Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.

Who wants to give Facebook their nude pics?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been wondering if maybe deleting my Facebook account was such a good move – I’ve found out second-hand about a couple of happenings within my friends and family which I’d have picked up on much sooner if I’d been on Facebook. This had me reconsidering whether the benefit of keeping in touch with people might be worth the cost of my privacy.

Then I read an article today about a new Facebook pilot programme to protect people from revenge porn by teaching their software to recognise images of concern to users. The snag is that you have to first provide Facebook a copy of the image you want to block, effectively send all your nude pics to Facebook!.

I understand how this could potentially be a useful tool, but given the already shady reputation of this company it has very creepy overtones to it. If this was a government organisation or reputable non-profit who were recognised for their work on protecting people’s privacy I’d have a bit more confidence in the concept. Given that it is Facebook… nah, just seems wrong.

Fortunately I have no concerns about potentially incriminating photos of me surfacing on social media, but the sheer creepiness on this pilot scheme has me recoiling in horror from the Zuckerberg monster. I think I will stay away for some time yet.

People shouldn’t be able to share intimate images to hurt others
By Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety

It’s demeaning and devastating when someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission, and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this abuse. We’re now partnering with safety organizations on a way for people to securely submit photos they fear will be shared without their consent, so we can block them from being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. This pilot program, starting in Australia, Canada, the UK and US, expands on existing tools for people to report this content to us if it’s already been shared.

My team and I have traveled to nine countries across four continents, listening to stories about the abuse and cruelty that women face online. From Kenya to Sweden, women shared their painful, eye-opening experiences about having their most intimate moments shared without permission. From anxiety and depression to the loss of a personal relationship or a job, this violation of privacy can be devastating. And while these images, also referred to as “revenge porn” or “non-consensual pornography,” harm people of all genders, ages and sexual-orientations, women are nearly twice as likely as men to be targeted.

Today, people can already report if their intimate images have been shared without their consent, and we will remove each image and create a unique fingerprint known as a hash to prevent further sharing. But we can do more to help people in crisis prevent images from being shared on our services in the first place. This week, Facebook is testing a proactive reporting tool in partnership with an international working group of safety organizations, survivors, and victim advocates, including the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and The National Network to End Domestic Violence in the US, the UK Revenge Porn Helpline, and YWCA Canada.

People who worry that someone might want to harm them by sharing an intimate image can proactively upload it so we can block anyone else from sharing it on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger:
– Anyone who fears an intimate image of them may be publicly can contact one of our partners to submit a form
– After submitting the form, the victim receives an email containing a secure, one-time upload link
– The victim can use the link to upload images they fear will be shared
– One of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team will review the report and create a unique fingerprint, or hash, that allows us to identify future uploads of the images without keeping copies of them on our servers
– Once we create these hashes, we notify the victim via email and delete the images from our servers – no later than seven days
– We store the hashes so any time someone tries to upload an image with the same fingerprint, we can block it from appearing on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger
This is one step to help people who fear an intimate image will be shared without their consent. We look forward to learning from this pilot and further improving our tools for people in devastating situations like these. (Facebook)

Deleting Facebook

Yesterday I finally bit the bullet and deleted my Facebook account. I’ve been working towards this for the last few months by transferring stuff I want to keep over here to my blog. I had downloaded a copy of my Facebook content but it was easier to work directly from my timeline on the site than fishing through a bunch of files and folders to find things. I was only part way through the process but read one too many articles reporting how unethical Facebook is to put up with them any longer.

Over the last couple of years anything I’ve gained from using Facebook has been increasingly outweighed by the negatives of giving my information to a business who are primarily wanting to sell that information on to advertisers, marketers and whoever else is prepared to pay for it. As a company, Facebook shows little or no regard for the real people who use their platform, preferring to put profits and influence first.

Over the course of 2017 I kept noticing articles and news reports pointing to a cavalier attitude from Mark Zuckerberg and a persistent refusal to accept responsibility for the mass manipulation of people and compromise of their privacy. Then the Cambridge Analytica fiasco emerged bringing serious calls to re-evaluate our use of Facebook and what could potentially develop into a mass move away from the platform.

