danah boyd Wants You To Hack Your Own Work

Danah boyd is tired of seeing peoples’ good intentions gamed by malicious actors.

Her proposed antidote is a hacker mindset.

How 2011 is that?

I kid. I’ve cooled on all the hacking lingo that got me so charged up five years ago. I’ve stopped looking for hacks and started committing to just doing work. But cute tricks are not what boyd means by “hacks.” She means design decisions that account for all the malicious and unintended ways the thing you make can be used. She’s talking about “extensibility,” which, in her words, is “an ideal of building a system that could take unimagined future development into consideration.”

People who are good at this “don’t just hold onto the task at hand, but have a vision for all sorts of different future directions that may never come into fruition.” She essentially wants people to “imagine innovative ways of breaking things.”

So, what innovative ways might teenagers employ to break your curriculum? Are you writing it with that in mind? What about your session agenda? Your sermon? Is there value in church leaders developing the mental muscles to wreck our own well-intentioned work from the inside, so that what we build ends up being stronger and more durable?

A story to illustrate this. I ran an overnight retreat years ago to teach a relationship and sexuality curriculum. It was very flexibly scheduled and there were design decisions made that were ill-informed, even sloppy. The next day I heard from a parent that her son had told her we taught that “premarital sex is okay as long as it’s fun.”

You don’t have to impute nefarious intentions to that kid to take the lesson that the design should have anticipated that potential direction.


What Are You Reading?

Cribbing Seth Godin again for this late edition. In this post, he takes down people who aren’t doing the reading. Here’s the money quote:

The reading isn’t merely a book, of course. The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand.

So, for those of you in youth ministry, how are you doing the reading? I read everything Kenda Creasy Dean writes, and the research of danah boyd is invaluable. I also like the work that Sherry Turkle is doing on conversation in a digital age, because so much of that work focuses on teenagers and young adults. Andy Root’s writing on the theological foundations of youth ministry seems really important too.

As for non-book reading, the Progressive Youth Ministry conference is a marquee opportunity to think with some of the best youth workers in the church today.

For my money, a Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohort is one of the best ways to do the reading these days.

What about you? How are you doing the youth ministry reading?

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen.

 Song of the day:


6:00. Walk Me Up alarm sounds and is uncharacteristically pacified by a desperate wave of the hand. Throat is scratchy and I feel like a sack of bricks. Climb out of the cavern that is my mattress and head for the shower.

6:39. Ibuprofen and coffee.

6:43. Working on an outline for the adult education forum this morning on bullying. Local high school student was supposed to be the centerpiece, but he was felled by a previously scheduled lifeguard exam. Now it’s me and whatever shreds of danah boyd’s research I can piece together. That’s a lot actually. She’s amazing.

7:37. Consulting with Wife a about the coordination of my awesome shoes with my black pants. Uh uh. Don’t work. Gotta go with khaki.

8:13. Arrive to find the Children’s Center Director entering her office, a novel sight for a Sunday morning. Saturday brought bad news about last week’s bathroom flood and the consequent inspection; the words “asbestos” and “preschool” pass heavily between us as we do a quick back-of-the-napkin game plan for a preschool evicted from its building for four weeks.

8:43. Distributing 20 copies of the adult education handout on a perfect circle of chairs.

8:56. Greet a 7th grader with the news that he’s one of the morning’s acolytes. “No I’m not,” he answers. “My mom said I didn’t have to anymore.” Adolescent development, Luther, and The Doctrine of Vocation would make a great seminary paper title.

9:11. Over 30 people now crowding into the adult education forum. Introductory question: “why does this matter to you.” Stunned by adults relating experiences, not only of their kids being bullied, but of their own absorption of bullying at work. Didn’t count on that.

9:52. Flee the forum late for worship and deputize an unsuspecting participant. “Take over.”

9:59. Donning my newest stole for the first time. It’s a five year anniversary gift made by a dear church member back in February, at the start of Lent. I’ve looked forward to Ordinary Time more eagerly than normal this year. Also, it matches my shoes.

