Podcast #037: Making sense of technology

Learning to flourish in a digital world

Technology impacts and influences our lives in increasingly powerful and profound ways. How do I make sense of technology in a way that truly enhances and enriches my life? This podcast is a continuation of my conversation with author Pete Nicholas on the book he has co-authored with Ed Brooks called "Virtually Human: Flourishing In a Digital World".

In our earlier discussion (Podcast #036: Virtually Human Part 1) we looked at while new technologies hold awesome potential for good there is another side to them. Surprisingly the essence of technology is not technological, but what it truly means to be human. When we engage unthinkingly with the online world there is a danger we begin to become like the technologies we use, relating and thinking without human connection. We fall short of what we were made to be and become virtually human.

So technology is much more than just a tool by which we engage with the world. It also changes us in both subtle and profound ways. Those who uncritically promote technology are keen to tell a story of never ending human flourishing and progress (For an example see the short Facebook video: The Things That Connect Us). However, this is far too simplistic. We need to both affirm the good that technology provides us while at the same time being realistic about its limitations to change basic human nature.

On this podcast we particularly focus on how technology impacts our identity and relationships. Do join us as we discuss:

  • How digital technologies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram enable us to re-imagine and re-create who we are. What kind of online identity am I going to create and how much is it in integrity with who I am offline?
  • How Rene Descartes from 1639 has deeply affected our understanding of identity and the way we think of ourselves in the online world. We find ourselves caught between two conflicting narratives of 'be true to yourself' and at the same time 'shape yourself as you have no ultimate identity'.
  • While there is a very positive outworking of this in empowering someone like Malala Yousafzai to have a global voice in influencing and challenging the oppression of women there is another side in terms of raising questions around what ultimately is identity that can lead to loss of a sense of belonging anywhere.
  • How John Calvin from 1589  gives us a framework for understanding identity. We are made for worship - that is to find our ultimate identity and fulfilment in someone, something or some idea. We cannot stop ourselves from worshipping and the implications that has for us.
  • How social media has affected our relationships. There has been huge benefits in being able to connect with people from around the world and find out what friends and family are doing.
  • At the same time, quoting psychologist Sherry Turkle, "we have moved from conversation to connection, from talking to texting, from solitude to isolation, from interdependent to interconnected". (p.104)
  • How big business and huge amounts of investment and research is undertaken to make sure we stay connected to technology as much as possible.
  • The seriousness of these challenges when you consider how many Silicon Valley executives send their children to schools with a no device policy.
  • How technology makes it so easy to separate ourselves from people we don't like or whose views we disagree with. We lose the ability to work through problems we have with others and instead take the path of least resistance by dismissing them from our lives.
  • Why we need to learn how to dialogue with people who hold views different to our own without getting abusive or dismissive or demonising them.

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #025: Is there a difficult person in your life?

Discovering Silence and Solitude

More details on the book are available at the Virtually Human website here.

What questions and comments does our discussion raise for you?

Looking back with gratitude on 2017

7 questions to learn from and grow forward

As I get older I'm always amazed by how fast time flies. Another year has so quickly come and gone. Its sometimes hard to remember where all the time has gone! The end of one year provides the opportunity to reflect on all that has happened. From those reflections we can explore life lessons and patterns of behaviour we want to change or perhaps continue with. By doing this we can find wisdom that can be useful for the future.

I am grateful to Michael Hyatt for the following questions to appraise the previous year and look ahead to the coming year. I will share my answers with you to help you think through your own thoughts about 2017 as it comes to an end.

I would strongly encourage you to also write down your own answers and not just keep them in your head. As we write our thoughts begin to disentangle themselves and bring clarity in a way that is otherwise just not possible. Or as someone has said, "The softest pencil is more powerful than the sharpest mind." It becomes even more powerful as we find a way to store what we learn over several years at a time.  As philosopher and poet George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Repeating the past without change then condemns us to repeating the same mistakes or doing the same things expecting a different result.

