other media, not to mention our fair share of related electronic gadgetry.

One of the added benefits of downsizing the detritus of life is processing what you possess and getting to the point where you need what you own and own what you need. After a year of winnowing our possessions, it feels good to possess our stuff rather than it possessing us.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Places to Spaces

According to respected technology guru Kevin Kelly, “The network economy shifts places to spaces.” As he further points out in his writing, while a place is bounded by the dimensions of height, width, depth, and time, “a space, unlike a place, is an electronically created environment.”

What that means is that technology assists us to connect with one another without regard to the limitations of time and place, which is an incredible gift if used properly. For example, while emails, texts, and instant messages can help keep people close, unless each party practices proper “netiquette,” all the technology is for naught.

A byproduct of moving from places to spaces is the movement from atoms to bits, in other words, from the tangible to the intangible. The upside of this for me is that digitizing my stuff, including books, music, photos, and videos, enables me to fulfill my dream of traveling lightly through life.

However, there is a downside also. Despite all the optimistic talk about “cloud computing” there is the possibility of “technological difficulty,” such as the time my complimentary click-and-build website vanished from the ether one day. While it can be argued that I got what I paid for, it was nonetheless an unwelcome reminder of technology’s shortcomings.

The bottom line of all this is that technology as a tool is one of the most revolutionary innovations ever devised by man, but it must be used wisely and with integrity if we are to reap its vast rewards and realize its promise of keeping us all in touch with each other, wherever we are.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Making Sweet Music

One of my very favorite quotes is from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Don’t die with the music still in you.” It speaks to me of the need to live life in such a way as to allow the creative gift that lies within each of us to find its voice. Whether it is through the actual playing of music or not, we are each gifted with creative ability meant to be shared with others and designed to enrich our own lives.

On that note, if you’ll pardon the pun, today I came across another musical quote attributed to William Henry Channing: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common–this is my symphony.”

To give credit where it’s due, I discovered Channing’s quote at a minimalist blog I’ve been reading lately called Miss Minimalist. And lest readers assume it is simply another “decluttering” site, while it does cover personal organization it is much more than that. It is an excellent resource for anyone desiring to live a life less encumbered with STUFF and movingly portrays minimalism as the meaningful lifestyle that it is.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Affluence Without Abundance

I came across a provocative phrase this weekend while reading a sample chapter from tech titan Kevin Kelly’s new book, What Technology Wants: “affluence without abundance.” As I got to thinking about it, I realized that it describes what I want also. It is technology that enables me to enjoy “the good life,” including being able to live and work from anywhere with a laptop and cellphone. And I love the liberty it affords me.

Consequently, my wife and I have been radically rethinking what “the American dream” means for us and we have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t necessarily include the stereotypical “white picket fence” concept of home ownership anymore. While we built our dream home, a cozy cottage, here in a quaint community, lately we’ve grown less in love with “owning” than with “roaming.”

The last dozen years of home ownership have been rewarding for us but the call of adventure is beckoning us to live more lightly and capitalize on our ability to live the mobile lifestyle, personally and professionally. This month alone, we’ve parted with our lawnmower and yard equipment in anticipation of moving and traveling. And we are trying to sell our bicycles and some other stuff also.

It was none other than Jesus Christ who said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And for my wife and I, liquidity has become the new luxury. So, we are in the process of getting out of debt by selling our home and most of our possessions, giving away much of what we don’t sell, and preparing to pack as little as we can live with in pursuit of our dream, wherever it leads.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Simple Desk

A photo I submitted of my writing desk is featured today on a cool site called Simple Desks. The site is billed as “A Collection of Minimal Workspaces” curated by Pat Dryburgh and it features some other cool spaces also. The common denominator for most of the postings seems to be a Mac computer, whether a desktop or a laptop like mine. Click on the site to check it out for yourself and feel free to post that you like my minimalist setup.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Curb Your Materialism

My wife and I have never subscribed to the consumerist philosophy but lately we have been even more vigilant than usual in guarding against materialism. Aside from the obvious financial benefits of living within our means, it has also freed us from the pressures of possessions. We’ve discovered that the less we possess the less we stress.

From the start of our marriage, a scriptural principle from Matthew 6:33 has guided us: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What it means to us is that as we place the things of God first in our lives then the things of this world stay in their proper place. In other words, we possess our things instead of them possessing us.

