a brief history of communication*


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!


Some of you will have deduced from the increased flow of bloggages that I am now back in harness. The shoulder surgery seems to have been successful and while it is still painful to move in some directions I am gaining greater mobility each day (thank you if you prayed or asked about it). The house move went well and (despite the weather) the shed is now built and is ready for us to fill it with gubbins from the garage to release that space… (see Tuesday’s bloggage for details about the sequencing).

Today is a day dedicated to writing. There are some documents I have been working on that are unfinished and need more attention, and yesterday I promised that I would write something else for a meeting coming up next month. Of course, when I say ‘writing’ I mean that I will be putting fingers to keyboard, or I might use my voice recognition software (although I may get complaints from the room next door as the walls are not soundproofed).

fountain-penBut only a few years ago if I had said I was going to do some writing I would have meant that I was going to pick up one of those ancient artefacts known as a ‘pen’ and make symbols on some parchment that resemble letters, numbers and words. It’s archaic, I know, but there are times when I still do that. Even though there are touch screens, voice controls, mice and keyboards that make interacting with technology very easy there is something pleasant, perhaps even therapeutic, about taking a pen and writing on paper. I even use a fountain pen with a nib sometimes!

Oh, nostalgia… it’s not what it used to be.

When Jesus was responding to some of his critics he told a couple of slapstick parables (Luke 5):

36 He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, “The old is better.”’

It’s ridiculous to buy a new coat and cut out a patch from it to repair an old one. And if ytou were going to store new, still fermenting wine you needed new, flexible wineskins (leather bottles that preceded glass ones) that would expand as the fermentation took place. If you used old, rigid wineskins they would burst.

But Jesus seems to be commending nostalgia at the end of this, doesn’t he? Which is strange bearing in mind what he had been saying beforehand. I think, bearing in mind the slapstick humour and the thrust of the parables that new is good, he was parodying the intransigent, reluctant-to-change attitude he had encountered from his critics. He was talking about and demonstrating God’s new, exciting, radical Kingdom and inviting people to be part of it but instead some were preferring the comfortable, fusty, safe ways of the past.

How often have we missed out on what God is doing because we’ve never done it that way before?

Be blessed, be a blessing


The Bible has been updated. It’s true. It happened this morning. I had a message on my phone that said, “Successfully updated ‘Bible'”. I am not sure what updates they have made, but it will be interesting finding out. Perhaps they have taken out the gory bits or the sexy bits or the difficult bits.

Or perhaps, as seems more likely, it was simply my phone alerting me to the fact that the Bible app I have installed on my phone has been updated – to fix a bug, for example. In fact this morning it was one of four apps that were updated.

Yesterday afternoon I had a frustrating time with my emails. I have two accounts – a personal one and a work one. The work one kept working (appropriately) but the personal one decided all of a sudden to become impersonal. It stopped receiving emails and kept asking me to enter the password as if I was entering the incorrect password, even though I knew that it was correct – after all “password” is not too difficult to remember is it?* I was getting frustrated by this and restarted the program several times to no avail.

In the end I decided to try a trick that I learnt from an amazing computer support man I knew. I turned the whole machine off and on again. As I was doing this I noticed that it wanted to install some updates. So I told it that I was happy for it to do that and guess what? When it restarted after installing the updates the email program worked fine for both the work and personal accounts.

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Because technology is so integral to our lives nowadays, so too are updates. Bugs need to be fixed, potential security weaknesses need to be strengthened, incompatibilities with other programs need to be resolved, and (just occasionally) an update enhances the capability and look of the program or app. Sometimes these updates happen behind the scenes, without us noticing. Sometimes they need to be authorised by us, or we need to restart the machine to make the update effective. I wonder how many years of our lives are lost while we are waiting for technology to update itself?

To update a Biblical description of what the Holy Spirit does, he is constantly applying updates to the lives of people who have given him permission to do so (generally known as ‘Christians’). A lot of the time we are not aware of the updates happening because they are small, gentle enhancements or fixes. But there are other times when the Spirit makes us aware that we need to be updated to fix a significant issue, to help us to resolve a potential security weakness (avoiding temptation) or to help us with our incompatibilities with other people. And sometimes he provides an update that enhances us and our capabilities (spiritual fruit and gifts).

In those cases, when we need to take action ourselves, we are responding to the Spirit’s prompting but the update won’t happen without our involvement because we are not machines or technology to be updated by a software update program but are human beings in a relationship with the Living God. Because he has given us autonomy and free will he will not force us to be updated, but he will recommend it. Do you need to respond to any update messages today?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I hope you realise that was a joke!

sync or swim during migration

My life is in the balance.

Before you start sending me bouquets of flowers and get well cards, let me explain. I am in the process of migrating my life across from one group of technological tools to another in preparation for me starting a new role next month. This will involve a change of tech. In the process I am trying to work out how to get all of the tech to talk intelligently to each other so that, for example, a change I make to a calendar in one place is reflected in the other places where I view my calendars. This migration process relies on the delicate (and sometimes unreliable) links between different tech and the hoped for fulfilment of promises that they will talk to each other. That’s why my life is in the balance. One crash and I will be hoping that the backups I have made will work!

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It used to be easy to migrate information when you changed jobs. You would pick up your paper diary and take it with you. Or, at worst, you would copy by hand across from one diary to another. The easily accessed information never crashed and was there the moment you opened it – no waiting for a boot up, even if that is quick.

But the flexibility of modern tech means that I find it irresistible and invaluable. As long as it works. It doesn’t help when different manufacturers use different operating systems and decide to make it difficult for users to get them to talk to each other. It doesn’t help when you have to have two or three copies of the same information that need to be synchronised. It doesn’t help when you have to work out what to synchronise and what not to and can’t work out what will be ‘synced’ except by a process of trial and error.

