On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Detached”

detached review
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I’m fighting my way through T.J. Burdick’s Detached, which is a good sign that I really needed this book.

Detached: Put Your Phone in Its Place (OSV) challenges readers to rethink how they use their phones. Awareness is key to the whole process, and I’m becoming painfully aware of my own lack of self-discipline when it comes to using my phone.

  • Waiting in line at the supermarket? Check email.
  • Before putting my car key in the ignition? Take a quick peek at Twitter or Facebook.
  • Waiting for the water to boil for tea in the morning? Cue up Instagram.

All those times, there are other, better things I could be doing. I’m not going to say that email and social media are bad things. Facebook and Instagram allow me to keep in touch with my cousins, many of whom live far away, as well as friends old and new. Social media is also job-related for me.

It’s really easy to give in to the temptation to use my phone unnecessarily. I pick up my phone a lot. And I do not intend to get rid of my phone or stop carrying it around with me. Here’s why:

  • My husband and kids text me during the day about changes in plans, or with questions about plans.
  • I like being able to check the weather.
  • If I miss a call on our home phone, voicemail forwards to my phone as a text message, so urgent calls can be answered immediately.
  • I enjoy listening to podcasts while I fold laundry, wash the floors, or drive.
  • One of my sons has type 1 diabetes, and we use an app to monitor his blood sugar. While he’s a quite independent teenager, we keep in touch frequently (by text, usually) regarding adjustments he needs to make (insulin dosing or snacks).

I’ve been keeping a journal as I go through Detached. I will admit that I did not (and will not) sign on for a full-on 21-day technology retreat. (Again, social media is job-related.) Also, I’m not yet done reading the book. But this process is definitely making me think twice about how, where, when, and why I use my phone.

For several months already, I’ve had an email boundary in place. A change in mail servers meant that email for one of my jobs was not longer accessible on my phone, and I decided to turn off phone access for email for my other job as well. This means that I can only use my work email when I’m on my laptop, and I have not missed the ability to reply to work emails from the checkout line in the supermarket (yes, I have been guilty of doing that). So the boundary has been good for me.

While the author recommends a total 21-day social media fast (involving deleting the apps from the phone), I didn’t go there, as I said above. I did, however, find out how to use the Screen Time feature in iOS to keep me accountable for the time I use on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There was a bit of a bump in the road with that, because I use Skype to communicate with my coworkers, and that was counting as social media time. But thanks to some helpful replies to an SOS I sent out (on Twitter — oh, the irony) I got it figured out, and that little popup reminder telling me that I have 5 minutes left for the day is a good indicator for me that I do need that extra help setting boundaries.

I like having a tiny but mighty computer in my pocket. I like that I can keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers easily — no matter where I am. I like that I can help my son stay healthy. I like knowing when that predicted thunderstorm will roll through. I like listening to podcasts that edify, entertain, and educate me while I do repetitive chores. In Detached, T.J. Burdick isn’t asking me to give up any of those good things. He’s challenging me to be more intentional about whether I am efficiently consuming and producing content (11), or just wasting time.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Why are Catholic Women “Mean Girls” on Social Media?

I won’t name names because it doesn’t matter.

On any other day, it could have been someone else.

Or you.

Or me.

But that particular day, it was a high-profile Catholic with a follower count to match and a big social-media footprint who got the whole thing started.

User 1 mocked someone — a stranger — who was in no position to defend herself, and several hundred more users piled on with likes and comments, maybe hoping for a coveted sign of approval from User 1, such as a like, a retweet, or maybe (gasp!) even a personal response.

That’s how these pile-ons get started, after all. One person tosses out a tweet and we all jump into the fray.

Why do we do this? Why are we taking a page from “Mean Girls” in our use of social media?

Is this how Catholic women support each other?

We jump in. We pile on. Maybe we even make that statement that starts it all. We do this out of our own desire to be heard. To be seen. To be acknowledged.

Can’t we find ways to be seen by modeling kindness?

Can’t our voices be heard more clearly when we offer a positive word? A compliment? A cheerful greeting? A joke that isn’t at someone else’s expense?

I’m not saying there’s never any room to be snarky, but I am saying you need to be careful about your target. That target is a person too.

