Billy Graham on Technology and Faith – Lunch w/ TED

Technology has enabled us to accomplish astounding things and solve many problems.  Instantaneous world-wide communication, prolonged life, flight, space travel, deep sea exploration, and more.  Yet with all that technology has changed, with all the problems it has solved, man is left to wrestle with this: the problem of evil.

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The Future of User Interface – Lunch w/ TED

John Underkoffler believes that the future of User Interface is imbuing computation with space.

In other words, the mouse and icon model will soon give way to computers that understand where in the physical world a thing is located and the computer will be able to interact with objects appropriately in their physical place.  Sound like the stuff of science fiction movies?  It should.

Underkoffler’s talk is very interesting for persons interested in UI or technology in general, but once his talk was over the question naturally arose: “what will be the killer app for this?”  In other words, what will be the thing that makes everyone want to use it?  How can this technology be useful at all?

Well, perhaps the first Iron Man movie will give us a glimpse as to the potential of such technology:

Besides having a coolness factor of +1 trillion, this technology is remarkable for the seismic shift in philosophical concern that seems to under-gird it.   All of the sudden, it matters that things are embodied.

Throughout the centuries, Christianity has been the formative worldview arguing for the importance of the body.  Though our opinion was not necessarily consistent throughout time – some did doubt that God would become embodied lest he take on a form that was beneath Himself – we’ve always been substance dualists, recognizing the importance of the body.  Technologists, on the other hand, were busy pioneering a world which eschewed the physical body in favor of a digital existence, everyone had a chance at a Second Life.  It didn’t matter whether people met physically or digitally, it is still people meeting.

Then Christians adopted new technology into the church and, along with the technology, the assumptions which formed and normalized that technology.  Embodied pastors were passe – video venues were all the rage.  Online Church was just as good as the real thing and LifeChurch, as well as other organizations, painstakingly created venues (the hipe name for Churches) that “mirrored” their real life counterparts.  With the advent of 3D holographic preachers – a new trend sweeping mainstream evangelical America – embodiment, even real existence, is no longer a requirement.

Meanwhile, technologists are remembering that we are embodied creatures and building the kind of technology that interacts with real world place and space.  It’s a complete role reversal.

Personally, I’m greatly encouraged by this new technology.  It is significant that the Lord created us with bodies and souls, that Christ took on the form of a man and that His doing so was integral to the salvation of all those who believe on Him.  Though I hear Evangelicals who defend online church pay lip service to embodiment, at the end of the day I have a hard time seeing where those words manifest themselves meaningfully in the priorities and interests of the pro-online church crowd.  Lord willing, this move by the technologists will cause people to, once again, recall the importance of embodiment and remind us that we all live embodied lives – even if those bodies sit in front of a screen to worship. ‘

John Wooden, Winning Versus Success – Lunch w/ TED

This week renowned basketball coach John Wooden passed away.   Coach Wooden’s talk on winning versus success was one of the first TED talks I posted on this site; it is one of my favorite talks.

“Thou dist thy best, that is success… If you make the effort to do the best of which you are capable, that is success.”

Jake Halpern calls many of us, me and my peers, “fame junkies.”  When polled, we’re the generation that would rather be the assistant to a movie star than be the CEO of a company or the President of Harvard College.  Our definition of success is spelled across the covers of People, OK, and various celebrity magazines.  We want the spotlight and our lives are uninteresting unless we bask in it.  Sure, almost all of us will never attain to it and we’ll settle for our lot in life, but deep inside there will be a nagging suspicion that we failed to be as successful as our youthful hearts foretold.

If John Wooden is to be believed, if we gave it our best and worked our hardest, we attained the exact level of success to which we were destined – or perhaps for which we were designed.  I’d contend that we would then be more successful than our hearts foretold because the success which we will have attained at the end of our life will be real whereas the success after which our fame-addicted hearts yearned never was real.

It’s a liberating message that frees us from slavery to the tyranny of misguided, misconceived ambition.

Wooden’s message is deeply Christian, full of wisdom and insight attained by one who has lived a long life shaped by reflection and discipline.  Among the many biographies and tributes that you’ll read in newspapers or magazines and see on ESPN or FSN, few will capture the rarity of this man and his wisdom as do his own words in this talk.

*Image credit: Fox Sports*

Hidden Influence of Social Networks – Lunch w/ TED

This week, Nicholas Christakis explores the “widower effect,” the increased probability that one will die because one’s partner has fallen gravely ill or has died.  Christakis contends that not only is the effect a real, measurable phenomenon, but it has a bigger influence than researchers first thought.

I’d like to consider three key arguments Christakis advances.

First, Christakis argues that one’s social network shapes one’s experience of the world.  To this end, he argues that it is not only who we befriend, but how we befriend them.  He speaks of the “nature of the ties” between people and references the different arrangement of carbon atoms to form either graphite or a diamond.

Second, Christakis argues that Social networks are necessary for the spread of good and valuable things like love and ideas.

Third, Christakis argues “what the world needs now” is more connections because “social networks are fundamentally related to goodness.”

Regarding the second and third arguments, the counter argument must be made that social networks in and of themselves act as conduits and are neither good nor evil.  Rather, it is the persons within the networks that influence whether good or evil things spread through the network.  The argument that connections vis-a-vis social networks are fundamentally related to goodness falls apart when one considers a social network of slave traders and buyers.  As the book of Proverbs reminds us, “make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

That being said, it seems that churches and Christian schools and universities could learn a lot from understanding the importance of social networks to advancing good ideas or loving action.  Having spent most of my life as a good Christian in the pews, it seems to me that many within Christianity see “networking” as an evil practice that necessarily results in using people as a means to an end rather than treating them properly as people, an end unto themselves (to put it in Kantian terms).   As a result, very few churches or schools that I’ve seen have solid networks established and, ironically, end up using the same handful of people to solve problems because they do not have a network of people upon whom they can crowd-source for funds, ideas, or action.

Regarding Chrstakis’ first argument, I do not have a conclusive thought so much as a question to ponder and discuss in the comments section.  If it matters how we form our networks, then what is the impact of social networking via Facebook which fails to account well for how we are connected to our “friends”?  Facebook doesn’t consider our “place” in the network, it only connects us to, and inundates us with information from, more people than we’d naturally be connected to.

How is Facebook, considered from a social network perspective, shaping our experience and perception of the world?  What behaviors have you developed because of Facebook?  To what degree do status updates, shared links, and other similar things shape your inflow of news and information and, ultimately, your perspective on the world? ‘