How's Your I/O?

Back in the early 90’s I found myself transitioning from my first career in telecommunications into my second, into the nascent field of computer networking. PCs and Macs were selling like crazy and all kinds of companies were gearing up with them. Once they bought them, they naturally wanted these new computers to talk to each other and to the legacy mainframe computers they’d been using for years. It was a great opportunity for me to return to school and learn some cutting edge technology—how to make these very different types of machines communicate with each other. 

One of the foundational concepts I learned early on was that of “I/O”, short for Input/Output. If you’re interested in the technical specifics of that, please feel free to read about it here: I/O  

Briefly put, I/O means pretty much what it sounds like it means. For computers to be useful and productive they need to be able to accept Input. Generally speaking, that comes from the human operator or some other type of device or even another computer. With the proper input, the computer can produce good output. Sounds simple, right? 

You’d think so, but just like our real life in the analog world, things in the digital world can quickly get complicated and confusing. When it does, it can be helpful to stop and ask, “How is my input?” In other words, can I really expect to see coherent, useful output if my input is somehow flawed or lacking?  Probably not.  Another slogan that came out of that era says it well, “Garbage in, garbage out.” 

My technology days are receding ever further into the past, but that concept of I/O is still practical and helpful to me. In my current life transition, I’ve found that I can easily get lost in the weeds. So many tasks to get done, so many new things to learn--right now! If I lose sight of the big picture and begin to focus on the details I feel overwhelmed. Paralysis creeps in and I can waste precious time on peripheral concerns instead of the central ones that will truly move me forward into this new phase of life.

So I’ve recently found clarity and focus in once again asking myself that old tech question, “How’s your I/O, Dan?”  

Sometimes it turns out that my I/O has become too asymmetrical. If all I’m engaged in is output, with no input, it doesn’t take long before I produce little to no quality output. If, on the other hand, I’m only taking in input, input, input, my buffers fill up and I begin to feel that I may  halt and catch fire  . Sometimes I choose poor input….. too much social media for example.  

To produce good output, I need to take in relevant, quality input. In order to write, to teach, to mentor, to offer spiritual direction (all output) I need to have a good stream of input. Good input for me is reading, meditating, praying, listening, silence, stillness, walking, being outside in nature, dining with friends and family, meeting with my spiritual director. It’s really a pretty long, enjoyable list and this is only a sampling. 

Sometimes the input is directly related to the output I hope to achieve. For example, if I’m studying to teach on a specific topic, or organizing an event or cohort my own study and preparation may start out as enjoyable input.  Somewhere along the line, though, it can drift over into the output side of the ledger. It becomes hard work—output. That doesn’t mean I drop it and walk away. But I do need to recognize that it is output, and it will need to be balanced with some good input along the way.  Attention and calibration are my magic words.

I’m the only one who can monitor and calibrate my I/O. As I plan each day, week, or month it’s so helpful to note the I/O balance and make adjustments when needed. Even God decreed that we’re to have six days of output, then one day of input. Every week.

I find that for me to be productive and to keep moving forward I need to be aware of my I/O status. Some days or weeks may necessitate more output than normal.  As long as I pay attention to, and periodically calibrate the symmetry of my I/O, that’s OK.  

When I started hunting for a suitable URL for PilgrimHeart I discovered that the usual .com, .org, and .net domains were unavailable. Then my son, Ian, pointed out one of the newer domains, “.io” was available. I didn’t even know that domain existed. So even though it’s a bit off the beaten path, it instantly clicked. I/O already had meaning  and history for me. It felt right when I settled on

Having the heart of a pilgrim in this world makes sense to me. Learning to follow the path God reveals step by step is my own pilgrimage. Learning to calibrate my I/O helps me stay true to that path in a sustainable way. It’s simple, which I like a lot, and it helps me to focus each day on what Eugene Peterson has famously called those “unhurried rhythms of grace”.  

How’s your I/O?