Throughout this year, we have intentionally gone through our house paring down our possessions in anticipation of living a more mobile lifestyle. In fact, our mantra has become, “Minimize to mobilize.” Instead of materialism we’ve embraced the tenets of minimalism. Less IS more and we are reaping the benefits of it daily. We’ve never strived to own tons of stuff, but we’ve even whittled down what we had.

As part of our move toward minimalism, I’ve followed several minimalist blogs, including one by Dave Bruno at, which advocates what has come to be known as the 100 Thing Challenge. It simply suggests trying to downscale one’s possessions to 100 things. While I am not there yet, and may never be, it got me to thinking about how much extraneous stuff I own and has motivated me to donate hundreds of books and countless spare household items to my local library and thrift store, respectively.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life

Bestselling author Max Lucado has another blockbuster hit on his hands with his latest book titled Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference. With his finger firmly on the pulse of today’s reading public, Lucado stresses the value of living for more than the next paycheck or pleasure cruise by using the biblical book of Acts as the roadmap for living a life of dynamic faith.

Lucado reminds readers that Acts is the one book of the Bible still being written today in the sense that believers are commissioned to continue doing the works of Jesus and His contemporaries. His signature conversational style makes his latest title a pleasure to read also and its meaningful message of living with eternity in mind makes one think of how to better live the one life each of us has been given.

With poignancy and passion Lucado challenges readers to look beyond themselves and their circumstances toward a selfless life filled with good deeds done in the name of Christ and His cause: “Here’s a salute to a long life. Goodness that outlives the grave, love that outlasts the final breath. May you live in such a way that your death is just the beginning of your life.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hamlet's Blackberry

Hamlet’s Blackberry is a quirky title for a compelling book that causes readers to think of today’s technology in light of timeless principles such as personal distance, space, inwardness, and others. It is an elegant and eloquent treatise on tech tools and how we as humans can better navigate and negotiate their usage in daily life, both personally and professionally.

Written by former Washington Post technology writer William Powers, the book’s title is an allusion to the erasable writing tablet—the Blackberry of its time—used by Shakespeare’s character Hamlet. The underlying theme of the book is that we are more capable of coping with our digital devices than we give ourselves credit for but we must exercise self-restraint with them, including declaring “Internet Sabbaths,” as Powers and his wife do each weekend.

Alluding to the book’s subtitle, “A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” Powers writes: “Technology and philosophy are both tools for living, and the best tools endure and remain useful over long periods of time.” To that end, the author explores the lives of luminaries like Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Franklin, and Thoreau to uncover their respective philosophies for coping with the technology of their times.

Speaking of philosophy, Powers explains in his introduction that “We’ve effectively been living by a philosophy, albeit an unconscious one. It holds that (1) connecting via screens is good, and (2) the more you connect, the better. I call it Digital Maximalism, because the goal is maximum screen time.” As readers of Hamlet’s Blackberry are reminded, more is not necessarily better, and minimalism is quickly becoming the method for keeping tech in check.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Growing Green

Another often-overlooked way to simplify life is to grow green in our daily living. For years my wife and I allowed the conventional wisdom of the conservative movement, of which we were proudly a part, to convince us that being environmentally responsible meant being a “tree-hugger” or some such nonsense.

Over time, however, we found ourselves gradually embracing a philosophy of less is more as it relates to our daily consumption practices, particularly at the grocer. For example, due to a friend’s simple blog posting, we opted out of the “paper versus plastic” debate by buying a few reusable fiber bags for our grocery purchases.

Next, my wife and I decided to radically reduce the amount of incoming mail we received by opting out of direct mail lists and canceling our receipt of several catalogs that we used to order from regularly, whether we needed the stuff or not. Not only did we help save forests in the process, we also eliminated one of the chief enticements to our consumptive lifestyle.

Our latest move toward a smaller carbon footprint—words I never thought I’d use to describe my life—involves filtering our tap water instead of purchasing countless quantities of bottled water, which may or may not be of better quality than unfiltered tap water. The tipping point for us was an ad we saw featuring a bottle of water on an exercise machine with the caption [paraphrased]: “An evening at the gym…an eternity in a landfill.”

