a brief history of communication*

communicate

Technological advances have provided us with so many new ways of communicating with each other. It probably started with Thag and Ug gesticulating to each other and making sounds that they mimicked – gradually evolving into a spoken and comprehensible language. Cave paintings at that time of history were perhaps the earliest form of strategy planning – this is what we are looking for and we’re all going to attack it when we see it.

But Thag and Ug could only communicate with each other when within earshot. Maybe blowing into an animal horn or big shell helped with vague instructions and rallying calls, but you still had to be able to hear. Until some bring spark (!) invented fire and then we had the possibility of warning beacons and someone else thought about making smoke signals.

Technological advances from this point onwards seem to have been accelerating at an almost exponential rate. Written language (and the invention of the quill and paper) enabled people to write things down and send them to someone else, perhaps attached to a person or a pigeon (which also provided a tasty snack for the reader). Semaphore and flags enabled more specific communication over distances.

Books and then the printing press were a quantum leap in mass-communication – enabling more people to read the same thing. (Assuming they had been taught to read).The invention of the tin can, coupled with string, gave a brief opportunity for people to speak to each other over distances – limited only by the length of the string and how empty the can was.

And then telegraphs and telegrams and telephones meant that you could speak to anyone, anywhere (so long as they also had access to a receiving unit). Radio enabled longer distance communication without the need for long wires. The next step from radio is television where you can see the person speaking to you.

Innovations on these themes led to satellite communications to speak in (almost) real time around the world. For a while we had pagers (remember them) enabling people to send us a message when we were not at home or in the office. Computers and the Internet then created a whole new way of communicating (email) and bringing that together with the phone produced mobile phones and texting. Video conferencing expanded rapidly at this time, and the ability to create simple websites meant that almost anyone could put their opinions out there for anyone to see: people have visited this blog from almost every country on the planet!

And yet, with all of the technology that we have now, and with all of the innovations that will come, nothing actually beats Thag and Ug in each other’s presence communicating face to face. If you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence.

And so, dear bloggists, I give you the reason for Christmas: if you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence (cue sounds of a baby being born)…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t claim any particular expertise in this area. Don’t rely on this as rigorously researched wisdom, it’s light-hearted speculation to make a point!

the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

happy endings

If they had released the news ten days ago we would all have assumed it was an April Fools Day prank. If it had just come in an email we would have ignored it as a phishing attempt. If it has been a Facebook status that we were urged to share we would have thought it was a sham or a scam.

Server RackBut apparently there is a bug in some security software that was supposed to make internet transactions secure that potentially has the opposite effect and would enable attackers to steal usernames and passwords, copy data and even set up spoof websites that appear legitimate. This loophole has existed for 2 years! The ‘experts’ tell us that there is no evidence that anyone has made use of this bug but we are still being advised to change all our passwords as a precaution. If you think this could be a spoof bloggage have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26954540 (unless of course that is a page that has been set up using the bug…)

It’s scary stuff isn’t it? Especially in a world in which we conduct so many of our transactions online.  And especially when we are urged to have different passwords for all of our different logins and we can’t remember which ones are which! Even more so because we probably login to the same sites from different gadgets so will have to repeat the process several times for each site. I predict that the inconvenience and frustration levels of internet users will rise over the next couple of days as we all try to do what we have been advised but can’t remember all of the details!

How many of us won’t bother? How many of us will assume that it won’t happen to us? After all, how many billions of transactions are taking place online every day, what are the chances that ours will have been intercepted? And the experts tell us that they don’t think anyone has been compromised. So why go through all of the hassle?

Last Sunday morning we looked at a passage from Luke 20 where Jesus issued a warning to the people in Jerusalem about its imminent destruction, while also containing warnings about the end of time. How many people ignored him at their peril when the Romans razed the city to the ground in AD70? The film Noah has just been released which shows a man and his family responding to a divine warning even though it seemed madness to those around them until the rain started falling.

When we talk about warnings about the end of time we can seem a bit bonkers. We can seem like the people who used to walk around with billboards: ‘The End of the World is nigh’ – at best quirky and at worst suffering from some sort of delusion. And for all of those reasons I think Christians have avoided the subject – unless somehow the public spotlight shines on them when they announce the date of the end of the world (and then announce a different date when the first one proves to be wrong).

