Thinking Out Loud

August 20, 2017

Google Now Provides the Information instead of Referring

Like many of you, I couldn’t help but notice that increasingly, Google was giving me the answers I was looking for right on their results page, without my needing to make a second click. Appreciating the convenience I didn’t really pay much attention to this, until publishing and media watcher Tim Underwood linked to a piece at Mashable titled, Google is Eating the Open Internet.

The rather opened my eyes to the present situation: Instead of being a site which refers you to people who have the answers, Google is now seen as provider of those answers.

But the affect on the websites from which the information is culled — the creatives and researchers who do the actual work — is devastating. Example:

…Brian Warner, founder and CEO of CelebrityWorthNet.com, understands perhaps more than anybody the power of Google’s wall-building.

Warner started to notice the content from his site appearing directly on search results pages in 2012. Two years later, he got an email from Google asking to scrape all of his data, which he turned down. Another two years after that, Google did it anyway, and the impact was catastrophic.

“It was extremely painful, it was extremely devastating,” Warner said. “We got to a point where our traffic was down 85 percent from a year or two earlier.”

Search for the net worth of any celebrity at random today—let’s say, James Earl Jones—and you’ll get the number ($45 million) and a short biographical blurb pulled from CelebrityNetWorth.com with credit and a link…

And later, the broader application:

…There’s also a steady stream of more subtle indications of Google’s inward pull appearing every day—features like on-site hotel booking, restaurant menus, spa appointment tools, and dropdown recipes to name just a few.

These tweaks might sound minor, but Google’s position as the web’s central nervous system means they can have a big impact on smaller businesses that orbit it.

In the long run, though, there seems to be a pretty glaring hole in this plan. That is, as Google likes to reassure wary publishers, it’s not in the content business.

The company ultimately relies on reference sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, Fandango, and the CIA World Fact Book to compile and update the information it uses.

If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along? …   (emphasis added)

   Then early this morning I caught up with my Saturday print edition of The Toronto Star and columnist Heather Mallick was saying the exact same things about Facebook in a piece titled, Like it or not, Facebook Owns You. For her it gets personal:

…We donate to the Guardian to keep it free for everyone, but remember that we do this because former editor Alan Rusbridger made the numbers clear. In 2016, Facebook “sucked up $27 million (U.S.) of the newspaper’s projected ad revenue that year.”

Facebook was the interlocutor, the middleman who slipped between readers and journalists and siphoned off the money. When I step onto the thing for even a moment, I make money for Zuckerberg. I work for him, not the Toronto Star.

I wouldn’t mind being followed for weeks by ads for the hand vacuum (designed in England, made in Malaysia, which is why I despise Dyson) I ordered five minutes ago from an online retailer with no discernible connection to Facebook.

But I do mind that my salary was effectively lower this year because Facebook knew this, its targeting having destroyed the print and online ads on which the Star itself relied.

I take a dim view. With less money, I’ll buy fewer things advertised on Facebook, but it doesn’t care. It’s in the business of attention, not retailing. Its hands are clean.

Of course they’re not. They’re loaded with lucre, and they’re taunting people individually and en masse, damaging quality of life and eating freedom. You are owned…

For my Christian readership at this page, this is important. Obtaining the “answers” or “results” one is looking for without clicking through to see the full context of the page from which the mighty search engine derived them could be devastating, especially as the field of material offered grows to include things of religious or theological interest. At best, all of our online sites are somewhat subjective, including this one.

But I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

 

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March 20, 2017

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

Whether it’s Facebook or internet pørn, it’s really easy to spend sections of your day staring at your device, be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. There are general principles from scripture I think we do well to remember; these can give us guidance regardless of which type of addiction you’re dealing with.

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

click image to orderSelf-Control

It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit so it deserved to be listed first. We each have this in varying degrees, though some have noticeably less than others, and all of us have times when we wish we’d exercised more. At the slightest impulse that you’ve spent to long on Facebook (or whatever) you need to close the browser and walk away from the screen. (Translations use either temperance or self-control when listing these fruit in Galatians 5, but the Wycliffe uses continence, the opposite of which is…well you know.) (See what I mean? Better self control would have left that alone!)

