Tag Archives: technology

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Through Glass, Darkly

 

There’s a scene a few chapters into the comedy science-fiction novel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed former president of the galaxy, is in a spot of trouble. A few moments earlier, he had been standing on the bridge of a starship, now he suddenly found himself mysteriously teleported to a café on the strange, alien planet of Ursa Minor Beta. Puzzled at what has just happened, Zaphod instinctively reached into his pocket for his sunglasses:

“[He] felt much more comfortable with them on. They were a double pair of Joo Janta Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, which had been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.”(1)

What was science-fiction in 1980 when Douglas Adams wrote this passage has become reality in the twenty-first century: augmented reality, to be precise, the new buzzword in computing. Augmented reality is a technology that allows computer-driven data to overlay your view of the real world. Originally developed for military applications (for example, projecting flight information onto the visor of a fighter jet pilot), augmented reality is now breaking in to the world of consumer gadgetry.

One example is Google Glass, recently launched (to a select few, willing to pay $1,500 to get their heads on a beta version of the product) by the California-based Internet search company.(2) At first glance, Glass appears fairly innocuous, looking like a pair of designer spectacles, albeit fashioned by a designer whose aesthetic was more “geek” than “chic.” Pop on Glass, however, and a small computer display just above one lens beams a constant stream of information into your field of view. Now you need never be without the weather, news, travel information, the web, your latest email or tweets, all overlaying your view of the outside world.

Particular controversy has been caused because Google Glass comes equipped with a camera and that raises all manner of privacy issues. The US Congress actually sent a list of questions to Google, one of which was “Will it ship with facial recognition software?” Although Google replied “No,” other software developers have stepped into the gap. One such developer is Stephen Balaban, whose company has launched facial recognition software for Google Glass. In an interview with technology website Ars Technica, the 23 year-old programmer explained his excitement at what a Google Glass headset equipped with his software could do. Balaban waxed lyrical about the wonder of having a conversation with a stranger, all the while your Glass headset looking them up and feeding you information about them:

“I think that would be a fantastic experience to not only understand who you’re talking to but to bring context to a conversation. I would love to live in a world where the things that you have in common with somebody and the shared experiences are available on the fly. I think that makes conversation far more efficient. I think that makes interactions with conversations better. You can relate to them in ways that you couldn’t otherwise.”(3)

Those words haunted me for days afterward: “makes conversation more efficient.” The subtext, the assumption, the worldview reflected here is one that Neil Postman famously called “technopoly,” the idea that technology is king, that there is no human problem that technology cannot solve.(4) Balaban’s statement assumes that what we lack, what we need is more information. I think he’s dead wrong. What most people are crying out for is not more information but deeper relationships.

Yet despite our relational need, we are drawn to technology like moths to a flame. In her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, sociologist Sherry Turkle describes the increasing trend we have to outsource relationships to technology, to computers and robots. In one chapter, she recounts the story of Callie, an eleven year-old girl who as part of a research project got to take home two robotic toys. Turkle describes what happened at the end of the three week study when it was time to return the robots:

“Callie is very sad when her three weeks with My Real Baby and AIBO come to an end…Before leaving My Real Baby, Callie opens its box and gives the robot a final, emotional good-bye. She reassures My Real Baby that it will be missed and that ‘the researchers will take good care of you.’ Callie has tried to work through a desire to feel loved by becoming indispensable to her robots. She fears that her parents forget her during their time away (they travel a lot for work); now, Callie’s concern is that My Real Baby and AIBO will forget her… Disappointed by people, she feels safest in the sanctuary of an as-if world.”(5)

As human beings we are designed for relationship and any attempt to outsource this to or augment this basic need with technology is doomed to failure because what we yearn for is not robots but relationship, not programs but persons, not computers but communion. The Christian worldview explains where this desire for relationship, for intimacy comes from: because we are created in the image of a God who, as the doctrine of the Trinity makes clear, is himself persons-in-relation. Theologian Colin Gunton writes:

“To be made in the image of God is to be endowed with a particular kind of personal reality. To be a person is to be made in the image of God: that is the heart of the matter. If God is a communion of persons inseparably related, then… it is in our relatedness to others that our being human consists.”(6)

The God of the Bible is the God who is relational: walking and talking in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, appearing to Abraham, speaking to Moses “as a man talks to his friend” and, ultimately, stepping into history in the incarnation. In many other religions, such as Islam, you achieve salvation, wisdom, nirvana—whatever it is you are seeking—through knowing the right things, through information. In Christianity, by contrast, the question is not what you know but whom you know—Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that God did not send mere information, did not simply augment reality with some new set of moral commandments, but instead God gave himself. And, says the Bible, this theme continues right through into the New Creation, where God will once again walk and talk with us. One day, we shall no longer see as in a glass darkly, but we shall see face to face. For relationship we were made and for relationship, with and through Christ, we are destined.

