Secure Your Online Life with the Bible (and Good Security Practices)

The New Year is a great time to take inventory of your online security setup.

We can’t control the (now commonplace) security breaches at companies that hold our data, but we can ensure that we don’t have any glaring holes that would make us an easy, vulnerable target.

It’s Not Just About Passwords

We’ll get to strong passwords in a minute, but by now I hope we’ve all learned that passwords alone can’t fully protect us. Here are a few things that can help offer additional layers of protection.

Things to Do Right Now

  1. Two-Factor Authentication – This is probably the most powerful and easiest security feature to turn on. Every major social network and credible banking system will have this feature which requires two things to login – your password and a second physical thing like a text message, device, or fingerprint.
  2. Avoid Debit Cards – If someone steals your credit card, you can simply decline false charges and not pay them. But if someone steals your debit card, the money they use is gone and much harder to get back. Racking up debt with a credit card is bad, but if you use your money wisely to begin with, then you’re safe with a credit card.

Things to Consider

  1. One-Time Credit Card Numbers – Bank of America, Citi, and others allow you to generate a one-time use (or multiple use with an expiration date) credit card number you can use for online transactions. For sites you plan to only use once this can be great. However, you might avoid it if you think you’ll return the item or if you’re reserving a hotel or rental card where you need to show the card in person to verify.
  2. Alternate Email Addresses – For a long time, I’ve used a common email address across a lot of accounts, but based on the recommendations I’m seeing creating additional less public emails for networks can make it harder to link all of a person’s accounts or use those addresses for phishing attacks.
  3. Alternate Phone Numbers – Again, listing the same phone number publicly in several accounts makes that number less secure. Having a secondary, less public number like a Google Voice account that you use for Two-Factor can strengthen your overall security.

Good Passwords Are Strong and Unique

What undergirds all the practices above is having a good system of passwords, and that means they need to be both strong and unique.

  • Strong passwords – A strong password is one that can’t be easily guessed by a machine, and a password becomes stronger when it either uses more characters (not just the 26 lowercase letters, but also uppercase, numbers, and symbols), or is very long, or both.
  • Unique passwords – Even if you have the strongest password in the world, if you use it for Facebook, your bank, and your email, once that password is lost, you’ll be out of luck.

One of the best ways to ensure that you have strong, unique passwords for each website or service is to turn off your browser’s default username/password use a tool like 1Password or KeePass. These tools can generate very strong passwords and manage them for you across websites and browsers.

The Problem with “Strong Passwords”

Even if you use 1Password, KeePass, or another tool, you still need at least one good, strong master password that’s not written down anywhere and isn’t recorded in another electronic tool. Further, whether or not you use a manager, the password requirements for many websites can sometimes cause more problems than they solve. Most websites attempt to help you create a strong password by requiring that your password meet the following criteria:

  • 8 or more characters
  • Upper and lowercase
  • At least one number
  • At least one symbol

In theory, these requirements are a great way to force people to make strong passwords. However, in practice, the past few decades have shown that there are several problems with these 8-letter strong passwords:

  1. It’s hard for humans to remember a truly random set of characters, so we often take a common word and replace a few letter with symbols (a => @, s => $).
  2. Because even that is hard to remember, we use the same password for dozens of websites and that makes us vulnerable.
  3. An 8 character password that meets the above requirements is actually not as secure as a longer password with all lowercase letters.

On the last point, this brilliant XKCD comic points out the vast security difference between a short “complex” password and a longer “simple” password

XKCD

  • Tr0ub4or&3 = 28 bits of entropy, 3 days for computer to guess (1000/sec)
  • correcthorsebatterystaple = 44 bits of entropy, 550 years for a computer to guess

It turns out that 24 letters instead of 10 letters – even without uppercase, number, or symbols – is much, much more secure. And, it’s way easier to remember.

The problem is that many websites won’t let you make passwords like “ilovejesusandpumpkinpie” even if it is several orders of magnitude more secure because they still require uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

The Bible as a Strong Password Generator

So here’s a fun solution that can meet both the requirements of websites and manage to be more secure: A Bible reference.