10:01. Two acolytes materialize providentially. They’re on the small size, and last week’s candles gave us some trouble, so we do a quick lighting practice. All six candles light. We even replace one of the tapers, just to be safe.

10:07. Brand new taper failing its maiden voyage. Two chancel candles won’t light. As high school student plays and sings a delicate introit, the entire congregation watches the acolyte and Head of Staff strain at the candles before finally accepting defeat.

10:13. As the saints of God pass the peace of Christ, I claim my victory over the two holdout candles.

10:14. Head of Staff has gone missing while Children’s Director conducts the Children’s Time. After several minutes of scanning the sanctuary, I locate her: in the choir loft holding one of the Children’s Director’s babies. Sneaky.

10:19. Reading Galatians 1 through sniffles.

10:49. As Head of Staff invites the congregation to communion in between me and the Parish Associate behind the Table, a sneeze is coming. I successfully contain it, though I’m sure both my feet left the floor.

11:06. Greeting folks on the patio, recruit former student and recent college graduate to give Daughter swim lessons–starting tomorrow. Girl’s gotta learn, like, yesterday.

11:21. Making my way to Teacher Appreciation reception. Stopped by one of the bullying forum participants who offers helpful advice for the next one.

11:25. Advice still coming . . .

11:26. Break away from advise to chase down some reception cake (I skipped breakfast). Intercepted by 6th grader who launches into a nuanced recitation of a Zelda YouTube video.

11:29. Zelda, Zelda, Zelda, Zelda .  . . cake only feet away. Getting woozy.

11:33. More Zelda. This has to stop.

11:34. Crash the cake table. Enjoy first bite as Wife informs me that I’ll be taking daughter to her classmate’s Birthday pool party by myself. In 20 minutes.

11:44. Escaping reception to head for Birthday party with Daughter. Nabbed by church member with a book recommendation for the church library. It’s her sister’s book, a compilation of weekly advise columns for a Christian newspaper. Would I like to see it? Of course. Of course.

12:43. Declining a can of Tecate as politely as I can.

1:01. Devouring burger with mustard. Then another. Then wrinkled remains of Daughter’s hot dog.

1:39. Baking on a lawn chair as Daughter lays on the concrete next to me, wrapped in a towel. Didn’t bring a hat. Or sunglasses. Still, dozing.

2:00. Wife mercifully arrives to relieve me, so I can go home and put away the groceries she just bought.

2:23. Finish putting groceries away just in time to watch Royals put the finishing touches on another loss.

3:30. Head out for the store to get snacks for the Junior High Youth Group and a dinner item for the High School Youth Group year-end party. Lemonade, Cheese Puffs, Cookies, Taffy, and . . . salad?

5:12. Junior high game involves teams of three huddling together with their heads touching as they keep a balloon in the center of their feet. I tap out of my team of two 7th grade girls and offer the female adult volunteer a crack at it.

5:51. Urge students, ala Joshua 1, to be strong and courageous. Feeling weak.

7:06. Looking at a terrific spread for the high school party. Pizza, fried chicken, homemade bundt cake, enchiladas, spaghetti. And my salad.

8:42. The game is Name That Movie, where you try to get your team to guess the title by naming isolated features of it. Breathless student thus describes Star Wars: “Little green guy. Big black guy. Glowing sticks.” The real kicker comes with her explanation of the “Big black guy”: “I didn’t mean Darth Vader. I meant Samuel L. Jackson.”

9:01. Thanking volunteers for all their time. Telling students I love them, blessing them, and sending them into the summer.

9:32. Dropping student off. Heading home.

10:32. Working on Monday Morning Quarterback, suspiciously eyeing Daughter’s Antworks Ant Farm. The sides are covered in condensation, and they look mad. Plus, they seem to be eating the sealant on the lid. Contemplating consequences of ant jail break.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen.

Song of the Day:


6:00. Alarm. Seriously? Snooze.