Probably at first, kindness won’t get you too far in growing your follower count. But if you get (or keep) followers because you tweet mean stuff, you need to re-evaluate your social-media strategy.

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (Luke 12:48)

Use the power of your platform for good. Please.

Otherwise, you scandalize the rest of us — at best — and hurt others.

And if you’re going to use the power of your platform to exclude those who don’t fit in with the rest of your tribe, then that’s a tribe I wouldn’t want to join.

Photo credit: By Molly Belle (2016), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

How to Find Good Catholic Reads

Copyright 2018 A.R.K. Watson. All rights reserved.

Last summer at the Catholic Writers Guild conference, I met two dynamic young Catholic women, M.S. Ocampo and A.R.K. Watson, who had just started up a new service, CatholicReads.com. This website features a FREE email service that spotlights Catholic books (often, but not exclusively, by indie authors) and even tells you when those books are on sale. It’s my privilege to interview A.R.K. Watson about the team behind this unique and very helpful service. I’m a subscriber, and if you love to read, this free service is for you. Sign up today!

Tell us your story! What was your inspiration for starting this service?

We started Catholic Reads because as readers of fiction and genre books like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror we were tired of reading books where people of faith were poked fun at. As we began to find books by Catholic authors that explored our favorite themes and genres we had the natural book-nerd desire to share these stories and bring some much-deserved attention to the literary geniuses in our own age. Too often do people decry the current state of Catholic literature, longing for the glory days of Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor when they fail to realize that those never ended. People are still writing creative Catholic literature. Today it is just harder to find because those authors are often published through small presses or independently. We seek to correct that imbalance.

Who’s involved? Tell us about your team.

M.S. Ocampo covers our romance & YA books. If you want an explanation of the communion of Saints using almost entirely Marvel Superhero analogies you’ve got to read her blog.
S.Leigh Hall is a photographer and covers our memoir, nonfiction and children’s book categories. As a former teacher, she has a passion for making sure our church and school libraries have content for everyone, from the grade school student to the Ph.D. theologian.
Lori Wilson covers our fantasy genre and has an unusually strong intelligence for dissecting a book’s themes and symbolism.
Eric Postma is a recent addition to our team. He is a professional editor at gingermaneditorial.com and even edited one of the books that earned our Best of 2017 Award, Comet Dust. He covers our horror genre specifically but reads a wide range of books.
And then there is me. ARK WatsonAt a writer’s conference in an Ivy League campus, I was told that I could not have priests on my Martian landscape doing things like scientific research. Ever since I’ve been driven to change the rhetoric. I cover the sci-fi genre specifically.

Are your team members geographically close or is this a remote-team effort?

Catholic Reads grew out of the local Catholic Writer’s Guild here in Houston Texas and three of us are still located here but being an online business we have grown to include editors across the United States.

What genres/age group(s) does your service focus on?

Our group promotes books of all types, though we have a particular love for genre books like sci-fi, fantasy, YA, and horror. Too often these genres are decried as not literary enough but some of Catholic literature’s best books come from these. We also seek to correct an imbalance we see in the Catholic publishing world. Catholicism is a minority religion in America, so it makes sense that Catholic publishers would want to focus on theology, apologetics, and education, but this makes it hard for Catholic creative writers to find a platform. And often when bigger Catholic publishing houses publish fiction books they don’t always seem to know how to market them since much of their efforts are geared towards promoted nonfiction. Again, this is a good and positive thing, but we would like to help fill the cracks on this issue.

Is your service free of charge?

Our services are free of charge at the moment. We do not feel it is fair to charge authors until we have garnered enough subscribers to make their sales with us a more reliable investment. However, we are trying to find other avenues of income. We have joined Amazon associates, so any books bought through our website earns us a very very small commission. All of us have day jobs and are doing this simply because we love our faith and we love books and we want to give Catholic authors an advantage they sorely lack in the world.

How can readers sign up to find out about the deals?

Readers can sign up by going to catholicreads.com and clicking the “subscribe” button at the top. We send out emails no more than once a week, each with a book that is marked down at least 50% off to free. It’s a cheap way to find great books and support Catholic authors.

What else would you like readers to know?