Take a look at the following well-known reference:

John3:16

It has (1) upper and (2) lowercase letters, (3) numbers, and (4) a symbol (see opening graphic). This means it (1) meets most password security requirements, and (2) it’s easy to remember.

You can have lots of fun thinking of references that are little inside jokes to yourself, such as “1Chronicles4:10” (for your bank) or “Leviticus3:16” (for your fitness tracker) or “Exodus34:35” (for Facebook).

But, there are two important caveats. First, common references like “John3:16” are probably the “password123” of bad Christian passwords, and the ones I mentioned above might be overused due to their inherent hilarity. So please  you avoid using anything that’s ever been written on Tim Tebow’s face or turned into a multi-million dollar empire.

Second, as some commenters pointed out (thanks fellas!), it is possible that someone could attempt to hack passwords that fit the Bible verse pattern, so it’d be best to also include a random word or two that will both lengthen the password and increase its overall entropy/security.

John3:16 – meets password standards, but is still hackable
John3:16pumpkinroof – meets password standards, plus more entropy

In summary, it’s always best to use long, random passwords from a generator, but for this few that you need to remember yourself, if you can meaningful but uncommon references and add one or two random words to it, then combined with the security practices above, you should be well on your way to a more secure 2017.

Special thanks to Robert Estienne for inventing the modern versification system :)

The Shocking/Sobering Reason There Are No Trump Supporters on Your Facebook Feed

If you’re anything like me, you probably have Facebook friends across the political spectrum, and over the past few months you’ve seen a range of posts from young idealists feeling the Bern to staunch conservatives who Trust Ted.

But there is one glaring exception: the bewildering avalanche of articles denouncing Donald Trump and the mystifying absence of a single pro-Trump post.

So what accounts for this? Why do many of us see people posting pro and con on all the other candidates, but only negative things about Trump?

Where Are All the Trump Supporters?

When you think about it there are only a few options

  1. Trump supporters don’t actually exist
  2. Trump supporters aren’t using Facebook or the Internet
  3. I’m not Facebook friends with any Trump supporters
  4. Facebook isn’t showing me any pro-Trump news

Yes, Let’s take these one at a time.

A few months ago, the first option might have seemed plausible. Surely this is all just a fun stunt for Trump, and he might have some supporters, but he won’t actually get votes, right? However, primary after primary has proven this to be yuuuugely wrong. Donald Trump has tens of millions of living, breathing, voting supporters. The are real, and they are making their voices and votes count.

So what if Trump supporters just don’t post on Facebook? That doesn’t seem likely because this map of candidate Likes (HT: Tim Hutchings) shows that there are indeed many, many Facebook users who support Trump. And they aren’t avoiding anti-Trump articles either. Whenever I click on a “Why Trump is Bad for America” post, I see dozens of pro-Trump comments below the article. As his support grows, it’s also apparent that some people are embarrassed to be supporting him and so they keep quiet about it, but that doesn’t yet appear to be a majority of his supporters.

Is it possible, then, that I (and presumably ‘we’) don’t have any Trump-supporting friends on Facebook and that’s why we don’t see any posts in his favor? In person, I’ve only heard one couple friend (or really acquaintance) of mine offer strong support of Trump, so it seems very likely that few of the Facebook friends I’ve accumulated over the years support him.

This all means its possible that there are Trump supporters among my 500+ friends, and that leads to the another possible explanation for why I don’t see their posts — Facebook just isn’t showing them to me. Is this a Zuckerbergian conspiracy, or is something else going on?

Your Facebook is a Mirror

No it’s not a conspiracy. If Facebook isn’t showing my any pro-Trump posts from friends, it’s because it knows I probably don’t want to hear that message from those people.

