I am blessed with the luxury and challenge of having a lot of time on my hands. That can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I am able to work from home to provide for my family and still make a good living doing tech support. The curse is that there is a lot of downtime in between support issues.
Being the computer guy that I am, I spend my free time on the Internet, especially in technical forums and on tech news sites. In fact, I used to write for a technical site, but got tired of all the one-upmanship from the other geeks and wanna-be techs. So I have been concentrating on my Latter-day Commentary blog instead.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what is the best use of my time. There is so much information out there and so many sites that one can visit. There is no way that you can read all the blogs, news stories and commentaries that are produced each day. I can barely keep up with reading what my favorite LDS bloggers post.
Bloggers are Information workers
I have tried sorting all my favorite sites by activity so the latest essays are always on the top. That helps. I have also tried using Google Reader but find it too easy to not comment on essays that deserve feedback and participation. I prefer to visit each site to read the posts there and to see what they have added on their sidebars.
I can’t imagine how some people are able to write comments on so many sites. In addition to great essays on their own blogs, they leave dozens of comments each day on the LDS group blogs and on the sites of fellow bloggers. It’s as if they have nothing else to do all day but read and write comments. Don’t they work?
Maybe they’re like me and are already in front of the computer twelve to sixteen hours a day anyway, making a living by what they write. It is an amazing thing that I am paid to answer phone calls and emails. Someone once described my job function as being a hunter-gatherer, only I gather and share information, not food.
Gathering and sharing information
I love this story from Elder Oaks that he shared back in the Sunday afternoon session of the April 2001 General Conference: “Two men formed a partnership. They built a small shed beside a busy road. They obtained a truck and drove it to a farmer’s field, where they purchased a truckload of melons for a dollar a melon.
“They drove the loaded truck to their shed by the road, where they sold their melons for a dollar a melon. They drove back to the farmer’s field and bought another truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. Transporting them to the roadside, they again sold them for a dollar a melon.
“As they drove back toward the farmer’s field to get another load, one partner said to the other, ‘We’re not making much money on this business, are we?’ ‘No, we’re not,’ his partner replied. ‘Do you think we need a bigger truck?’” As Elder Oaks concluded, it is clear that we don’t need a bigger truckload of information, either.
Adding value to information
Like the two partners in the story above, our biggest need is a clearer focus on how we should value and use what we already have. There is so much information that can be found out on the Internet. If all we are doing is bringing some of it back to our site and offering it there, then what value are we adding to readers who visit?
The first thing I always think of when I read that humorous story from Elder Oaks is to wonder why the partners didn’t charge more for their melons than they paid for them. They incurred the expense of transportation and did their customers a favor by bringing it closer to them. Besides, they also had equipment overhead.
They added value to the product they offered because they brought it closer to the market. Likewise, when we gather interesting information about the church or the doctrines or practices, we can add value to it when we offer it on our sites. The best way to do that is to focus our readers on how the information has blessed us.
Information should be prioritized
Some of the most valuable information I have is what I have learned over the years about how to fix computer problems experienced by my co-workers, especially in the specific network environment I manage. I am paid well for this knowledge. I am grateful to have been able to turn raw information into productive knowledge.
I do not spend my time studying, researching, gathering or compiling information about computer equipment and programs that I do not support or intend to support. That would be a waste of my time. While it may be interesting and perhaps useful someday, it is not applicable to the work I do today or in the foreseeable future.
Thus I am able to focus and prioritize the information I seek and gather in regards to the job that I am paid to do each day. I quickly scan headlines and summaries of the many thousands of tech articles that come out each day. But I only read the ones that apply directly to my present work and that will help me do my job better.
Gathering information about the church
I have been thinking about how I can apply this information gathering skill to my spiritual life. I subscribe to RSS feeds of dozens of computer tech publications. I have also setup Google Alerts to certain key phrases that I want to track, so that I can read what is being written about those subjects outside of my regular feeds.
Likewise, I am starting to add Google Alerts to notify me of new essays or articles that contain keywords like: Mormon, LDS, Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, BYU, Proposition 8, Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, Polygamy, Prophet, Jesus Christ, Temple, Joseph Smith and many others. We are very popular in the news lately.
I think I have mentioned before that I am a church news junkie. I love to read the many stories that are published each day about the church. I think that more good comes from these stories than we realize. We work hard to share the gospel, but people learn a lot more about the church than we think from what they read online.
Summary and conclusion
In my conversations with non-LDS co-workers, friends and family, I am often asked what I think about some item they have read in the news about the church. They do not start a conversation by saying, “Tell me how I can best prepare for eternity by having my family sealed in the temple.” I doubt that will ever happen.
However, they do start a conversation by saying, “I saw video of all the protesters in front of your temple. Why did they pick your temple to stage their protest?” I then have the opportunity to explain what the Temple represents to us and that it is a place where we are married for time and eternity. That leads to further dialog.
That’s why I think that it is important that we know what is being said about us in the news and on the Internet. Knowing this information can only help us share the gospel as we turn it into knowledge for our readers. We do this by adding our own positive experience with the subject and then share how it has blessed our lives.