As I share the questions below I have added some of my own reflections to help you think through your own experiences. If you want more clarification from me feel free to ask in the comments section below. My hope for you as I indulge myself in this way publicly is that you will be prompted to have insights that will put you in a stronger position for whatever this new year has in store for you....

Why being thankful is not just for Christmas

Have you done your Christmas shopping? Are you still wondering what to get for your loved ones? While this 2 minute video is somewhat a little bit too cheesy for some people, I think it does illustrate an important point about giving and gratitude that is so easy to overlook. While the characters may for some of us have over-exaggerated emotions, the sentiments they convey are so easy to take for granted.

The point is that it is incredibly easy to take for granted other people and all the things we enjoy and have access to around us. They appear ordinary and commonplace. With that sense of ordinariness comes a sense of entitlement and subconsciously feeling or thinking we somehow deserve or have earned everything we have. The reality is that most of the basic details of our existence, from the family we were born in, to the place, time and circumstances of our birth are completely out of our control. We had no say or choice in any of these fundamental things about who we are. But what if we could look at everything around us as a gift?

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology in the United States, has spent many years researching the link between gratitude and wellbeing. He has been able to show from research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. He has also highlighted how when you practice gratitude you are less likely to feel stressed, envious or negative. Gratitude also has the effect of enabling you to be able to appreciate other people's accomplishments without feeling resentful that they have something you don't.

According to Professor Robert Emmons for gratitude to be effective it needs to cover 3 key areas:....

The other Christmas gift

4 surprising consequences

All over the world Christmas is very much the time for giving and receiving presents. The following 3 minute video is of children from the Metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club in the United States. 83% of these children come from low income families, some of which are not able to afford even a Christmas tree. In the 3 minute video they are faced with a tough choice.  Just to warn you, the video may make you cry,  but it's well worth watching! 

What makes the video so fascinating for me is it also illustrates the true satisfaction that comes from giving rather than receiving. The simple decision of the children to choose to give rather than receive reminds me of Jesus' own words, "It is more blessed to give rather than receive." (Acts 20:35)

As we approach Christmas, I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."

In that single sentence we have the meaning of Christmas beautifully encapsulated. The Bible explains how although Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He chose to leave the security of this perfect relationship to come to earth for you and me. He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble Himself and come to earth as a baby.

Here are 4 surprising consequences of this decision:.....

Podcast #036: Virtually Human

Making sense of technology in our lives

Technology is now such a fundamental part of our lives that we so often take it completely for granted. From the moment we wake up to to check our clocks, or more likely our smartphones, to then often seamlessly go onto the Internet, social media and email, we hardly give a moment's thought to the incredible power we have available to us. Today's teenagers have never known a time when the Internet was not there. But how do we navigate with discernment and wisdom through the vast plethora of information and choices technology makes available to us?

Someone who has given a lot of thought to this is Pete Nicholas, who with co-author Ed Brooks, has written about the impact of technology on our lives in their book Virtually Human. The short 1 minute video above gives an introduction to the book.

Do come and join Pete Nicholas and I on this podcast as we discuss the implications of technology on our lives.

In particular on this podcast we explore how:

  • While technologies hold awesome potential for good, when we engage unthinkingly with the online world , there is a danger we become increasingly like the technologies we use, relating and thinking without human connection.
  • Technology should cause us to think about what does it actually mean to be human and how technology is changing us.
  • What do we actually mean by technology? Why technology is not a neutral tool but actually a frame through which we see the world that in turn then becomes the world in which we live.
  • We like to think we are in control of technology and creating a bold new future for ourselves of never ending progress. That is far too simplistic, or as C. S. Lewis put it:

"Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."

  • How we need to both affirm the good that technology provides us while at the same time being realistic about its limitations in changing basic human nature. We may have smart phones with amazing potential, but we are still the same greedy, self-centred and self-absorbed human beings we have always been.
  • What does the Biblical narrative have to say about how fulfilling the hope technology seeks to give us really comes from challenging and redeeming the failures and problems technology causes?