Mind, Thoughts and Heart

As we’ve written a number of posts here concerning out thought life, let’s just say that it is so important to guard our minds, guard our thoughts and thereby guard and protect our hearts. (See especially this post and the section dealing with our media diet.) We’re told in scripture to take captive the stray thoughts which can do damage. Previous generations contended with this in terms of television and theater. We have such a greater barrage of ideas and philosophies being thrown at us online.

The Stewardship of Our Time

In an increasingly hectic world, time is a precious commodity. We’re given 24 hours each day, no more, no less; and what we do with those is a large measure of our character. (For my article on “redeeming the time,” read this post at C201.) A good measure of this is to realize the things that you might have done, could have done, or should have done in the time you spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… or worse.

Shifting Values

Without getting into specific social issues that face us currently, all of us have felt the pressure to capitulate to the larger culture, or even to the values shift happening in the capital-C Church. Isaiah 5:20 (NLT) reads, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I can honestly say I have felt the pressure to change my mind on some issues because of internet exposure. On some of the issues, I think readers here would be comfortable, but on others I have realized the need for a reset and re-calibration. Be careful to know why if you sense your worldview shifting.

Misdirected Worship

This may seem a little strong for some readers here, but the things that occupy our time online are really the things we ascribe worth to, and that’s the heart of the word worship. I mentioned internet pørn at the outset, and it’s easy to think terms of people spending hours staring at photographic images, but even those cute cat videos could amount to a case as described in Romans 1:25 (NLT): “…So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself who is worthy of eternal praise!”


David Murray’s outline on media consumption from the book The Happy Christian.

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

June 9, 2016

“We Never Close”

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I remember as a teenager walking down Toronto’s Yonge (pronounced young) Street and seeing a movie theater advertising “24 hour continuous showings.” Mornings, afternoons, evenings and middle-of-the-night, there was always a movie playing because there were always customers paying.

we_never_closeAs a twenty-something returning to Canada from California, my fellow-traveler and I stopped at Las Vegas. That is probably best looked at as the subject of another blog post entirely, but one feature of the casino we visited — which I believe is common to all — is that there are no windows and no clocks. There are no visual indications as to whether it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon or 2 o’clock in the morning. No wonder that people keep gambling. Back home, months later, in a flashback to that visit, I realized that while I was nice and cozy under the covers, the casino simply kept humming; not open one day and then the next, but simply opened once and operating as one long continuous day.

In 1974, the band Emerson, Lake and Palmer described it best with the lyric, “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.” I was captivated by the concept of a place that never shuts down; not the idea of the radio station on which I first heard the song, but the idea of somehow being inside the radio, of having physical interaction with something that simply is with no hours of operation posted on the door.

My relationship to the “wee hours of the morning” continued when a friend got a job doing commercial carpet cleaning. Law offices, advertising agencies, and the halls of corporate power in the banking sector all were subject to our rotary shampoo machines. (We looked disdainfully at steam cleaning.) While the offices were as ghost towns after midnight, it amazed me the number of people working those hours, a kind of midnight infrastructure necessary to make the places function in the daylight hours.

Open All NightMore than one stand-up comedian has asked, “If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, why are there locks on the door?” Okay, there are reasons, but once the stores are opened, again, it’s one ongoing day, with many locations not even pausing for Christmas.

Years later, working alongside people in the magazine industry, I proposed something called Night Owls, for free distribution to the people in Toronto who make up the all night workforce, an industry category onto itself. (In those days however, advertisers preferred to place their money with controlled circulation publications, so my periodical never launched.) I still think there’s a common thread that binds all these people and they would enjoy hearing of fellow travelers, not to mention who has the best burgers at 3:00 AM…

Today, I see advantages to the order of things that I believe is God-prescribed and clearly indicated by the way daylight and evening function; but I will admit that our present world requires people to be employed on the overnight shift, even though we know that continued ignoring of natural body rhythms can reduce lifespan…

Which brings us to…

…The internet.