So what do these relatively minor actions all have in common? For starters, they add up to make a profound difference and each one started with us making a conscious decision to change our personal habits on a practical level after diverse promptings. One or the other may not make a global difference on its own, but taken together such simple changes can do a world of good.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Productivity Myth

One of my favorite observations about the human race is that all too often we strive to live up to our name and so it is important to remind ourselves that God created us as human beings not human doings. The trouble with interpreting our lives merely in light of how much we achieve is that we pressure ourselves into thinking that our value lies solely in what we do rather than in who we are. Indeed, some people go so far as to commit suicide once convinced that they simply don’t measure up to society’s standards, however arbitrary and capricious.

Fueling the fire of disillusionment is the prevailing philosophy that more is better or what I call “the productivity myth.” Along with the Industrial Revolution came the era of intrusive time management studies and other methods for extracting maximum output from workers in an effort to increase the overall productivity of mass machinery and manufacturers. The only problem with that, of course, is that man was never meant to function as a machine, and when he does his soul shrivels up in the process.

I recently read an excellent summary of this very phenomenon in the book The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz: “The cult of busyness may be fueled by current customs and technology, but it rests on three sturdy pillars of American life: Calvinism, capitalism, and competitiveness. From Calvinism comes faith that God is smiling on those who achieve material success. From capitalism comes a perpetual hope (realized often enough) that hard work and new ideas will be rewarded. From a reverence for the competitive spirit comes a genuine admiration for winners. These three intertwined ideas have helped create previously unimagined prosperity. They also invite us to try harder, to work longer, to give back (collectively) hundreds of millions of vacation hours each year, to treat each and every day as another day to succeed.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Time Isn't Money

I have always valued time more than money. Even as a teenager growing up in rural Virginia, where my needs were few and my wants fewer, I often opted to work odd jobs rather than punch time clocks so I could spend spare time with family and friends or curl up with a good book at my local library. Call me a dreamer but I am most comfortable living life untethered to chronological contraptions.

My dream has always been to function as autonomously as possible, both personally and professionally. Perhaps that is why after more than two decades of wedded bliss my wife and I don’t have any kids or pets, and I’ve operated my own consulting business from home for the past decade or so. There is something alluring about being able to live and work from anywhere with a cell phone and a laptop that appeals to the nomad in me.

As Judith Shulevitz writes in The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, “When time is money, speed equals more of it.” Contrary to popular belief, however, time isn’t money. It is more valuable than that. Nowadays, the ultimate luxury is the ability to structure your time however you see fit. And one way to achieve that lifestyle is to realize that the “good life” isn’t necessarily the “goods life.” The simple truth is that you don’t have to work as much if you aren’t striving to get more stuff.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Publish or Perish

I recently read the online edition of an insightful article by media maven Ken Auletta from the April 26, 2010 issue of The New Yorker titled “Publish or Perish: Can the iPad Topple the Kindle and Save the Book Business?” and highly recommend reading it at It is invaluable material for anyone involved in publishing today.

To get a comprehensive perspective of publishing’s challenges Auletta interviews several industry insiders for the article, including Amazon vice president of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti, who personally thinks that publishers are asking the wrong questions about the future.

According to Grandinetti, the real competition is not between traditional books and e-books. “TV, movies, Web browsing, video games are all competing for people’s valuable time. And if the book doesn’t compete we think that over time the industry will suffer,” Auletta quotes Grandinetti as saying. Consequently, Grandinetti suggests that to thrive publishers have to reimagine the book as multimedia entertainment.

Auletta reports that, along with others, David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, is actively embedding audio and video and other value-added features in e-books. According to Auletta, Rosenthal says that the iPad “has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities.”

Whoever wins the e-book sweepstakes, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: readers want what they want when they want it and the publishers who are ready, willing, and able to accommodate them will profit by meeting the need for convenient, cost-effective delivery of compelling content.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Power to the People

According to an article in today’s New York Times titled “Aiming at Rivals, Starbucks Will Offer Free Wi-Fi,” the ubiquitous coffee chain will finally do the right thing and serve up complimentary hotspots with its hot coffee starting July the 1st. Apparently the move is an effort to reach the newly unemployed and mobile clientele who were heading to the local library or other neighborhood hotspots for their daily fix.

As I blogged about in my 07/30/09 posting titled “Join the Revolution,” Starbucks has offered a couple free hours with an active customer card for the last year or so but it is high time it joined the likes of Panera Bread, Barnes & Noble and even McDonald’s in offering unlimited online access.