But perhaps most surprisingly and most importantly of all discussing technology is really about discussing what does it mean to be human.

We will carry on our discussion with Pete Nicholas in future podcasts, particularly looking at practical implications of how we handle technology in our challenging and complex world.

After listening to this podcast you may also find of interest:

Podcast #017: The Last Taboo Subject?

Podcast #029: The Literal End Of The World?

More details on the book are available at the Virtually Human website here.

What questions and comments does our discussion raise for you?

P.S. There is still time to take my reader survey!

Click here to take my reader survey

I need your help!

2017 Reader Survey

This week's post is relatively short, but that's because I need your help! I really do appreciate the time you take to read my blog and listen to the podcasts. Thank you for your encouragements, suggestions and comments both online and off line over the years. It has been just over five years since we started. I have found it an amazing and truly rewarding experience, but I really need your help!


I would like to make my blog and the podcasts much more relevant to your needs and to what interests you. In order to do that I need to know more about YOU! I have created a Reader Survey and I’d be very thankful if you were to spend just five to ten minutes to answer the questions in it.

There are up to 25 questions, and the results will feed directly into how I write my posts and the podcasts that I do. I very much want to serve you better. So my intention is that what I write about and the podcasts I do will benefit you directly. The results are completely anonymous and I cannot tell who has written what (unless you want to tell me!).

You can make the survey as short or as long as you like. Although if you have detailed responses that too would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you once again!


Click here to take my reader survey

5 ways you may sabotage yourself

A guest post by Connie Clay

I used to enjoy watching Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod, play baseball for the Yankees. And then his wife accused him of adultery. He didn’t deny it. Later, he was accused of using steroids. He initially denied using the steroids, and later admitted that he used them to improve his performance. Now retired from baseball, A-Rod is a successful businessman and says he is a present father.

Do you wonder why people who seem to have accomplished so much do things that will surely have a negative impact on their families and their careers? Why do people engage in self-sabotage?

While most of us don’t have public character implosions, we often engage in behaviors that are not in our best interests. Here are some of the ways that we sabotage ourselves:

  1. We insult ourselves. Our internal dialog can be brutal. We call ourselves lazy, fat, worthless, etc. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to friends or family. The next time you catch yourself saying something unkind to yourself, stop. It’s okay to examine your behavior in a certain instance, but do not label yourself with unkind names or adjectives.
  2. We keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Maybe you wanted to change careers or write a book. You’ve had big goals and dreams for years, but nothing changes. Often, nothing changes because we refuse to change. We won’t get tomorrow’s results with yesterday’s methods. Sometimes, we have to give up the unstructured Saturdays and decide we’re going to spend a few hours writing a book or emailing resumes and updating our LinkedIn profile.
  3. We hang around the wrong people. We become the sum total of the people we spend the most time with. I noticed this when I sat through a painful time share presentation. The sales people, mostly men, were dressed alike. They had similar haircuts. They walked in a similar manner. When we spend time with people who are negative, toxic, or unmotivated, it is difficult to avoid their energy. It envelopes the space. Carefully consider who you spend your time with. Do you want to me more like those folks? If not, maybe you should limit or eliminate your association.
  4. We have too much stuff going on. If you have a dozen pages open on your computer, things slow down. It’s hard to be great at the important things when you have dozens of unimportant things nipping at your heels. Have the courage to say no to new commitments and to remove yourself from organizations and responsibilities that are not a good use of your time.
  5. We don’t treat our priorities like priorities. You’ve probably heard that your calendar and your checkbook reflect your priorities. If time with your family is a priority, are they on your calendar? If returning to school is a priority, is that reflected in how you spend money? Did you know that the word “priority” was not pluralized until the 20th century? Narrow your priorities to three and invest your time, money and energy in them. It’s okay to drop things until you have time to give them attention.

What do you need to stop doing?

Connie Clay will show you how to create harmony between your personal commitments and your professional goals. Connie raised a family while managing a busy career. Connie will give you tools and strategies to lovingly care for your family and advance professionally without feeling like you are neglecting one or the other.