My patterns over the last ten years – whose baby pictures I’ve liked, whose articles I clicked on, who I “respectfully disagreed with,” what ads I’ve clicked, even the posts I scrolled to and paused on for a few moments without clicking anything – all of that has been recorded, analyzed, and processed in order to create something Facebook knows I’ll like.

That Facebook’s job. Figure out what I like, and keep it coming, so I’ll return again and again. This might be a time to trot out fun statements like, “If a service is free, you’re the product,” but in this case, I think something deeper is a work.

Who Are “Those People”?

In his article, A Message from Trump’s America, Michael Cooper reminds us the majority of Trump supporters come from a large, neglected group of Americans – working class white people. They don’t make a lot of money, they are struggling to put food on the table, and they are frustrated that no one seems to be listening and no one seems to care. He writes:

His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.

What’s worse is that there is a popular narrative that says only working class people are racist bigots and can be dismissed easily. However, in reality there appears to be plenty of racists among the highly educated as well. So it’s easy to say those working class supporters are wrong, but the shocking and sobering reality of Trump’s rise is that it exposes how utterly cut off most of us are from an entire class of people in need. People in need of compassion and grace, not condescension and more anger.

When I read Cooper’s description above, it doesn’t sound like the kind of person I seek out regularly. And it certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of person who could entertain me on Facebook, post an amazing photo on Instagram, or have a super interesting Periscope channel.

We tend to see only what we want to see, and social media is very good and showing us what we want to see.

The media we consume is so good at regurgitating the story we want hear, that an entire nation has been caught off guard by the presence of a class of people so desperate for change that they would support anyone – literally anyone – who will listen.

Post script: As Trump amasses more votes, he also seems to be getting more vocal supporters who don’t fit the original demographic – Chris Christie, Ben Carson, a pastor in my area who seem to enjoy media attention, lots of embarrassed people, educated people, etc. It’s likely that this “Trump as pragmatic choice” will continue right up to the nomination and possibly election.

But don’t let that distract you from the strange truth that from July 2015 to March 2016, many, many people thought Trump didn’t have a chance, and they thought this because they (including me) weren’t aware of the feelings of a massive group of people, some of them hurting quite badly. And our media echoed that back to us so strongly that for a time we believed they didn’t exist.

Declining Religion in America? There’s an App for That

Image: Hugh McLeod – http://www.gapingvoid.com/

This week, the Pew Research Center released a sweeping study tracking the precipitous decline in religious affiliation in the US since 2007. While commentators are debating the role of factors like theology, birthrates, and immigration, it’s also interesting to note that 2007 was the same year that Apple released the iPhone and Google announce Android.

Of course, it’d be silly blame the smartphone for the decline of religion and the rise of the “nones,” but it’s hard not to think that our collective worship of the glowing rectangles in our pocket doesn’t play at least some representative part in these broader cultural shifts.

Technology and the Secularization Thesis

To explain the decline of religion in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, sociologists of religion posited the Secularization Thesis, which argues that when education, democracy, and science spread, religion eventually loses its authority, and secularism becomes dominant. In other words, the more Europe modernized, the less religious it became.

However, for much of the twentieth century, the Secularization Thesis never quite worked in the US. Religious faith here remained strong, and the growth of Islam around the world and Christianity in Latin America, Asia, and Africa forced sociologists to reconsider just how secularization works.

And yet, while secularization doesn’t appear to work in a simple manner in all cases, it’s also important to note how deeply it is tied to technology. In The Homeless Mind, Peter Berger, wrote that modernization is essentially, “the transformation of the economy by means of technology.” In this understanding, it would seem that technology would have to play at least some role in the move toward secularization and the rise of the “nones.”

The One Perk No Googler Wants

I recently saw a visible representation of how technological progress can squeeze out religion, however unintentionally. A few months ago, I had the chance to tour Google’s main campus in Mountain View, CA, and a bright, articulate, young Googler pointed out interesting details such as the first servers Sergey and Larry ever used and the much talked about perks like free food around every corner, Octobikes, full service laundry, child care, nursing rooms, and on and on.