6:18. Awake two minutes before expiration of snooze alarm. Consider the relative value of two minutes of sle–alarm again.

6:33. Open laptop to finish the morning’s confirmation lesson. Face down reality: The Heidelberg Catechism, Ann LaMott, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the story of the Rich Young Ruler, and the Presbyterian Study Catechism won’t all fit in 45 minutes. Curse the space/time continuum.

7:12. Practice sketchnoting with the cribnotes from a talk by danah boyd. Plan blog post on the talk for later in the week.

7:53. Completely rethink final confirmation project assignment and write up a new description. Plan to post it to blog later in the week.

8:11. Second cup of coffee.

9:27. Expose confirmation students to Ann LaMott and her profoundly theological profanity. Brace for retribution.

10:09. Acolyte jogs to the lectern to lead Call to Worship like he’s being introduced as part of the starting lineups.

10:10. Chest bump the acolyte.

10:17. Recognizing new crosses decorating sanctuary during Children’s Time. Tell kids that the big paper one with their handprints on it hanging in the back is to remind us that the cross is for all of us. Kid looks at me like, “For me? What did I do?”

10:29. Getting schooled on the water situation in 1st century Laodiceia by my brilliant colleague. Mentally rehearse the putdown, “Ima spit you out my mouth like Laodiceian water, fool!

11:22. Ask adult education committee members to introduce themselves by answering the question, “What are you learning?” Listen carefully as people share thoughtful, sensitive, yearning to grow.

11:58. Schedule six weeks of adult education programming in four minutes. We done here?

12:38. Return home to playdate with four year-old and her bestie. Realize I haven’t eaten yet today. Devour a pizza.

12:45. Wife is screening new show, “Preacher’s Daughers.” Hey, this could be interesti–nope nope nope nope nope. Plan blog post on horrors of the show for later in the week.

12:53. While watching show about promiscuous pastor’s daughters, serve as the groom in my four year-old’s wedding, officiated by her playmate. Riff terrifically with the hashtag #fouryearoldwedding.

1:39. Set up play tent, sleeping bag, and lawn chair for daughter and playmate on the lawn. Claim the lawn chair for myself.

2:46. Taxes. Done.

2:52. The week’s meals. Planned.

4:14. Tearful end to the playdate. Literally have to pry the crying girls off of each other. Assurances of “You’ll see her next week” are met with “But that’s too long!” Broken up.

4:37. Facing group of 14 people–junior high students and their parents–explaining with as much pastoral adroitness as I can that there’s no telling what will happen at the meal we’re all about to go serve at the local transitional housing shelter. Thinking they’re taking it well.

5:07. Sit down to banquet of chicken enchilada casserole, fruit salad, mac n’ cheese, caesar salad,  brownies, and gallons of beverages. There are 15 from the church and a single shelter resident. Awkward. Reeealy awkward.

5:24. Shelter resident and church families devolve into knee-slapping laughter around the table. Catch a glimpse of the truth: we’re called to share our community and our humanity; food’s a useful tool to do that.

5:51. Dishes. Dried.

6:32. Waiting for high school students to arrive, building to-do list for the week.

6:41. Youth group volunteers arrive with coffee for me. Kiss them both on their mouths simultaneously.

7:43. “Game of Things” prompt: “Things you shouldn’t lick.” Answer from volunteer: “The Pope.”

7:52. Student tries to tell me her mom needs her home early. Text mom. Nope. Busted. Student fumes.

8:08. Soul Pancake check-in prompt: greatest fault, greatest strength. Observe students struggling to talk about their strengths. For some it’s not a pose; they really don’t know they have any. Wince.

8:38. Celebrate student who’s question was featured on Questions That Haunt. Note this is a student who couldn’t identify his own strengths.

9:02. Practice “Yes, let’s!” improv benediction I learned at NEXT 2013.

9:05. Fuming student to me: don’t text my mom behind my back. Me to fuming student: don’t lie to me.