You can find out more about Connie here.

This article first appeared on her blog and can be accessed here.

What do I say to a loved one who is struggling with depression?

7 practical suggestions

We live in a world with a lot of negativity. Behind the smiles of the advertising and the apparent fun and laughter of social media there are many people struggling with depressive thoughts and feelings. (See The Scale Of Mental Health Problems And What To Do About Them).

Some of it is because of the everyday worries and concerns of life. There are tragedies and setbacks like bereavement, diagnosis of major illness or sudden loss of a job.

For others it is more deeply rooted in questions of meaning and ultimate purpose. (See Podcast #035: What Is Life Really All About?)

Some people go onto clinical depression, but for many others life can feel like living under a continual dark cloud. There are distinct changes in their energy, optimism and motivation.

Maybe you have a close friend or loved one who is struggling with negative thoughts and feelings. You have seen a change in the way they come across. You are not sure how to handle them. What should you say or not say? How should you approach them?

Sometimes it is hard to know what to say when speaking to a loved one about how they are coming across to you. You might fear that if you bring up your concerns they will get angry, feel insulted, or ignore you. You may be unsure what questions to ask or how to be supportive. It is so easy to just say nothing and miss the opportunity to offer genuine hope, comfort and encouragement.

If you don’t know where to start, the following suggestions may help.

1. Don't feel you have to have all the answers.
Being a compassionate listener is often far more important than giving advice. It is not about immediately trying to 'fix' the person as it is about empathy and understanding of what they are feeling and going through. It is also about encouraging the person to talk about their feelings and be willing to listen without judgement. They may be holding thoughts, worries and fears they have never shared with anyone else. By creating a safe space for them to bring these into the open can bring enormous relief. (Also see 5 Levels Of Listening And Communication).

2. It is likely you are going to have to persevere and keep coming back .
Don’t expect a single conversation to be the end of it. Depressed people tend to withdraw from others and isolate themselves. It is likely this has gone on for some time. You may need to express your concern for them and your willingness to listen over and over again. Be gentle, yet persistent. In their negative thought patterns they may be questioning if you really do care about them. Your quiet dependability and reliability can make a real difference in reaching through to them. Your actions will then speak louder than your words.

3. Things you might say to start the conversation could include:
"I have been feeling concerned about you lately."

"Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing."

"I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately."

It's important after this to then wait and give time for them to slowly open up. You may need to become comfortable with just sitting in silence to help build their trust and confidence.

4. Here are some follow up questions it might well be worth asking:
"When did you begin feeling like this?"

"Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?"

"How can I best support you right now?"

"Have you thought about getting help?"

Being supportive involves offering with your concern and sympathy also encouragement and hope. Very often, this is a matter of talking to the person in language that they will understand and respond to while in a depressed mind frame. And that can take significantly more time than other conversations you are use to having.

5. Other things you can say at appropriate times in the silence:
"You are not alone in this. I’m here for you."

"You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change."

"I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help."

"When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage."

"You are important to me. Your life is important to me."

"Tell me what I can do now to help you."

6. There are also some definite things to avoid saying:
- Be very careful about not jumping to conclusions about what the problem might be or how the person might be feeling.
- Don't put words into their mouth or complete their sentences for them.
- Don't use words like 'should' or 'ought'.
- Don't get caught up with universal blanket statements from the person like 'it's all a disaster'; 'my life is such a mess'. If they say something like this then try to break down what they are saying to find out what they actually mean.
- Don't ay anything or make promises you cannot follow though.
- Don't use cliche phrases like 'don't worry it will pass', 'I know how you feel', 'just look on the bright side', 'it's all in your head', 'we all go through times like this', 'you have so much to live for why would you want to die?', 'I can't do anything about your situation', 'just snap out of it', 'what's wrong with you?', 'shouldn't you be better now?'
- Don't be sworn to secrecy by the person as a way to win their confidence. It is important to explain there is a risk to themselves or others you may have to tell others.
- Don't pass judgement on what the person says or feels.