As we walked, it occurred to me that just about the only thing lacking from the Google campus was some visible, physical representation of faith. Of course, most employers don’t provide chapels in their workplace and in that regard Google certainly isn’t exceptional. But Google and other Silicon Valley companies are exceptional in the number of perks and benefits they offer to entice and keep employees. Other multi-cultural centers of commerce like airports and universities have interfaith spaces, so why don’t big tech firms?

I think part of the answer is simply that no one asks for a chapel. And no one asks for a chapel because it would be at odds with the central selling proposition of Silicon Valley—progress. Unlike an Octobike or a massage pod, which reinforce the idea that technology can solve problems, a chapel might remind us of long-forgotten needs that technology cannot meet.

The gods in Our Pocket

Today, the mythology of progress, long championed in the business and tech sectors, calls to us moment by moment from our pockets. As a culture, we spend enormous amounts of time discussing the growth of screen sizes, increases in Internet access, the development in apps—progress, progress, progress we tell ourselves.

At the same time, we fill nearly every waking moment with beeps, vibrations, and reminders, drowning out any chance that our soul might surface a needs no device can meet. The more we use our devices, the more we find ourselves inculcated with the idea that our primary needs in life are those things that technology can meet. “There’s an app for that” thinking is so ubiquitous that when there’s not an app for something, it seems like it might not even be a real problem. How many of us have tried to solve our business or lack of spiritual discipline with an app?

Perhaps in this climate, it’s not so much of a stretch to say that technological culture in general and the smartphone in particular was at least partially responsible for cutting off the vestigial limb of religion dangling from many Americans at the turn of the century. Now that progress-oriented technology is a permanent fixture in the life of nearly every person in the country, it’s not surprising fewer are finding a need for religion in their lives.

Does the Church Have Anything to Offer?

Cultural change always feels threatening to the church, but past upheavals have also provided a chance for the church to refocus on its core identity. In a world where many people already have their physical needs met by technological means, the church has to figure out what it uniquely offers the world.

Google will always have more information, Spotify will always have better music, and Starbucks will always (arguably) have better coffee. But information, music, and coffee are not the trade of the church. Ours is truth, worship, and communion which together offer us not a product we can download and consume with diminishing return, but an inexhausible encounter with a living being, the risen Christ.

What Can We Learn about Video Churches from Mars Hill’s Closing?

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but I did put together a piece about the video satellite model of churches for OnFaith. As I write in the piece, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the model since I want to favor in-the-flesh personal encounters and avoid celebrity preachers and branded models of church.

However, when I actually talked to churches using this model, I found that some of them had actually thought through a lot of the common objections and come up with creative ways to overcome them. Here’s how it starts:

At the Acts 29 Conference in Dallas, Texas last week, the recent events surrounding Mark Driscoll and the network he founded were in the air. But as one attendee commented to me, the pastors there weren’t focused on Driscoll himself so much as what they could learn from Mars Hill Church’s recent decision to dissolve its video-powered network of 13 churches.

As of January 2015, each Mars Hill Church location will either become an independent church or will cease to exist. And as the satellite model of churches continues to develop nationwide wide, the larger question, not just for Mars Hill but for churches and denominations of all kinds, is whether the video satellite model is a viable way to do church.

Continue reading: Is the End of Mark Driscoll’s Church a Sign for Satellite Churches?

What Form of Video Best Addresses Phone Addiction & Isolation?

We all know the basic message: “put down your phone” “talk to a real person,” and “pay attention.” And we’ve probably all noticed the irony of people use social media to post videos that contain these messages and warn about  the dangers of social media.

As I’ve been watching these, I noticed that some struck me as quite powerful while others as predictable and even boring. Why is this? Is there a simple reason why some of these videos more effective than others? Why do some make us stop for a moment, but others are easy to dismiss?

Below is a small sample of a few of these videos representing the various ways they use video: direct speaking messages, some use infographics, and some are wordless stories. Watch them, and see which you think are most powerful.