Andy Bannister is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto, Canada.

(1) Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (London: Pan Books, 1980), 33.

(2) Jason Koebler, “Google Opens ‘Glass’ Project to ‘Explorers’ Willing to Pay $1,500,” US News, 20 Feb 2013 (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/02/20/google-opens-glass-project-to-explorers-willing-to-pay-1500/, accessed 25 June 2013).

(3) Cyrus Farivar, “Google may not like it, but facial recognition is coming soon to Glass,” Ars Technica, 8 June 2013 (online at http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/06/google-may-not-like-it-but-facial-recognition-is-coming-soon-to-glass/, accessed 24 June 2013).

(4) Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007).

(5) Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 78-79.

(6) Colin E. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 2d Ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997), 113.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – In a Word

Ravi Z

Some anniversaries slip past us without recognition, and yet one such recipient is still smiling nonetheless. The very first emoticon, perhaps better known in the realm of online discourse as the smiley face, has been smiling for more than 25 years. Its creator, Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott Fahlman, suggested the symbol in 1982 in an online discussion about the limits of online humor. “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers:  ,” he wrote. “Read it sideways.”(1)

The rest is history. Fahlman’s smileys spread from his classroom to other classrooms, from universities to the corporate world, and eventually around the world. The emoticon aided what online communicators were all too aware was ailing. In the world of instantaneous communication, miscommunicating is sometimes more likely than communicating. Humor, sarcasm, and general human warmth can easily be sacrificed in this subculture of speed and technology. Words merely given in brief can be misperceived as terse or loaded. Comments meant to be taken lightly can be missed altogether. Many would argue that the invention of the emoticon has helped, though it certainly has not eradicated every obstacle.

Nonetheless, the quick embrace and subsequent evolution of emoticons suggests at least a subtle awareness that in the breakdown of language something human is in fact lost. High school and college professors readily lament the frequency with which “chat” language is creeping further into term papers. Their greatest concern is that many students don’t even realize there is a difference. While it can be argued that email encourages a certain sloppiness in communicating, text messaging has forged the creation of an entirely new language—a language created with regard first for the technology as opposed to the speakers or the conversation itself.

In a recent publication, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio made the observation that words and language both shape and affect our humanity. He then added, “The corollary of this claim is the observation that cultural institutions and habits that corrupt or weaken our use of language are profoundly dehumanizing.”(2) When words are ransacked of meaning and replaced with concepts less distinct, we ourselves become something less distinct. Though technology is far from the only culprit, wherever the offense is committed, consequences are costly. In fact, it is said that one of the first steps to slavery is a loss of language.

In his Narnian conclusion The Last Battle C. S. Lewis illustrates the enslaving force of corrupted words. The ape explains, “[The god] Tash and Aslan [the Lion] are only two names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan. Aslan is Tash.”(3) Later the ape altogether changes the name to “Tashlan,” and the impressionable crowd abides. In their hearts they still want to believe in the Aslan they thought they knew, but the loss of language is enough to set them to serve the deceptive ape. “When you have killed a word,” writes Lewis in another work, “you have also blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.”(4) Those who allow their language to be corrupted, find their minds following suit. In the loss of words, something human is lost.

In this, there is much to be said about the kind of God who values words, whose most persistent instruction to a faltering people is “remember,” and who gives us both permission and the responsibility to say what we mean. “Good teacher,” asked the young man of Jesus. “Can you tell me the way to eternal life?” But Jesus asked in reply, “Why do you call me good?” In other words, are you saying what you really mean? Are you ready to walk with the burden your own word requires? “For no one is good—except God alone,” he replies.(5) Indeed, are you willing to hear his answer fully knowing who he is?

There is a connectedness between our words and our humanity, between the Word at the beginning and what is real today. Those who stand alert in the world of words, who fight the corruption of language, and who learn to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” shall see something more through the glass darkly. They may in fact see the God who first spoke a word and brought the world into existence.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Daniel Lovering, “Happy Anniversary, emoticon,” LA Daily News, September 22, 2007.

(2) Mars Hill Audio Journal, Issue 75.

(3) C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 32.

(4) “The Death of Words,” On Stories, Walter Hooper ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 107.

(5) Mark 10:18).

 

Plug In and Keep Charged – Greg Laurie

 

When I travel, I take my laptop computer with me, because I try to work on my messages. But often I must work off the battery, so whenever I get the opportunity, I plug in to the nearest electrical outlet. Why? Because my battery is running down, and I need to recharge.