But all of the scientific evidence points us towards an end time. This planet has finite resources that will run out eventually. The sun is going to expire one day (or night). There are predictions based on probability of cataclysmic asteroid impacts on earth. The environmental impact we have made on our planet is heating it up. And even our economic systems have been shown to be very fragile. We tell ourselves that these events are a long way in the future and are highly unlikely to affect us.

And Jesus did tell us not to try to work out when it will all happen. He simply encouraged people to be ready: “watch and pray.” If we have an eye on the future we will know that this world is not all there is and that one day it will cease – so we can hold much more lightly to the things of ‘now’ that will enable us not to worry so much about them, perhaps reducing stress! And if we are prayerful about it we can invite God’s perspective on who we are and how we are.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Now to change the passwords…

connectivity

networkSomething very interesting happened yesterday. I posted my sermon joke that I had planned to use on Sunday morning but then didn’t use, along with a picture of a sign about the procrastinator’s meeting being postponed. A friend saw the picture and asked me via Facebook where I got it. I was able to tell her and noticed that she posted it on her Facebook page soon afterwards.

(If you click on the picture from yesterday’s joke it will take you to the source website. Getty Images have made many of their images free to use on blogs and social media, but ask that you use the links to embed the image so that it links back to their site. They aren’t free for general use, though, so do pay for them if you are using them elsewhere).

By the end of the day another Facebook friend ‘shared’ the same image which he had seen on one of his Facebook friend’s page – someone I don’t know at all. It had come full circle. I would love to follow the trail to see where the sharing led me but I don’t have the time. But it did remind me just how interconnected we are in the modern social media era.

I have commented before on how surprised I am at the countries from which people view the bloggages I lob out into the ether. Do you know where the Aland Islands are? Me neither, but someone from there seems to have inadvertently landed on my blog (if it’s you and you have come back, BLESS YOU!).

So how can we make the most of this interconnectedness? (I mean more than sharing jokes, funny pictures of cats and wishing friends happy birthday without having to buy them a card…) I can share ideas and thoughts and get reflections from others that I would probably not have considered myself – using the collective wisdom of a cyber-diasporatic community (a new phrase I have coined – you can work it out I’m sure). When I see a friend’s post and comment on it or reply that can remind them that I am thinking of them, or that I exist and it will enhance the connectivity.

And, for me perhaps the most significant thing, when I see a friend in need (and that can be anywhere in the world) I can pray for them. And seeing a friend’s post of good news can also be a trigger for prayer. In fact I could spend a whole day praying for friends who post online. I don’t think it would be a day wasted…

So next time you see a friend’s post online (or even one of mine) why not use it as a prompt to pray for them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

escamgelism

Things were easier when we were less 'connected'
Things were easier when we were less ‘connected’

I am a bit worried about a friend of mine. He’s on holiday in Cyprus and has lost his bag that contains his mobile phone, his wallet and other important items. He has managed to find an internet cafe and sent me an email asking for my help. If I can send him some money by international transfer it will get him out of the difficulty he is in. I am heading off to the bank later.

Before I go, however, there is an investment opportunity that has come my way. It was very fortunate – a complete stranger happened to come across my email address and is offering me the opportunity to invest in a small company that is guaranteed to make enormous profits when it is floated on the stock exchange later this year. So there are two things I need to do at the bank. Or there would be…

If it wasn’t for the other email I received from someone whose father was a Minister in a corrupt government in Africa. Sadly he has died and his daughter wants to redistribute his wealth by giving some of it to worthy causes around the world – including me. If I can just send her some details of my bank account she will arrange for the transfer of millions of pounds.

So what I plan to do is to get the money from the corrupt African official, send some of it to help my friend in Cyprus and invest the rest in the company that will make me even richer. I can then use that money to put into new investment opportunities that I am sure will come flooding in once the internet knows how astute a businessman I am.