9:12. Whipped in foosball. Again.

9:18. Locking up, notice fuming student’s parent wandering around, looking for her. She just left. Didn’t wait for parents to pick her up.

9:22. Driving home, looking for fuming student along the way.

9:38. Texting fuming student’s mom: is she home?

9:41. Flustered response full of apologies for student’s behavior.

9:42. “Better to have her than not.”

9:43. “Goodnight.”

9:44. Plan fuming student blog post for later in the week.

Facebook and The Privacy of The Least of These

A timely text from a friend yesterday asked if I had read danah boyd’s anti-Facebook rant. I hadn’t. Well, I’d skimmed it. So I went and read it. Thanks, friend.

The privacy conversation has never really interested me. I have no illusions about the possibilities when I share something online. I’m making an informed choice to share something about myself and calculating that the potential negative consequence is worth what I gain from sharing it. I do this with strict personal rules: I don’t share things about other people without their consent. I don’t post pictures of other peoples’ kids.

I’ve always assumed that everyone else does this too.

But Boyd has carefully stated what’s at stake with Facebook’s activity. It’s not really privacy, but informed consent. Facebook  has made it confusing and difficult for its users to control the people (and–more to the point–advertisers) who see what they share. The privacy settings are confusing, and for that reason, users are being coerced into sharing personal data with audiences they never intended.

When it comes to my stuff, I can handle this. But churchy social media types ought to be more concerned with other peoples’ privacy than their own. How concerned are we that scores of teenagers, for example, are having their personal data mined without their consent? Facebook is providing a platform for ill-intentioned audiences to harvest personal information shared by users who, developmentally speaking, are still learning how to navigate complicated privacy legalese.  It’s opportunistic, and it presents real problems for people (like myself) who are otherwise rosy about young people’s social media activity.

The Facebeook defense has been, essentially, that people choose to participate in Facebook, and so they should be willing to accept the consequences. But when that choice is made by people who are developmentally or socially vulnerable to complex and even misleading privacy settings, the integrity of their “choice” has to be questioned.

A teen may accept an invitation to a party as an opportunity to mix with their friends. But if the host of that party invites lots of people the teen doesn’t know, people who are after the teen’s personal information for economic gain; if the host establishes a default “public” setting to the interaction–that just by being there the teen is consenting to sharing everything they do there with with everyone else–and everyone who everyone else chooses to share it with; if the teen can opt-out of that arrangement only by leaving their friends behind at the party or taking valuable party time to fill out forms specifying who’s allowed to see what they’re doing: who would say that the teen had a fair shot at protecting their privacy?

News Flash: Life Still Hard, Despite Facebook

I don’t agree with Umair Haque’s latest post.

Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs and writes for the Harvard Business Review, says that, just like during the dot.com bubble and the sub-prime mortgage bubble, we’re witnessing a social media bubble; people are ignoring the warning signs of a great collapse.

Here’s the money quote:

During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn’t be made good on. Today, “social” media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Haque is worried that the prevalence of Facebook “friendships” are cheapening our notions of friendship altogether. If these social network relationships were in any sense real, then social conditions would be improving. They’re not, so . . . they’re not.

Haque’s right that internet connections are not making the world a better place, at least not if you’re looking for poverty, racism, sexism, and the like to be overcome. People still treat other people contemptibly, especially in online forums, and, as danah boyd is chronicling, white flight (for example) is just as pronounced online as off.

But forming new relationships to fix the world is not what social media wants to do. New social technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and even text messaging don’t bring new people together as much as they extend and strengthen existing relationships. Teenagers, for example, use instant messaging, status updates, and texts to “hang out” with their offline, real-life friends, online. They don’t go looking for new friends.

Haque’s concern is misplaced, but it’s not uncommon. People often complain that online relationships are “thin” or “less real” than real face-to-face relationships. Of course they are. But most online social media connections aren’t things in themselves. They’re ways of making existing relationships better.

And, in my view, they do that pretty well.