Through a partnership with Yahoo, Starbucks is offering patrons free online articles, music, videos and other content, including free access to paid Web sites like those of The Wall Street Journal and Zagat and free iTunes downloads. And perhaps best of all, patrons will no longer need to endure the cumbersome log-in process that Starbucks used to require.

Personally, I am thrilled about the announcement since I’ve had my share of frustrating log-on experiences at various Starbucks, particularly during a holiday visit to New York City, where I never was able to get online at any of the several Starbucks we frequented. As I’ve grown fond of saying, “power to the people!”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Total Recall

I just finished reading a thought-provoking book entitled Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, fellow researchers at Microsoft. I first became acquainted with Gordon Bell several years ago when I heard about his project called MyLifeBits, in which he digitizes his entire life.

He writes about how he embarked on his journey in 1998 when a friend asked him to digitize the books he had written and once Bell saw the benefits of going paperless he committed to it, scanning articles, letters, pictures, receipts, and all the other detritus of life. One year later, the task became so overwhelming that he had to hire an assistant to help with the scanning.

Bell stresses the difference between the private digitization that he does, which he calls lifelogging, and the public practice of today’s Twitterers, which he calls life blogging. One of the special devices he employs to help him capture the events of his life is called a SenseCam, which snaps intermittent pictures throughout his daily comings and goings.

As Bell states, three technologies are converging to make the world of total recall a reality: ubiquitous digital recording and sensing devices, relatively inexpensive storage space, and expansive search and analysis capabilities. The tools he prescribes for digitizing life include a smartphone, a GPS unit, a digital camera, a personal computer, an Internet connection, and a scanner.

Regarding the payoff of total recall, Bell suggests: “I got started in this by wanting to get rid of all the paper in my life. Then I wanted better recall; then a better story to leave to my grandchildren. Soon I became aware of potential benefits for my health, my studies, and even a sense of psychological well-being from decluttering both my physical space and my brain.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Celebrating Life

This is my 100th posting so I thought I would write about something profound, like the need to celebrate life. A couple of recent incidents have conspired to make this top of mind for me. One Sunday morning earlier this month, as my wife and I were preparing to go speak at a local church, a neighbor’s oak tree fell onto our house, narrowly missing my wife. And on the Friday of that week she was laid off from her job.

The good news is that our insurance is replacing the entire roof and my business has picked up the slack from my wife’s job loss. It suffices to say my wife and I have been reminded of the fragility of life and the resulting need to handle it with prayer. Despite what might ordinarily threaten our tranquility we have been supernaturally sustained by peace that surpasses our understanding. As the saying goes, “life’s a gift, that is why it’s called the present,” and my wife and I are very aware of how much we have to celebrate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Content is King

In his book ©ontent: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future, author Cory Doctorow argues that digital rights management (DRM) is bad for artists, not the least of which are writers.

He feels that such measures meant to liberate artistic creativity instead manage to limit it. In the age of the iPad and similar devices designed to facilitate the digital reading experience, his commentary is made all the more compelling.

According to Doctorow, “New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at.”

The point he makes is that content is king and thus made to morph: “Books are good at being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable. Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it.”

I don’t know that I’m on the exact same page as Doctorow but I do find myself agreeing with his overall thesis: “New technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that’s what tech is for. Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can get a bite out of.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mobile Office

Since I work from my home office most days, I like to try to get out of the house at least one day a week to get some fresh air and socialize with other human beings. Lately I’ve been venturing out to my favorite Panera Bread, which is near my wife’s workplace and which I blogged about in my 06/15/09 entry titled “Mobile Avenue.”

The attached picture features my mobile office, including my Targus Sport backpack, Apple Powerbook laptop, Nokia cell phone, Moleskine reporter notebook and Cross mechanical pencil. Not pictured is my Touch iPod, which I was listening to at the time and my Leica digital camera, with which I took the picture.

What I particularly like about Panera Bread—besides their free Wi-Fi, which I mention in the above entry—is that they play classical music throughout the day and serve hazelnut cream cheese to go with my blueberry bagel and hazelnut coffee. And the fact that my favorite location features a gas fireplace doesn’t hurt either.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sabbath Manifesto

There is a growing movement among people toward a more sustainable mode of living and one way it is taking shape is in the form of Sabbath celebration. While originally a scriptural concept, the trend of throttling back one day a week has been gaining more and more momentum as the pace of life has moved to mach speed.