7. Take care of yourself as well!
Caring for others who are struggling with depression can become overwhelming and exhausting. Try not to carry all the responsibility on your own. It is important to have others to talk with and share the responsibility you are feeling for the the depressed person. While you care for others, it is important you also care for yourself. (Also see What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down).

From your own experience with others who have struggled with low mood, or maybe your own life, what would you add to these suggestions?

You may also find of interest:

Why I Am Working On Becoming A Happier Person

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

My own personal journey through depressive thinking


The scale of mental health problems and what to do about them

5 simple steps

According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Statistics from the UK indicate that 2/3 of the UK population have experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives and that only 13% of the population are thriving with high levels of positive mental health.

Let's try to to put this in context. A recent report from the Institute of Directors state that 1 in 6 UK adults experience a common mental health disorder over any given week. To put that another way. that is 10 times the number of people who attend a professional football match - the nation's favourite sport. The most recent Mental Health at Work Report from Business in the Community also states that 3 out of every 5 employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work.

It is also increasingly being recognised that mental ill health is a problem not just affecting a small minority of people, but society as a whole. 1 in 4 people are reported to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in any given year. In addition many more experience poor mental health, which disrupts our family and working lives.

Mental ill health is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, with more than 15 million absence days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013, at a cost to the UK economy of £8.4bn. In 2015/2016 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost.

The Centre for Mental Health has also calculated that presenteeism, the practice of staying at work more hours than required, usually because of job insecurity, costs the UK economy £15.1bn per annum. In other words, people stay at work but their minds and attention is so distracted or below optimum that they take far longer to do tasks or get distracted by the unimportant or unnecessary. I am sure these statistics and figures are not much different for most of the rest of the industrialised world.

To maintain physical health, there has been a rightful emphasis on factors such as stopping smoking, losing weight, exercise, healthy eating and meaningful relationships. (For more on this also see What Is The Single Most Important Thing I Can Do To Improve My Physical Health? and What Is The ONE Essential Ingredient For Life-Long Health and Happiness?).

But what about mental health wellbeing?

Over recent years, through increased research there has began to be a greater understanding of  the contributing factors that lead to poor mental health. What this means is that many common mental health problems can be prevented. For prevention to be effective,  appropriate and relevant education is essential in order to encourage self care and our own management of our wellbeing.

Here are 5 simple ways to wellbeing:.....

Podcast #035: What is life really all about?

A frank conversation with Rico Tice

Rico Tice is a senior minister at the church my family and I attend at All Souls, Langham Place in Central London. Rico is married to Lucy and they have three children. He is a Bible teacher and founder of the Christianity Explored course. This is a seven week study through the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament. At any one time there are 10,000 courses running around the world in over 100 countries with 122 official translations.

More recently Rico has helped to develop two further courses, Discipleship Explored which looks through the New Testament book of Philippians what it means to find joy in Christ and Life Explored which is an overview of the Bible as a whole.


On this podcast Rico and I explore:

Why being responsible for evangelism at All Soul's Church is much more than a job role, but something he is deeply passionate about.

His formative experiences growing up, including how the death of his godfather in 1982 had a profound impact on Rico's life.

Continual reminders of the brevity of life.

The importance of crossing the pain line when talking to others of the important issues around death and judgement.

In a world of different religions why it is not arrogant to say Jesus is the only way to God.

The importance of reading the Bible for yourself and doing so in community with others.

How Christ's death rescues us from the penalty, power and the presence of sin.

How the qualification to be a Christian disciple is not are you good enough, but are you bad enough.

The importance of a right understanding of hell and judgement.

Lessons in life Rico has learnt from his failures and mistakes.

Two books that have profoundly influenced Rico's life.

Why he also has a collection of over 300 books on rugby!

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #029: The literal end of the world?

Podcast #017: The last taboo subject?

Podcast #007: Religion

A tribute to my dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (12 October 1981 -17 March 2014)

How does our conversation speak into your own life?