I was thinking last night about the wonder that is the world wide web. Like the casino district in Vegas, its motto could easily be We Never Close. As you lie in bed snoring at night, people are still looking at your Instagram and Snapchat pages. Twitter followers are coming and going. People are friending and unfriending you on Facebook. If it’s 2 o’clock in the morning where you live, it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon somewhere else. People are filling in contact forms, signing up for newsletters, checking their bank balance, and following a rabbit trail network of hyperlinks. Elsewhere online, people are making purchases from retail enterprises that would never dream (contextual pun intended) of having sales associates working those hours in a physical store. The gamers have lost track of the time, as have the people watching cat antics on YouTube, and like the theater in my teenage stroll down Toronto’s main street, there is Netflix which not only offers continuous showings, but allows you to pick your own start time. Strangers are talking to each other across chat rooms and forums; and trolls and marketers are busy leaving comments on blogs.

Open 24 HoursWelcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

There are no breaks for national holidays, religious sabbaths or even natural disasters. Internet service interruptions do happen depending on where you live, but they cause people to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some people’s greatest nightmares have them landing in a part of the world without wi-fi.

Somewhere back in time, we plugged in the internet and it remains on. Close your eyes and sleep if you will, but not too far from you is a billion-lane highway moving megabytes around the world at the speed of light.

And the show never stops running.

 

 

 

February 3, 2015

We Need a New Search Engine

Filed under: blogging, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

I don’t usually write about the tech side of my work, but I am increasingly convinced that we need someone out there to generate an entirely new search algorithm. I’m tired of being directed to news stories from 2002, sites that have been shut down or superseded, or an endless litany of sponsored sites trying to sell me things it thinks are related (so the search engine can report back that their ad had X number of views.)

But I’ve also done some additional thinking and have decided part of the problem is us. We want our search results now and we pay more and more for increased internet speed so we won’t be kept waiting.

Ask yourself, is it better to get 166,000 results in .03 seconds that are wrong or is it better to wait 30 seconds and get 8 results that are exactly what you’re looking for.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  I think it’s ironic that a company like Google has totally mastered the art of spying on us and knowing our every online move and all of our consumer preferences, but continues, day-after-day, to be a giant failure at the thing they set out to be in the first place: A search engine.

The future of the internet is indeed search. The company that builds a better mousetrap — and there most certainly will be one someday — will be heralded as the most significant enterprise to come along since the invention of computers and the internet themselves.

December 29, 2014

Thinking Out Loud About the Internet

Filed under: technology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

kybd

When I first started doing this back in 2008, I found it frustrating how supposedly faith focused writers would regularly report on the technology itself that allowed them to blog. Every new device, personal organizer or photo processing program was fair game.

Here, I tended to proudly avoid reference to tech. We were all about the Bible, Church and Jesus. Yeah, us! We’re so spiritual. But today I want to give space to what is always an underlying thesis of mine, namely that for all it has done to revolutionize the culture, we are still living in the infancy days of the technology; what we are experiencing is similar to turning a crank to start a car. While increasingly regulation is taking over, these are still the wild-wild-west days of the internet in terms of sophistication, our time-saving devices and programs still cause us more frustration than performing according to expectations.

In particular,

Search – While a massive empire has been built by one company which rhymes with poogle and other companies of its ilk, search results are still not at all intuitive. Refining within searches is difficult, and many links go to dormant or outdated sites. I believe we’re on the cusp of someone coming up with an entirely new search algorithm. The status quo simply won’t do.

Hardware – In an era where we trash printers rather than fix them, it’s hard for anyone to take the hardware industry seriously. Actually, a book about the printer industry would make a far more interesting read than the computer industry in general, since printer obsolescence is a microcosm of the industry as a whole.

Compatibility – We live at a time which makes the VHS/Beta situation look like a minor tension by comparison. While we were promised all manner of backward and forward compatibility, we usually end up wringing our hands over programs that simply don’t work with other programs.

Security – If nothing else, the events of the last year have left people feeling that their personal data, financial information, and even family pictures are simply not safe.

Intelligence – When computers think for themselves, it is often counter-productive. Users spend more hours trying to turn off features that some programmer thought were helpful. Anyone who has tried to format a document where a line begins with a lower case letter, or anyone who suffered through auto-correct knows that computers are more often hindering than helping.

So in broad terms, what frustrates you about the state of the technology we find ourselves using?