There is even a non-profit group, called Reboot and comprised mostly of both practicing and non-practicing Jews, which has established a National Day of Unplugging. Set to last from sunset today, March 19, through sunset tomorrow, March 20, guidelines for participating are outlined at the group’s website at

The group suggests ten principles for commemorating Sabbath: avoid technology, connect with loved ones, nurture your health, get outside, avoid commerce, light candles, drink wine [or non-alcoholic beverage], eat bread, find silence and give back. For purposes of unplugging, it is suggested to avoid all technology as much as possible.

My wife and I typically try to stay off our computers and cell phones on the weekends as it is, but we are planning to turn off our televisions, telephones and other technological gadgetry tomorrow also. There is a classic car show coming to our hometown tomorrow and I think that will be a welcome interlude for us to enjoy sans electronic intrusions.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Creative Corner

While online the other day I came across a picture of the actual desk where my wife’s favorite author, Jane Austen, is reported to have created her bestselling novels. What struck me about it was its diminutive size. No larger than a tea table, it looked barely large enough to eat scones at, much less create the literary masterpieces for which Austen is known.

What I can’t help thinking is whether Austen didn’t need as much exterior space because she had adequate interior space as a result of the time and place she lived. She not only lived during a kinder, gentler period, but she also wrote from a place more attuned to the reflective pace necessary to think and create.

One of the highlights during my and my wife’s holiday vacation to New York City was our visit to the Morgan Library, where there happened to be an exhibit of Jane Austen’s original writings. It was inspiring to see firsthand the handwriting of a genius and to witness the fruits of her creative labor.

And here at home, my wife and I recently sampled several movies via Netflix that adapt Austen’s trademark wit to the big screen. Nearly two hundred years later, it is readily apparent that she had an innate understanding of the human condition. What’s more, it is amazing how much creativity she was able to conjure up in her creative corner of the world.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Free Book

As if the book’s bright orange cover and it’s eye-catching title of Free Book written by a pastor named Brian Tome don’t call for your attention, the author’s compelling in-your-face cover admonition captures it: “I am a fanatic about freedom. And I’m fanatical about coming at you hard in this book. I’m tired of seeing people beaten down by the world’s systems and by religion. I’m sick of seeing people live safe, predictable lives while their God-given passions die. I hate the assumption that getting close to God means more rules and restrictions. No more. God’s offering real freedom. Get yours.”

The book is written in a simple, easy-to-read style and unpacks profound truth in a thought-provoking manner that challenges readers to rethink what it means to become a follower of Christ. Calling Christianity a relationship rather than a religion, the author suggests it is the love of God that sets people free to live life fully.

Sharing stories from his own life and ministry, the pastor gives real-world examples of the radical freedom to be found in the grace of God. People of all types can benefit from the straightforward message presented here, but particularly those needing a reminder of how much God loves them.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Less is More Too

For several years I have practiced many of the principles of the voluntary simplicity movement, including living within my means by limiting personal debt, etc. I don’t personally believe that life is a “zero-sum” proposition, meaning that if one succeeds others must suffer, so I never totally bought into the mantra of “live simply so others may simply live,” but I do get the spirit behind the sentiment.

On the other hand, when I used to hear the term minimalism I conjured up images of spare spaces devoid of warmth or welcome. However, over the course of this past month I have come across several blogs dealing with more of a minimalist message and must admit that I find myself embracing the “less is more” philosophy very much as my own.

One of the more revolutionary exercises in my newly invigorated move toward an ever simpler lifestyle has involved me going through our house room by room and excising everything according to the words of William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Consequently, my wife and I have methodically gone through our stuff together, gotten rid of much of it, and given more that remained to a local charity. For example, our small household of two does not need four telephones so we eliminated one and we downsized our Christmas decorations to fit into one large box instead of our attic.

As we did this, I identified some helpful principles that enabled us to move through the process of paring our possessions. First, choose quality over quantity by selecting the best and scuttling the rest. Second, challenge your assumptions by imagining a different space and structuring it accordingly. Third, leave no stone unturned by thoroughly going through things regardless of their sentimental value and such. If you don’t use it regularly, consider getting rid of it or giving it a better home. After all, simpler is better.