Before any of you start sending me messages, yes I do realise that these are all scams. Otherwise being a corrupt millionaire would be a very bad occupation – their life expectancy is very poor. And friends will have to stop going on holiday, or at least contact the British Embassy or Consulate where they are, rather than expecting me to help by email. And there will be thousands of successful small companies about to be floated on the stock exchange. Never mind all the offers of drugs and gizmos that would ‘enhance’ me (how do they know?).

It was an email this morning that sneaked through the spam filter, supposedly from someone I know in trouble in Cyprus that prompted this bloggage. It upsets me that there will be people taken in by these scams. It saddens me that the criminals who are perpetrating these crimes don’t care at all about the impact on the lives of the people they rip off. It annoys me that it is likely to be the more vulnerable in society who will be taken in by these frauds.

Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about the way that people can perceive that cyberspace is not real and fail to consider the consequences of their actions. I think that there is a similar failure on the part of the criminals to consider the consequences of these scams (or more accurately a complete disdain for them). Just because you can’t see someone’s face does not mean that they are not affected by a crime. Just because you don’t know someone does not mean that they do not feel violated by such activities.

It used to be that we could easily avoid being victims of these crimes. Many of these scams work because people are greedy and lazy. We like the idea of getting rich quick. We are keen on the idea of great rewards for minimal effort. If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

But now there are scams that are seeking to exploit someone’s compassion and good will – help a friend in trouble. These can be more persuasive because they are appealing to a better side of human nature. The irony is that they are being perpetrated by people who seem to have lost touch with that side of their character.

Sometimes I think churches can be guilty of similar crimes. We can suggest that you get great reward for minimal effort if you become a Christian. Sadly sometimes that is couched in material terms, but more often it is ‘eternal life in exchange for a prayer’. Whereas Jesus called people to follow him, counting the cost and picking up their cross daily.

And I have been in Christian places where, to put it bluntly, an atmosphere is created that exploits people’s emotions and invites a response that is not God-inspired. It is possible to manufacture a pseudo-spiritual atmosphere. I could offer you the formula if you like (for a fee).

Please God save us from tricking people into your Kingdom. Please God stop us from exploiting people. And please Jesus fill me afresh with your Spirit so I can be a better free sample of you today, and may your churches represent you genuinely and honestly.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

virtual God?

>computer users - a parable?Why do we think that the ‘virtual’ world of the internet and cyberspace is any less real than the physical world we inhabit? It seems to me that some people believe that because it is less tangible it is somehow less real. Is that why some people post abusive, threatening and menacing statements on social networking websites – because they don’t think they are real? They think they are just messing around.

Is it why, during the riots a few years ago, young people posted messages on social networking websites saying that there was going to be another riot somewhere – they thought it was all a joke.

Is it why some people have made inappropriate comments about others at work on social networking websites, or have criticised their bosses online – it’s not real, it’s virtual?

Is it why some people explore the seedier side of the internet because they think that the images and videos are not real?

Because it’s ‘virtual’ people don’t think about the consequences of their actions.

But the hurt, fear and stress caused is real. The threat perceived is real. The possibility of inciting violence is real. The damage to reputations is real. And so are the consequences. People are prosecuted for making threats online, for defamation online, for inciting riots online, and are sacked for comments made online. The people who are exploited to gratify the desires of others are real. The world may be virtual but the consequences of our actions are real.

I think that’s the same with our relationship with God. Doesn’t it sometimes feel ‘virtual’? We can’t physically see him, we can’t physically touch him. Our relationship with him can seem less real because of that. But simply because we can’t see or touch him does not make him any less real, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is less real, and it doesn’t mean that the consequences of ignoring him are less real.

If we are honest with ourselves there are moments for all of us when it feels like our relationship with God is virtual, intangible, unreal. He seems remote, distant, more of a good idea than a reality. But do our thoughts and feelings invalidate the reality? Are the consequences of the actions of those who think that cyberspace is not real any less real because they don’t think about them? Just because you don’t think God is there, or you can’t feel him, it does not mean that he isn’t. It just means that you need to reconnect. Start by reading a Gospel and see God in flesh and blood interacting with people like us. Jesus is not virtual!

Be blessed, be a blessing.