December 13, 2014

Facebook Pulling Back Feeds of Status Updates for Businesses, Churches

Sample of Church Facebook Page

From home-based hobby sales, to cottage industries, to small business, to corporations having 500,000 likes, Facebook is scaling back the practice of putting posts into the feeds of readers, and the policy change has impact for non-profits and churches as well.

facebook-logo-289-75Many small businesses currently operate as a ‘page’ adjunct to an individual’s personal Facebook profile. Just as you ‘friend’ the person, you ‘like’ the business. Years ago, Facebook started restricting what you see from individuals and business alike.  The logic went, ‘if you have 300 friends and they post twice a day, you’d have 600 updates to read daily.’

But small businesses noticed that much of what they posted wasn’t getting to anyone, with averages of 16% being normal. If someone took the effort to visit the page, they could see everything, but most people who ‘check Facebook’ read only what the algorithm assigns to their feed.

Instead they were being told to ‘boost’ each post with a payment ranging — for small business — between $5 and $33. Many times the posts weren’t even selling anything, but updating readers on local events in an effort to build community.

Then last month, the Wall Street Journal reported things would change more severely:

The change will make it more difficult for entrepreneurs… to reach fans of their Facebook pages with marketing posts that aren’t paid advertising.

Businesses that post free marketing pitches or reuse content from existing ads will suffer “a significant decrease in distribution,” Facebook warned in a post earlier this month announcing the coming change…

…More than 80% of small companies using social media to promote their businesses list Facebook as their top marketing tool, followed by LinkedIn and Twitter, according to a recent survey of 2,292 small businesses by Webs, a digital services division of Vistaprint. The top three reasons owners cited for creating a Facebook page were customer acquisition, building a network of followers and increasing brand awareness, according to the survey.

Dan Levy, Facebook’s vice president of small business, says that Facebook’s paid-advertising options have become more effective recently and that companies should view Facebook as a tool to “help them grow their businesses, not a niche social solution to getting more reach or to make a post go viral.”

He says he has “a lot of empathy” for business owners who “are feeling this evolution” in the reduction of what he describes as organic reach. But, he says, organic reach is only one of several reasons companies benefit from having a presence on Facebook. Last month, there were more than one billion visits to Facebook pages directly. “Having a presence where you can be discovered still has a ton of value,” he says…

This is a small part of the entire article, click here to read at WSJ.

But it gets worse, as churches and non-profits will also be affected.  One writer suggests the strategy over the next few months should be to get those Facebook friends to respond to something that provides their email address (and in countries where applicable, express consent for placing them on on a list.)

Over the past 18 months, one of the biggest challenges with Facebook marketing is not knowing exactly what changes are on the horizon and how it will impact organic reach. We believe that eventually organic reach on larger nonprofit Facebook pages will reach close to 0%, so marketing on Facebook will significantly change.

Read more at NonBoardBoard

One website, while overtly trying to sell a print report, offers some clues:

The ability to build communities of fans, and then maintain contact and encourage engagement using content published to fans’ News Feeds was a critical aspect of Facebook’s early appeal to marketers. The opportunity of achieving engagement at scale motivated many brands and corporates to invest millions in developing communities and providing for care and feeding via always-on content…

This isn’t an academic exercise. Facebook Zero is a reality now facing every brand and business with a presence on the platform. Action is required, and specific decisions will need to be made with regard to content planning, paid support for social media activities, audience targeting and much more.

Read more at Ogilvy.com

But social media of one kind or another is so essential. In a recent 48-minute podcast at the aptly-named Church Marketing Sucks, the director of Social Media for Saddleback Church offered a number suggestions as well as stressing the importance of social media for churches.

Listen to the podcast here.

The same website also offered suggestions for using social media at Christmas. While most of these arrive too late for this year, you could file them away for 2015, but with Facebook Zero coming soon, the information may seem antiquated a year from now, or even sooner.

Want to switch your emphasis over to Instagram. I wouldn’t. Remember, in 2012, Facebook paid $1 Billion to acquire the photo site. What’s happening on FB will certainly follow on Instagram.

Twitter, anyone?

This page is a reminder that what Facebook decides here has worldwide impact on Churches and Christian charities.

This Facebook page image serves as a reminder that what Facebook decides here has worldwide impact on Churches and Christian charities. That’s 2,868 people the organization is engaging with in the UK that it now has to find other means to reach.