Look Up (4:59) – Lyrical Presentation

The second half has a heart-tugging story element with a strong A/B storyline. It felt a little long and a tad predictable, but the lyrical style kept me interested.

Innovation of Lonelineness (4:20) – Infographics

The animations and graphics on this video are incredibly well done. They kept me watching even when I felt like the message was too strong and one-sided.

I Forgot My Phone (2:10) – Wordless Story

I think this video is the most powerful, because it was short, it told a story, and it avoided an omniscient narrator. To me, this made the message clearer and the emotional impact deeper.

Video as a Visual Medium

I appreciate each of these videos and want to thank the creators of each for their hard work. But I think the reason the final video seemed most powerful to me was that it uses video as a purely visual medium and communicates through images rather than propositions.

In the first two videos, the narrator tells the story, and he tells you what to think about the story. That means the visuals are secondary. The images, video, and graphics are only a supporting element to the statements the speaker is making. But if you didn’t have those statements, you’d still get mostly the same message. [tweetable]In the final video, everything essential is communicated visually, through the main characters eyes[/tweetable].

Even when there is a particularly powerful visual element in the first two videos, the narrator breaks in with statements and propositions, forcing your brain to enter into a more logical mode and making the video secondary. I think this is why the narrators chose a lyrical presentation rather than a more direct style of speech, because they intuited that they needed something more compelling that direct propositions.

And yet, I think [tweetable]the final video is still more powerful because the message is communicated entirely without words[/tweetable]. The power of that video is derived solely from its visuals, and the audio is secondary and supportive rather than the other way around.

Let me know if there are videos you find more or less powerful and how the medium itself contributes to that power (or lack thereof).

Kids Are Addicted to Social Media Because Parents Are Addicted to Control

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as the headline makes it seem.

But new data suggests that while the often heard complaint, “Kids these days spend all their time online rather than face-to-face,” may be true, it’s not true for the reasons we think. No, today’s under-18 crowd is not made up of degenerates who don’t like human contact. Rather, they want face-to-face time as much as we did, it’s just that their parents won’t let them have it.

Parents Controlled by Fear

Its ComplicatedIn her forthcoming book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, dana boyd interviews teens about their social media usage versus time in person. In almost all cases she found that the students said they would much rather spend time face-to-face, but they cannot because, well, their parents won’t let them.

Two major cultural shifts seem to be at the root of this. The first is that many of today’s youth are over-scheduled with sports, school activities, community service, and so on, all in an effort to be visible in an increasingly competitive college admissions process. This means they have very little down time to rest or be with friends.

When teens do have a little precious free time, the second cultural shift takes over. Today’s parents are much less likely to let their kids roam free, exploring the outdoors, riding bikes, going over to the friend’s house down the street, or engage in other unstructured activities. Ben Wiseman of Wired suggest that this parental tightening began when, “over the [past] three decades, the media began delivering a metronomic diet of horrifying but rare child-abduction stories, and parents shortened the leash on their kids.”

In other words, 24-hour news coverage of kidnappings made it seem like American neighborhoods are less safe when, statistically speaking, there are fewer kidnappings than when today’s parents were kids. But today’s parents (the same ones who get all their parenting advice from online sources) scared by the unstoppable torrent of violent images and stories, respond by keeping their kids sequestered at home.

What Kids Really Want

danah’s data and conclusions shouldn’t surprise thinking Christians. Our understanding of humanity teaches us that every man, woman, child, and teen was created in the image of a deeply relational Truine God. Certainly some of that “image” is our longing for contact, community, and presence.

But left in solitary confinement with nothing but an internet connected device, today’s kids have little choice. They desperately want human connection, but the only parentally-allowed way to image the Triune God is to use Snapchat, Facebook, or the flavor of the week. As boyd puts it, “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They are addicted to each other.”

So the next time you see a checked out kid on her phone, remember that there might be more going on that what you see outwardly. This doesn’t mean that we need to turn kids into victims or excuse every negative, narcissistic behavior. What it does mean is that saying “Turn off your phone” doesn’t address the very real social and culture issues at the root, nor does it offer a compelling alternative.