I would like your readers to know that they can be as nerdy as they like and still invest their life in Catholic culture and imagination. We might be a minority community but we still have a vibrant growing culture and there are practical affordable ways to support Catholic artists who do as much to change our culture as Catholic apologists. You can argue with someone until you’re blue in the face trying to prove that the Catholic Church is fair to women for instance but it’s much easier, much less preachy, to give them an adventure book about Rescue Sisters in Space and challenge them to come up with a book that breaks the Bechdel Test better than that. (That’s Discovery by Karina Fabian if you’re interested.)

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Be a Missionary: There’s an App for That!

Learn about a brand-new way to help the Church’s missions in far-off places, and TWO prizes you can win! I’ve got some swag to give away, and if you sign up soon, you can win a trip for two to Rome!

MISSIO, a unique new Catholic crowdfunding platform designed to make a difference for the poor and forgotten around the world, is now live at MISSIO.org and on the MISSIO app. MISSIO’s revolutionary concept uses technology to directly connect people with a mission project they’re passionate about.

Originally launched by Pope Francis, MISSIO was created by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, the Pope’s official mission arm, which has been engaged in building up the Church and serving the poor for 200 years.

“Pope Francis has urged Catholics around the world to maintain a close and personal connection with the poor, just as Christ did,” said Oblate Father Andrew Small, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. “MISSIO helps you do just that.”

“MISSIO makes the Mission Church visible on your mobile phone or computer screen,” Father Andrew continued. “In a world where everything is so accessible – from deliveries to the sports scores – why shouldn’t your faith, your Church be that visible? MISSIO provides that space, one that is safe, trusted, transparent, reliable – and effective.”



Missio has a social-media presence as well as an app for iOS and Android. You can use Facebook Messenger to participate in a chat with Pope Francis! On Twitter, follow @1missionfamily.

Would you like to win some Missio swag? Just visit the Missio website or download the app, then leave a comment telling me what Missio project most interests you. You’ll be in the running to win a Missio coffee mug and T-shirt!

Giveaway open through 11:59 PM Eastern, February 1. Winner will be chosen by random drawing and notified by email and will have 48 hours to claim their prize. If prize is unclaimed, alternate winner will be chosen.

Some content from this post was provided by Missio.org. All rights reserved. Images used with permission.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, bicker, bicker, bicker

I can’t wait until the election is over.

It’s gotten to the point where I hesitate to go on Facebook, and I’ve been avoiding Twitter.

I know plenty of people who have sworn off social media entirely. I don’t know if that’s helping; it’s certainly not helping those of us who are still there are who are seeing proportionately MORE political stuff, because the folks who don’t want the political stuff aren’t there posting other stuff.

In her Conquering Twitter in Ten Minutes a Day handbook, Katharine Grubb observes,

Facebook is like having a big meal at Applebee’s with your buddies from high school, your college roommates and your parents. Twitter is like going to a sold-out professional football game in Gillette Stadium and having a conversation with the people next to you, while yelling at the guy on the other side cheering for the other team (4).

I’ve always enjoyed social media, and I use it for my job. But right now it’s become a chore. Facebook isn’t like a big meal at Applebee’s right now. It’s more like a bar brawl. I expect chairs to fly through windows any minute.

I’ve maintained that this election is going to be won through the media. Not social media. I still believe that.

But if you are still on social media, would you please do something besides bicker?


This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

"Tech Talk: Permission NOT Granted" @Franciscanmom

Tech Talk: Permission NOT Granted

Back when I was on Team Android, I used an app called SleepCycle as my alarm clock.

The idea behind this app is that you tell it what time you wake up, put the phone on your bed, and then it analyzes your sleep pattern based on movement, using the phone’s accelerometer, waking you up sometime in the half-hour before your target wake-up time, at a point when you were less likely to be in deep sleep. Hitting the snooze will cut the difference between current time and target wake-up time in half. Then you’d see a spiffy display showing your times of deep sleep and light sleep.*

I switched back to Team iPhone last winter, because diabetes-management software for iPhone is several months ahead of the same software for Android. Since I liked the app, I downloaded it to my new iPhone.

When I started up the app, it requested permission to use my device’s microphone. I found that puzzling. The app was really pushy about that, too. It will work with the accelerometer, but “recommends” microphone use. If you use the microphone you can leave the phone on your bedside table instead of on the bed.