October 24, 2014

Parents Possibly Clueless to Kids’ Online Account Activity

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In the 1960s a generation of parents, concerned for their teenagers told the kids to stay away from alcohol. It was turbulent time with seismic shifts taking place in culture which pitted adults against their children, but certainly some of the kids listened.

Instead they turned to drugs.

In the 2010s another generation of parents, concerned for their children told their youngest ones that they didn’t want their time or mental energies consumed with Facebook. This was also a turbulent time with technology in general and social media in particular changing communication and community. Certainly some of the kids obeyed.

Instead they opened Twitter accounts. And Instagram. And Tumblr.

As a researcher and writer who spends several hours each day online, I thrive on rabbit trails. I love seeing where they lead. In an earlier stage of life, when internet addiction consumed me, I referred to myself in terms of “catch and release.” I wanted to feel the thrill of the catch, but had no interest in eating the fish. The statement did not correspond 100% to what I was experiencing, but the sentiment was fairly accurate.

So last week when a series of rabbit trails led me to a handful of rather surprising Twitter accounts, I was rather shocked at the ages — both stated and masked — of the users. A UK survey published in The Guardian a year ago confirmed that “83% of the 11 to 15 year olds whose internet usage was monitored registered on a social media site with a false age…with one even claiming to be 88.”

Meanwhile, in a more recent article, published last week in Atlantic Monthly titled Why Kids Sext, it was reveal how rampant sexting is among both high school and middle school (junior high) youth.

Within an hour, the deputies realized just how common the sharing of nude pictures was at the school. “The boys kept telling us, ‘It’s nothing unusual. It happens all the time,’ ” Lowe recalls. Every time someone they were interviewing mentioned another kid who might have naked pictures on his or her phone, they had to call that kid in for an interview. After just a couple of days, the deputies had filled multiple evidence bins with phones, and they couldn’t see an end to it. Fears of a cabal got replaced by a more mundane concern: what to do with “hundreds of damned phones. I told the deputies, ‘We got to draw the line somewhere or we’re going to end up talking to every teenager in the damned county!’ ”

While 15 minutes of cursory observation by a layperson isn’t sufficient to explain everything, the general sense I got was that for the students concerned, this is normal, this is expected and this is not a problem. This is what you do. Welcome to life in 2014.

When I look back to my own teen years, I can only say that when someone handed you a camera, your first instinct was not to strip and take pictures of yourself. My earliest memories of photo taking were pictures of my friends, a trip to Niagara Falls, my new bicycle, and the kittens that our cat birthed in the basement. (Okay, the cat photo thing hasn’t changed much.) There were boundaries, there was personal privacy, there was modesty. On a high school trip, I remembered the horror when the people billeting myself and a friend put us in a room with a double bed. As soon as they went upstairs, we went out to their station wagon, which contained sleeping bags for a later part of the journey, informing them in the morning that they needn’t change the bed since nobody had used it.

Even in our pajamas — yes, we packed and wore those on this trip since we were guests in peoples’ homes — the notion of same sex contact of even knees or elbows had a certain yuck factor to it.

Today, parents should consider the possibility that their son or daughter’s first kiss may not have been with a person of the opposite sex. And kissing may be the least of their worries. If you can’t picture that, then I suppose denial helps.

You simply can’t talk about all that is taking place for more than about ten minutes without the internet factoring into it. Technology is driving a cultural shift at an unprecedented rate, and telling the kids they can’t use Facebook is simply missing the point.

March 3, 2014

Creating a Church Social Media Hub

Church social media directory

How a social media hub is different from a Church directory

I’m writing this in a vacuum, because I haven’t exactly seen done what I am proposing here. I just see a need. So here’s the proposal, and if you have any suggestions or revisions based on experience with a church that’s doing this please leave a comment.

Social media, as we have come to know it, is with us to stay. The platforms will migrate over time, but a generation has grown up communicating on line, and overall, I would say that for the church, this is a good thing. We can start a conversation at a weekend service, and continue it all week. We can learn that people have specific interests, and send them links to articles and channels of interest. It replaces the classic “encouragement notes” or “thinking-of-you cards.”