To an over-scheduled teen under constant parental surveillance “Turn off your phone” basically means “Go to your room and be alone.” That’s no good either. Without real, unstructured time with friends, kids can’t develop the healthy social interactions today’s adults long for them to have.

[Note: I say all this as a parent of preschoolers, so my time is coming!]

10 Years of Facebook

In the first act of The Social Network, the movie depicting the origin Facebook, we are introduced to a fictionalized version Mark Zuckerburg who, after being spurred by his girlfriend and overlooked by Harvard’s elite final clubs, begins creating facemash.com, a site that lets visitors vote on which of their classmates is better looking.

After a night of beer chugging and code writing, Zuckerburg unleashes his creation on the Harvard campus which both delights and disgusts his classmates. Director Aaron Sorkin then juxtaposing scenes of students gathered around laptops ogling pictures of female coeds on facemash.com with students gathered around tables watching scantily clad women dance at the final club parties.

In this sequence, Sorkin seems to be asking us, “What is the relationship between these two worlds – the ogling women online and the ogling women in person, that of flesh and blood and that of bits and pixels?” Sorkin never ventures an answer, and ten years after the launch of what was then called “thefacebook,” it’s a question we’re still trying to answer.

Online vs. Offline is Dead

When Facebook started, there was still a raging debate that pitted the “real world” against the “virtual world.” In the ensuing years, confidence in this simple dualism has eroded, with researchers, pundits, and bloggers alike recognizing that the relationship between the two is more fluid and dynamic.

Online and offline interact with one another, influence each other, and augment one another, but they never exist in isolation. Even those that choose not to use Facebook still communicate and relate to others through forms of media (phones, letters, and so on), and one must look at the ecosystem of media as a whole rather than isolate one strand and pin various social ills or benefits on upon it.

This is part of the Sorkin’s genius depiction of Facebook’s birth. He shows that the two worlds are so inextricably intertwined that they are really one world. He doesn’t say it’s the one world that God made, but I think that’s the conclusion to which Christians should come.

Rather than see “online” and “virtual” as two magically distinct spheres, one fully incarnate and the other its discarnate doppelganger, Christians especially must affirm that the entire created order, including all that humans create (yes all that “virtual” stuff) is part of one continuous spectrum of creation over which God have complete dominion and control and through which God’s Spirit is actively working.

The Interactions Are More Complex Than We Acknowledge

While we are breaking down the online vs. offline dualism, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the interactions between the technology and culture are more complex than initially imagined. One still doesn’t have to look far to find one person offering effusive praise of the new world of social networking and another offering outright condemnation of all things Internet. But happily it also doesn’t take a terribly long view or much data to see that both of these extremes miss the complexity of what’s really happening. Take for example the idea that “Kids spend all their time online rather than face-to-face.” Statistically speaking teens may in fact be spending less together face-to-face, but to link this effect exclusively to the cause of Facebook is both wrong and unhelpful.

Its ComplicatedIn her forthcoming book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, Dana Boyd interviews teens who say they’d much rather spend time face-to-face, but they cannot because, well, their parents won’t let them. It turns out that today’s kids are overscheduled (bowing to extreme pressure for college admissions) and today’s parents are overly fearful (while kidnapping and crime is down in America, 24 hour coverage of gruesome crimes contributes to a general state of fear among parents). Left in solitary confinement with nothing but an internet connected device, kids have little choice. They desperately want human connection, and the only parentally-allowed way to image the Truine God is to go online.

So the problem of “less face-to-face” time isn’t simply caused by social media and neither is social media merely a symptom of some deeper boogey man whose secrets are only available in a book or special conference. Instead there is always complex ecosystem of cultural forces.

Even when Facebook itself is making terrible commercials encouraging narcissism and self-focus (see below), we must also take into account the spiritual forces at work, the “powers and principalities” of which Paul writes and about which Wormwood’s uncle encourages us to forget. Christians have a vocabulary of spirit and flesh and of word and spirit that can add richness, power, and depth to the comparatively anemic ideas of narcissism, privacy, and identity.

