Quaker Meeting meet Google Glass

It had to happen, and it did–someone finally showed up at my Quaker Meeting wearing Google Glass.Image

My first in-person encounter with Google Glass was at an In-n-Out Burger a few years ago. A guy standing in line getting ready to order but he had this extra gleam to himself while wearing them; as people around him (including the cashier) tried not to stare, someone finally asked him what it was and he was happy to explain it.

Since then, here in San Francisco, it’s been an item about town and held in some regard as well as in some caustic disrepute for being an epitomizer of the gentrification of large tech company workers displacing locals. It’s not news that wearable computing has been on the horizon for years and getting closer by the day. Lots of opinions about its actual marketabilitysocial consequences, and form factor. But it seems a few companies have made it work, including Nike’s Nike+ (now Fuel).

I’ll admit–I’m psyched about it. Not the cool-factor way but in a way that says, “take the phone from my hand and make it easier to use all the functionality” way. I really would appreciate not looking away from where I’m going or the person I’m with while I check something. The only way I could think that might be better is to have an eye-implant or make Google Glass invisible.

So, when I saw it at my Meeting for Worship on a new attender recently, it was kind of a downer. It made my Quaker-self meet up my real-world self, and realize that a) Glass was probably the most distracting object I’ve ever experienced during Meeting, b) it made me paranoid (who was watching through the video camera? was I being recorded? was the person going to stand?), and c) it was the dawn of a new world. Should Quakers ask attenders to turn off and remove these types of devices before Meeting begins?


Quakers have a keen desire for plainness, for reducing the clutter to our senses, in order to turn our attention toward God, or the Light that exists within humankind and the world. Quakerism has also had the flexibility to move and grow within the times; progress has not been an impediment but rather a slow revealing of the greater good that lies beyond our senses. So why does Google Glass worry me?

Introducing a tool with a lens connected to the Internet in front of our gaze, along with a camera pointed ahead to capture our surroundings, connected to one of the largest data companies in the world, during a time of silent worship feels wrong. This feels even more wrong than having a cell phone ring, someone snapping a picture of the Meeting in worship, or someone taking notes while someone is giving vocal ministry (I have experienced being in Meetings where each of these has happened).

Quakers have set up worship spaces in Second Life and I have been part of Meeting for Worship over Skype. What will help guide us through the time of Google Glass? Perhaps, as one person noted, “Then you will come to tweet cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every user.”

Moyers on faith and social justice

Once again, Bill Moyers demonstrates his mastery at bringing together powerhouse thinkers on proBill Moyers Journal on Faith and Social Justicegressive thought.  The July 3 show of Bill Moyers Journal titled “Faith and Social Justice” featured Cornel West, Gary Dorrien, and Serene Jones who collectively teach a course at Union Theological Seminary called “Christianity and the U.S. Crisis” (which can actually be watched via iTunes–thanks, UTS and Apple!).  I wish I could post the segment here, but you’ll have to use iTunes to dig it up for yourselves.

His panel’s expertise is so diverse in  its voice that his questions range from the non-believers view of who speaks for Christians today to how do non-believers view the Christians of today beyond the lens of the majority, while also bringing the tangent of politics and social justice to bear on the current economic crisis as well as one of the most succinct summaries of the history of social justice that I’ve come across (let we forget that working unions are, fundamentally, based on love for one another in the face of oppression).  His panel, rooted in teaching, is often used not only to frame current teachings in their class, but how and what students are looking for in today’s faith practices.

Cornel’s voice is strong and, as always, his wit and street cred (academic and pop) are what make this panel pop and snap.  But it’s also quite undeniable that both Dorrien and Jones are looking forward to bringing a freshness to progressive Christian faith beyond academia and Bible study, in order to look to how faith is or is not being integrated into the daily practices and politics of Barack Obama’s administration.  And Moyers plays along–urging each of them to help us look backward and forward while standing at this intersection of faith and social justice.

Headphoneless: connecting to community

As part of a conference on Convergent Friends I went to a few weekends ago, I realized that one of my urban tools, headphones, were getting in the way of my connection to my community.

One of my previous posts mentioned my love, fascination, and complex relationship I have with my noise-canceling headphones.  I fell in love with them and their blessed ability to remove noise, creating a better BART ride, lower the volume on my iPod, and promote a calmer traveling experience.  What I didn’t count on was my disconnection from the world.

Public transit’s great, but I do miss the solitude of the car–listening to the radio or my own mix was a great way to pass the time and educate myself when I was growing up traveling those long Maine-distances between towns on the country roads.  Nowadays, I plug in, walk out my door and have a 30-minute walk/transit to work and do the same thing with headphones and iPod.  But what’s missing?  Why do I continue to isolate myself from others, the same as in a car, while being in community with my fellow travelers?

This idea came to me when we discussed the concept of “Quaker plain”–how early Quakers, in their quest to be closer to God avoided distractions in the physical world.  Clothing became functional, avoiding frills (even shirt collars and belts were forgone for collarless shirts and suspenders), speech became more direct, and other moves toward a simple life so as to give more attention to God.  I realized that my headphones were not creating silence, but creating a distraction from the world, an ability to trade a personal, inward growth and satisfaction over the challenges and beauty the world offers.

One idea that developed from that discussion was having an Internet Sabbath, a day free of digital connection.  I could hear groans in the room.  These days, this is pretty challenging for many young Friends.  But this, in truth, is another distraction.  Yes, a useful tool, but not a necessary one–like a collar.  I’m noticing, however, that there is something developing among young Friends called “New Plain” which this might fit into.

Children’s books redux

Every year I get to go on a binge of children’s lit, taking a survey of what is out there, what are the trends, how things have(n’t) changed, and discover new pearls among…well.  What’s challenging is to realize that, in actuality, children’s book publishing is becoming more extensive than in the past.  This might go against the folk myth that print is actually suffering from an influx of the Internet, whereas print materials have been expanding for years.  However, books are going out of print much more quickly than in the past, such that I need to purchase a book in 1-2 years if I want it in hardback, otherwise it’s gone to paperback and in 3-5 years (conservatively speaking) it may be out of print altogether if it isn’t on some best seller list somewhere.  Shelf real estate is valuable to libraries and to publishing houses!

On a side note, I’m discovering a lot of good tunes via Last.fm while working, with one gem being Joanna Newsom.  Unfortunately, this video is the size of a postage stamp on her site, but thank goodness for YouTube:

Passing on…

I’ve had to look up some information on Thai funerals recently (see here and here) due to my wife’s grandmother passing away yesterday. It looks like we’ll be heading to the local temple tomorrow, as she can’t get away from her work to go home, so we’ll have to do it from afar.

Her family will gather at her grandmother’s house this weekend, monks will come by to chant each night for half an hour and the body will be cremated on the fourth day. It’s not a typical “sad” time, but her passing is a real marker for the family. She was much-loved, had several of her kids living nearby, and was very kind to us all.

Not only this has happened, but her grandfather also had to go into the hospital at the same time and he heard about what happened to her since he’s been in. I’m not sure how well that will help him if he’s to recover, so we’re waiting with bated breath to see how things turn out.