  • Ideally, a church directory lists every member and adherent. A social media index lists only people who want to share their various social media platforms.
  • A Church directory contains addresses and numbers for mobile phones and land lines.  A social media index has names and locations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, WordPress and YouTube pages.
  • A Church directory often exists in print; a church social media hub exists only online.
  • Church publications generally promote the church’s own social media pages. A social media index highlights what the church family is doing online.
  • Church directories are usually only distributed to the people whose names are contained in them. A social media index can just be a page on the church website — “Central Community Church on Social Media” — with no restricted access, because each of the pages concerned are public anyway.
  • Knowing that anyone in your church can access your pages is a wonderful way of keeping yourself accountable for what you write, post or link to. Your social media pages may reflect a personal family focus and other interests and hobbies you have; but ultimately you are aware that fellow church members might drop in at any time, unannounced.
  • Social media is constantly changing. A social media index for your church family needs to be updated on a regular basis, perhaps weekly.
  • If any social media platform from any church member is reported to have questionable content, all their listings would be removed.

If one of the basic problems in the church is that we don’t really know each other, I know of no other way to change that than to be interconnected online. This allows us to get to know each other to a greater degree.

 

Graphic: Sacramento Metro Church of Christ (click image to link)

January 9, 2014

Megachurch Miscellany

Filed under: Church, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Lighthouse Church Florida at Church Stage Design Ideas

So on Saturday night we made a return visit to a large (redundant adjective) megachurch west of Toronto.  Here’s a few things that stand out after several days…

What do the colors mean?

A family of five had sat down just a few rows in front of us. When you’re visiting, you just assume everyone else is a regular attender. But after the service, the man approached an usher and asked, “What do the colors mean?”

It’s a standard feature of today’s modern church that as much or more will be spent on lighting as will be spent on sound. In this auditorium, LED panels on the stage are complemented by LED ‘pots’ on the walls; so the entire room changes from green, to blue, to yellow, to red — all at the same time — with a new color for each song.

The problem is, that in Anglican or Episcopal churches, the colors of the day mean something in reference to the church calendar. The color of the cloth that drapes the altar. The color of the stole rector wears. For that matter, the temples in some sci-fi stories often have walls that change color denoting something of deep significance.

It’s just not something Evangelicals would think about. The usher dismissed the question with “It’s just aesthetics,” but personally, I think that (a) it was a fair question and (b) it’s indicative of the wide range of people who are slipping into our church services.

Will that be smoking or non-smoking?

Honestly, the ushers at this place were a major distraction. I can now say I finally get the “Usher Contest” jokes that Garrison Keillor does. Many of the people in leadership in this church came out of a Baptist tradition. Maybe that explains it. Actually, they had been a distraction on our first visit as well, which you wouldn’t expect considering we had been sitting in the third row.

However… ushering a group of seven people from the very back to the very front in the middle of a prayer? Seriously. That one crossed a line for me.

I also now understand the 80% rule: When 80% of your seating is being used you are ‘comfortably full’ and people will continue to invite friends and/or become regulars. Over 80% and you’re starting to get a little crowded. This church already has three weekend services, so I don’t know what the solution is, but they were determined to pack people into every last chair from the front to the back.

Maybe that’s the problem.  They should fill the front completely before the service, and then let latecomers find seats nearer the back.

Oh…and this church really needs to get with the program when it comes to requesting people accustomed to wearing scented products to knock it off. It’s a new world, filled with new people with new kinds of environmental allergies. But we’ve already discussed that here and here. So we upset at least one usher by not moving in because Mrs. W. desperately needs to have an aisle seat.

Why are they wheeling in a giant screen TV?

Even though I watch Andy Stanley online each and every week, it never occurred to me that the giant monitor he teaches with is somewhat redundant in a large auditorium that already has a couple of Jumbotron-type screens.

So I’m watching on the mega screen as a man teaches pointing at a somewhat smaller screen, which of course, is being picked up by the mega screen.

Of the spending of money on A/V equipment by churches, there is no end.  The growth of megachurches means this is a great time to invest in companies that make sound and lighting and broadcast equipment for large auditoriums.

I thought perhaps the idea was to keep the preacher in the shot at all times, but then Mrs. W. correctly pointed out that earlier, the announcements had been done using a split screen, and with much clearer results. 

I guess the answer to this, as it often is where technology is concerned, is “because you can.”

Image: Lighthouse Church in Panama City, Florida; click image to read details at ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com

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