"Tech Talk: Permission NOT Granted" @Franciscanmom
Via Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

I’m just not OK with granting access to my phone’s microphone to an alarm-clock app. How do I know that someone’s not on the other side of that microphone listening to what is said in my house–or anywhere else I happen to be with that phone in my hand? It creeps me out.

My friend Christine shared an article at Aleteia that shows that this issue isn’t limited to just alarm clocks. Facebook is listening in as well. Now, I don’t use the Facebook app on my phone or tablet. I look at it in the browser.

But the idea that any of my apps can eavesdrop on things? That’s disturbing.

To see who’s potentially “listening” on an iPhone, just go to Settings>>Privacy>>Microphone, to view the applications that have requested access to the microphone in your device. If you don’t like the idea of apps having access to your microphone, you can turn them off until needed.

To learn how to turn off your Facebook app in an iPhone or Android, click here. (Aleteia)

Check your settings, and think twice about what permissions you grant when you install an app.

*And about that display: I tested it once. I turned on the app during the day and left the phone in the bed, which was empty all day. It still showed an up-and-down pattern. So much for that super-duper analysis of my sleep.


This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

Small Success Thursday: Crazy Week Edition


At CatholicMom.com, we take a moment every Thursday to celebrate those accomplishments that make our week. My schedule has been packed this week, but there are a few things I’m proud to mention.


I put away the Christmas tree over the weekend.


We have a HUGE artificial tree–probably a good 6 feet in diameter–and it takes up a lot of room. We do not have the box for the tree, as it was given to us by friends who couldn’t fit both a gigantic artificial tree and a Rottweiler in their living room. What we DO have is an enormous chest freezer in our backyard shed. It came with the house, but when we tried to plug the freezer in, we found that it doesn’t work. So the Christmas tree, which divides into three parts, lives in the freezer when it’s not in the living room.

We couldn’t get two of the pieces of the tree apart when we first took it down, and with the snow on the ground for months on end, no one wanted to help drag it into the shed. So it sat on our enclosed back porch–it was too cold to use the porch anyway. Finally this weekend we got the pieces apart and I stowed them in the freezer, where spiders and crickets cannot take up residents in its plastic branches.

And I have my porch back–just in time for the nice weather.


I survived three days in a row of substitute-teaching for grades 5 through 8. Even though I’ve known most of these kids since they were in the primary grades, they need to test their limits every time, and they always seem surprised that I don’t put up with much.

On Monday it was raining so we couldn’t have recess at lunchtime. Back in the classroom, the kids all gathered around the computer and googled each others’ names, commenting on the pictures that came up. On Tuesday the playground was still wet so they had to stay inside. They asked to use the computer.

“So you can google each others’ names and then laugh about what you see? No. I think you did enough of that yesterday.”

They just looked at me with wide eyes–they didn’t even try to argue back. Then they found a deck of cards and started a game.



9 percent crazySpeaking of kids and using the internet for ridiculous things and online safety in general, I have a Tech Talk up at CatholicMom.com today about that very subject.

And along the same lines, read this article and go change your passwords. That’s at the top of my to-do list for today.

Do you have a Small Success (or three) to share? Visit the link-up at CatholicMom,com!

Don’t Put It All Out There

iphonefamilyios6_72Everybody with an Apple product is all about iOS7 right now. I’m waiting a bit–partly because I don’t have time today to babysit the new OS as it downloads, partly because I don’t feel like dealing with the learning curve that comes with it, and partly because I figure that if I wait a bit, everyone else will learn things the hard way and write articles about the things you should NOT do when you prepare to download the OS.

Plus I’ll get to play with it a bit, as Hubs put it on the iPad. (For the record, he already doesn’t like it, and he only used it for 5 minutes.)

In the meantime, I’m going to clean up some old stuff on my phone–and back everything up. That’s always a good place to start.

Whether your smartphone is Apple, Android or Windows, though, I’m Talking Tech over at CatholicMom.com today–on the subject of the kind of data we share online.

Bottom line:  be just as careful as you want your children to be.


Beat the Clock

Beat_the_Clock_logoWhen I was a little kid, I used to enjoy watching the game show Beat the Clock, in which teams would have to accomplish silly tasks within a certain time limit.

And I always wanted the game “Perfection.”

It’s all about a race against time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started using the principles behind those games to my advantage when I’m working at my computer. Read more at CatholicMom.com…