Most people are unlikely to be able to bring themselves to follow through and abandon Facebook. The early abandoners are likely to already have other channels of social networking and be driven by strong principles prompting them to take action against Zuckerberg’s beast.

My hope is that enough people will abandon Facebook within a short enough timeframe to cause some pain to the company. It would be great if it became a snowball effect, but that could be too optimistic. I believe that the prevalent social media model has multiple flaws stemming mostly from the advertising-driven revenue stream they rely upon. I’d love to see some constructive alternatives emerge from the backlash against Facebook, spurring a general awareness amongst internet users that it is time for a move away from platforms operated by mega corporations like Facebook, Amazon and Google.

We have already endured internet 1.0 and 2.0, it is time for new ideas to create version 3.0 in which real people are respected and their data remains under their own control. Just speculating, but this would seem to be where blockchain technology could become truly useful in decentralising control back into the hands of users. However, this would require educated internet users, most people are not there yet.

Will deleting my Facebook account make any impact? Realistically, no. One out of 2.2 billion obviously makes no difference. Yet if one in every thousand people decided to kill their account then Facebook would lose 2.2 million users – perhaps that might be enough to be noticed and prompt some changes.

I also want to be clear that I’m not deleting my account as a Luddite move against social media per se. All of the big tech giants have serious faults yet I continue to use most of them. But this particular company has pushed things too far and their ‘free’ service has more negatives about it than positives.

Long live the blog! 

Migrating

I first began blogging in November 2009, which is also when I joined Facebook. Since then I’ve written many blog posts, status updates and tweets. At least half a dozen domain names have been registered by me with great ideas of stuff I’d like to publish but time and motivation have failed to follow through.

As my own interests, goals and motivation for online writing has morphed over these four years and as social media has evolved into a gigantic advertising machine, it seems time to transition from a niche blog with a strong focus on a single (major) aspect of my life to a more general personal blog that can serve as my online hub.

To some this may be viewed as a backwards step – there are millions of largely un-read personal blogs out there so why add to the mass? My defence: “Facebook made me do it!”

You see, I hate advertising. It really pisses me off, especially when it is intrusive and poorly done, as is most online advertising. Over the last 12 months the big social media sites have been steadily increasing the proportion of advertisements being inserted into timelines. So have the ‘news’ websites, using trivial entertainment to attract pageviews to generate advertising revenue. Finally I am grumpy enough to make a move.

My personal view is that the ‘free-but-supported-by-advertising’ model deserves to die a miserable death. I realise I am in the minority but feel strongly enough about this to not only reduce my use of Facebook and Twitter but also to pay for website hosting on the Squarespace platform in preference to using WordPress.com in order to stop supporting an advertising based business model.

Inspired by Aisling

fear-and-faith

My (first) blog (Words of Eternal Life) was born as a flow-on effect from a tragedy that deeply touched my heart in October 2009 when two-year-old Aisling Symes disappeared suddenly, and despite extensive searches could not be found. As the search continued and fears for Aisling’s safety grew, a Facebook page was set up to offer support for the family. I had not previously used Facebook, but wanted to leave a message so signed up to the site.

Facebook confronted me with both a marvelous mechanism to connect with people and also a fantastic array of utterly trivial and quite pointless time wasters. I did notice, however, that some people were writing excellent articles and posting them on Facebook. Then I realized these were in fact blog feeds and this started me pondering whether I should confront the low-grade content on Facebook with something a bit more edifying to the soul than Farmville and the likes.

So little Aisling induced me to join Facebook, which then seeded the idea of starting a blog. What you are reading is the result, and being born out of the memory of Aisling it has a sober tone to it, an awareness of how precious life is and how essential faith in Christ is given that life can be so short. My prayers go out to Aisling’s parents and sister and I thank them for their own faith in Jesus which is also an inspiration and encouragement that Christ is sufficient for all we need.