I think a lot of us function that way as believers. We come to church and get plugged in spiritually, and then we try to run off that energy all week long. We don’t realize that the power is wherever we go. We need to get plugged in all the time.

But we have to make time for it. We must grab it where we can get it. Read some Scripture verses when you get up in the morning. Listen to some worship music or a Bible study on your way to work or school. Take the moments where you can find them to plug in constantly and stay tapped into all that God has for you.

The Bible is our portable battery. We can take it with us everywhere, and it will always provide us with the energy and inspiration we need to keep moving forward. So when you are feeling distressed, or you are not sure you have the energy to keep spreading the message, make sure to spend time in the Word. Plug yourself into the outlet of God’s truth that always keeps you charged.

Undone – Ravi Zacharias

 

The Oxford University Press “Word of the Year” is an honor bestowed on a new or old word that is chosen for its representation of the year’s cultural milieu. Considered for this past year’s awards in the UK or the US were words such as “nomophobia” (anxiety caused by being without one’s mobile phone—from no and mo(bile) + phobia), “YOLO” (an acronym for you only live once) and the related “FOMO” (the fear of missing out on a social event), “second screening” (the activity of watching television whilst simultaneously using a smartphone, laptop, etc.), “selfie” (a picture of oneself taken from a smartphone and uploaded to a social media site), and “bashtagging” (using a company’s promotional hashtag on Twitter to criticize or complain about the company, rather than endorse it). Similarly tech-savvy is the word that was chosen as the US word of the year, an evolving relic of the 1980s that has “never been trendier,” according to Katherine Martin, Head of the US Dictionaries Program at Oxford University Press.(1) “GIF,” an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, pronounced jif, is a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations.

Much has been said recently on the influences of technology, social media culture, twitter feeds, and smartphones; on the ways we obtain, retain, and proclaim information; on the ways we interact with each other and on the ways in which we think as a result of it. Many of the shortlisted choices for the UK and US words of the year demonstrate how we are adapting linguistically; it is perhaps ironic that a dictionary should choose to praise words that are driven by a need to use fewer words—texting shorthand, programming acronyms, and twitter-speak. Studies on information behavior such as one conducted by scholars from University College London suggests that we may well be in the midst of a reprogramming of the way we read and think.(2) Some of their observations are fascinating; others are causing due alarm. However we choose to look at it, technology is unquestionably shaping the way we see the world.

As someone who spends a great deal of time on the computer writing and editing, one of my most cherished and simple technological functions continues to be the ability to “undo” something. With the flip of two fingers—one on “command” and the other on the letter “z”—I can remove the sentence I just added to the page, take back the word that did not quite fit, or reverse the effect of every previous command and restore my document to its original condition. No matter how many actions I have taken on the page, I can undo every one of them—and this is often useful! Technologically, it is a feature to which I have grown quite accustomed—so much so, that I find myself believing haphazardly that nothing is ever really lost, and that everything can be undone, erased, or retrieved. More so, I cannot begin to calculate how many times I have thought about this function when I have needed it in places far from my computer screen. I picture my fingers snapping up scenes in my day as if my life was on a screen being edited.

Of course, reality never takes long to jar me back into a world with vastly different rules of operation. We cannot undo words that have already been said or take back actions that were less opportune than we anticipated. Hindsight, by definition, is a vision that is no longer available to us, no matter how urgently we would turn back time and undo what has been done. Our actions and inactions, words, lies, and blind spots cannot be expunged like a spreadsheet or a document. Here, the Christian resolve that our “yes” be our “yes,” that consequences be weighed, and the cost of our action or inaction be counted at the outset is a far wiser and practical vision. And of course, it is far harder work. “But which of you,” asks Christ, “intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?… Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?”(3)

Warning the crowds to count the costs of following him, Jesus spoke in terms that would cause the faint and the indecisive to run. He also begged them to see that how we live, what we do and say, matters deeply and cannot be undone. We cannot undo foolish words spoken in anger, the regret of a lost opportunity, or the act of walking away from someone in need. Nor can we undo a life that missed the cultivation of a nearby Christ while we had our hands on other plows. But we can choose to live dynamically today. Jesus bids us to fashion our legacy from this day forward, ever looking to the one who is in fact able to undo a life that is anything less.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) “Word Of The Year 2012: ‘GIF’, According To Oxford American Dictionaries,” Huffington Post, November 12, 2012. See also “Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012,” November 13, 2012, http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/press-releases/uk-word-of-the-year-2012/, accessed December 1, 2012.

(2) “Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future,” University College London Online Briefing, January 11 2008, http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf, accessed October 1, 2008.

(3) Luke 14:28,31.