The Questions Change as Both We and Facebook Age

And yet, for all this talk of complexity, over its 10-year existence Facebook has made an undeniable impact on society and individuals. Ten years may not seem like a long time, but it’s long enough to see that Facebook has come to have different meanings at different stages in our lives, and that these meanings shift as we age.

Early adopters of Facebook, who were then scruffy college kids, are now approaching the threshold of untrustworthiness, the age of 30. Where they once used Facebook to update their “relationship status” and Poke one another, they moved on to sharing wedding photos, and eventually parenting advice, and now Vitamix coupons. The then bewildered 40 and 50-somethings who didn’t “get it” when Facebook launched are now grandparents who have gone from joining Facebook to see baby pictures (which are no longer mailed to them) to using Facebook independently to share the thoughts that didn’t have an outlet in their earlier lives.  And then there are today’s teens who were never given the chance to know a world without the word “selfie,” and whose use of social media will, too, evolve as they enter college and the workforce.

Many of these same people have now deleted their account in disgust with the entire social media enterprise only to rejoin again in order to reconnect with loved ones who no longer call or write. Some are on their third of fourth account, and many of us maintain multiple accounts on different networks that we use for different purposes. We often complain about the system, but we also recognize that it is a new and constant part of our reality.

The Continuum of Home, Work, and Play

So in this new reality what role should social media play in our lives and in the lives of our communities? How has our conception of identity and relationship shifted? Can we just unplug and things will get back to normal?

Long ago, it was expected that the way one interacted with professionally with co-workers was different from the intimacy afforded in marriage and different yet again from one’s orientation to one’s children or one’s parents, and different still from a relationship with a long-time friend or pal at the gym.

But by today’s standards, acting differently in these scenarios might be considered “inauthentic.” To be “genuine” today, one must be the same in every sphere of life. Interestingly, this is just what most social networks require – a single, flat identity equally discoverable by anyone. A teacher cannot have a different Facebook relationship (in its current iteration) with her students than she has with her mother, and a student’s relationship to parents, teachers, and friends must be the same as well.

As we’ve previously mentioned, such shifts are multi-variant; we cannot blame them soley on Facebook. In the same 10 years, the physical distinction between one’s job, one’s home, one’s leisure, and one’s school have been blurred by economic and technological forces, each playing on one another.

The cumulative effect of these forces has allowed (or forced) many Christians to re-examine fairly basic concepts like discipleship, preaching, and Sabbath. To take just one of these areas – Sabbath – we know taking a break from “work” is a biblical idea, but when our work machines are also our leisure machines and our social machines, where can we go to truly rest? We can unplug the laptop to stop working during out Sabbath, but what if we need it to socially connect through Facebook? If stopping the use of media is important for true rest, what other technologies might we also give up?

Such questions bring us back to Sorkin’s original question: What is the relationship between the offline and online, the physical and the digital world? It seems that simplistic, binary answers don’t offer us much hope. We must proceed carefully and with perhaps more discipline than previously thought.

A Mirror and a Window

What I hope is emerging from these questions is a sense that looking deeply into Facebook and its impact is not altogether different from looking closely at humanity itself. This is not to say that Facebook is humanity or that Facebook is inert. To the contrary, our global culture has undergone some big changes in the past decade, and Facebook is one of the forces behind that change.

What I mean to say is that the benefits and problems we attribute to Facebook are in many ways a reflection of the two sides of our humanity as the Scriptures portray it.  Every thoughtful post, every beautiful image, every impactful campaign is rooted in the stamp of God’s image embedded on every Facebook account’s human. And every case of bullying, every self-focused rant, and every single game of Candy Crush betrays our brokenness and need for Christ to finish his work of redemption in us.

Facebook can be a convenient punching bag for all kinds of social ills, but it can also offer us a window into the struggles and beauties of a human race that still bears God’s image and which is in need of a complete resurrection.