I believe that eventually it will work and will be wonderful. But there’s always a small anxiety that it won’t work and you won’t be able to solve it and might lose it all. And important information, events, reminders, meetings, emails and the like may not make it in the migration – like the occasional wildebeest taken by crocodiles as the herd stampedes across a river in its annual migration.

Thank the Lord that syncing with him is so much easier.

Have you done it lately?

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.


Computers can do this to you

I am in the process of transferring my life from a slow computer to a whizzy one. I would like to think that it would be relatively simple and painless. Of course anyone familiar with computers will know that ‘simple’ and ‘painless’ are not words usually associated with them. I may have resembled this man occasionally during the process.

Programs which worked fine on the old computer don’t work well on this one. Tech support people suggest I should tinker with some of the settings in order to make it happen, but that does not seem right. Why should I have to change the internal settings within the operating system of a computer that is running the same software as the old computer?

And then there’s the simple(?) process of transferring my email accounts over. I got it working. Then I got it to stop working. I think I have got it working again. However, if I either send two replies to your email, or send none, please don’t hold a grudge, just politely respond to my error and I will blame the computer (for once I will be right).

Thankfully, because it is stored online, the blog has migrated simply and successfully. I have posted 630 bloggages since I launched this on an unsuspecting world, and over 40,000 of you have at least visited these pages. These are rough figures but it means that on average each bloggage is seen by 63 people! Really? Thank you, especially if you got here by accident and stayed to read!

I wonder if people who become Christians have a similar experience. There will be compatibility problems with old lifestyles and habits. There will be transition problems as they try to bring contact lists and friends with them. They may wonder about some of the things that don’t seem right any more. I think our role as church is to help them make the transition as smoothly as possible without imposing anything on them that is not about Jesus. Simply choosing to follow Jesus is a massive step in itself and I would not want to put anything in anyone’s way. Of course he may want to deal with some things in their life, but he’s doing that with us too, right? When I look at Jesus in the New Testament he seems to go out of his way to make it easy for people to follow him. He uses language and concepts that they understand. He invites, encourages, draws, attracts…

The only people he has a go at and makes it difficult for are the self-righteous, who think they are ok.


Be blessed, be a blessing.

recapturing an attitude of gratitude

We live in a world that is moving at breakneck speed. I don’t just mean the speed with which we are hurtling in our orbit around the sun, or the speed at which our planet is spinning. The pace of life itself seems to be accelerating,  enabled by advances in technology, innovations in organisational techniques, and even pressures to perform well and outperform others.

and if you are anything like me you get rather frustrated when things do not move as fast as you think they should. Right now I am experiencing ‘techno-angst’ caused by my computer running a necessary and important backup process while I am trying to do other things with it. My computer is definitely a bloke because it struggles with multitasking and everything is running slowly this morning as a result. Tasks which it could normally manage almost instantaneously are now preceded by animated cursors indicating that the computer is thinking about doing something. I have not bothered measuring how long these delays are, nor how much more slowly my work is being produced, but I would not be surprised if, over the course of the year, there were significant numbers of days being lost to employers and home life that are being accompanied by these animated icons.

We have assimilated technology and the instantaneous nature of communication to such an extent that we now get frustrated when it doesn’t operate at the expected speed. When our broadband connection runs slowly we grind of teeth in frustration. When our computer fails to multitask as well as we hope we experience steam coming out of our ears. When traffic does not flow at top speed we rant at it (either internally or verbally). When change does not take place as quickly as we would like we sigh and roll our eyes.

We forget that it was not so many years ago that all of this was the stuff of science fiction. I was commenting to someone yesterday that when Star Trek: the Next Generation first appeared on our TV screens and they were controlling computers with touchscreens I thought that this was somewhat fanciful. I now use a tablet computer in my daily life and even use it to preach from instead of pieces of paper! (There is always the frisson of excitement with the thought that the tablet might freeze or crash in the middle of the sermon and I will not have a backup plan. Living on the edge!) science-fiction films were computers were controlled by voice were considered to be at best visionary or even somewhat unlikely just a couple of years ago and now we talk to our mobile phones to discover information and I am dictating to my computer right now.

In the hymn Abide with Me there is a line: “change and decay in all around I see”. Many people still associate change with the K: it is seen as a bad thing. We would much rather not have to change so that we can carry on within our comfortable lives. Change is disturbing, disruptive and disorientating. At least it is if we view it negatively. Change for a hungry person that brings food is welcomed. Change for the homeless that brings accommodation is embraced. Change for those who are shackled by guilt that brings liberation is celebrated.

I have commented before in a bloggage that most of the world does not have access to the technology with which you are reading this. Many of them would not even dream of it because it is so far beyond their daily experience. So before I start ranting about the speed of my computer I should bear in mind that the majority of the people in this world do not even have access to a pocket calculator. Before I complain about being stuck in a traffic jam I should remember that billions of people travel by foot, all would never be able to save enough money to own their own vehicle. When I I’m frustrated that I have not got a signal on my mobile phone I should remember that even though there are probably more mobile phones in the world that people, most people in the world do not have access to them, or even a landline.

It’s all about recapturing that attitude of gratitude. I think it’s a lovely phrase because it strips off the tongue, but it’s an even better phrase because it reflects how God would have us live: grateful to him for all that we have, grateful for all the blessings that we experience, grateful for the people around us who stand beside us even in the worst of circumstances, grateful for Jesus.

and… Relax. Breathe. Smile.

Be blessed, be a blessing. Make it so (for ST:TNG fans you will understand that reference)


ITILTOE – toilet is out of order (see previous two days for context)

One of the worst things about atheism is that ultimately there is no one to be grateful to.