I think our understanding of technology is clearest when we can carefully take into account its downsides while also seeing its benefits as pointers and foretastes of the resurrection. To that end, I’ll leave you with this commercial from Microsoft. It of course places too much hope in technology itself, but if you can see past the technology and see the time and place to which it points, it is indeed encouraging.

How Churches of the Future Will Use Technology to Overcome Ice Storms

From Wallpixr.com
From Wallpixr.com

Today, churches all over the country cancelled services because of dangerous, icy road conditions. Many resorted to online only streaming services and pre-recorded events from years past.

Thankfully technology is coming that will ensure churches never again have to close their doors during a storm.

1. Powerless lighting

Technological advances may one day create a kind of lighting system capable of running even when electricity is unavailable. It sounds like science fiction, but it may one day make worship possible around the clock.

2. Unamplified Instruments

Even “pagans” want this one – instruments capable of generating sound without the use of amplifiers. Now we just need vocalists who can sing without monitors – perhaps an entire group of them signing together would work!

3. Genetically Modified Transportation Animals

As a genetics major, I’m really excited about this one. It’s possible that during our lifetime animals may be created that can traverse even the iciest fields. I’m told they also have built in navigation systems capable of avoiding other drivers.

4. Pastoral Housing

As churches grow larger, it is likely that they will soon be able to include rooms for pastors to live in, ensuring the flock will never be without its shepherd.

5. Local Messaging Systems

To find out what was happening at my church, I first checked the website and then was directed to Facebook. In the future, some churches may opt to put large metal objects on top of their buildings that, when struck by another metal object, could carry audio messages to the surrounding community.

Until the future arrives, stay warm my friends!

Microsoft’s Tragically Unironic Promotion of the 24 Hour Workday

A few weeks ago, the Microsoft Office blog posted an infographic showing how the new  Office 365 products allow workers to get more done since the tools are now available everywhere – in every room of the house, at the kids’ soccer games, in bed, and so on.

I know they are trying to show how good the Office 365 products are, but when you look at the infographic below it really looks like something made by someone with a darkly sarcastic sense of humor, mocking our inability to disconnect.

It seems like it would be better marketing to show that you can get your work done faster so you don’t have to work during happy hour, in bed, at the game, or on the toilet.

microsoft-all-day-work

Update: the great folks at 37Signals seems to have felt the same about Microsoft’s promotion and countered with their own #WorkCanWait campaign.

Check out their tongue-in-cheeck update below and then go to their website to create your own:

work-can-wait

 

Airplane Mode is Gone: Now You Never Have To Talk to a Stranger Again

Airplane Mode

In a long-awaited announcement, the FAA will stop requiring passengers to turn off phones and computers during take-off and landing.  Under the old rules you had to keep them off (“that’s fully off and powered down, not airplane mode, not hidden in your pocket” as some flight attendants used to say) until the airplane rose above 10,000, but that ceiling has now been removed.

You still can’t actually talk on the phone, but you can keep reading, playing games, or writing emails as long as you like. Apparently, while the FAA used to say that phone signals could interfere with the plane, they now that’s not usually the case although carriers must demonstrate that their planes can withstand the interference. Here’s the statement:

Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – i.e., no signal bars displayed—and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones. If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.

faa_ped_flight

So What Does it Mean?

Airline takeoff and landing was probably one of the final places in modern life where phones were absolutely not tolerated. It stood out as the place where you couldn’t readily turn away from an awkward (or interesting) conversation. Now that this ban is gone, it seems a whole line of stand-up and sitcom humor will almost be completely forgotten.

I don’t of course think this is the downfall of society or a major breakdown in face-to-face reality. I personally love working on a plane where I don’t have all the distractions of my office or home, but I have read reports that people today have much less eye-contact with other human beings than they once did and this contributes to depression and other problems. So I do lament what the represents even if, like most of us, I’m glad for the change and what it means for my personal productivity.