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Brandon Hook 5-21-2014
Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

I was born in 1990. That puts me squarely in the middle of what is referred to as the millennial generation.

It also, apparently, makes me a lazy, entitled, narcissist who still lives with my parents.

But that’s beside the point. What’s more important about the date of my birth is that it places me at a distinct and pivotal point in human history: I grew up with the Internet — what they call a “digital native.”

I (vaguely) remember when the Internet got popular; having slow, dial-up that made lots of crazy noises whenever you wanted to use it; talking to other angsty teens on AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”); downloading music on Napster and Kazaa; and then, slowly but surely, having the Internet became engrained in my everyday life as if it was there the whole time.

But, like the bratty sibling I grew up with (upon reflection, I was equally, if not more, bratty — #humility #perspective), I’ve recognized that I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. It’s a game-changer for the human experience, so, like that sibling, I think I’ll always love it. But, for every positive, innovative element of the Internet there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Doug Stanglin 5-14-2014

Thousands of Iranian women sending photos without their hijab. Photo courtesy Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women on Facebook.

Thousands of Iranian women are sending photos of themselves without their hijab, or veil, to a new London-based Facebook page dedicated to allowing them “stealthy freedoms.”

The Facebook page — called “Stealthy Freedom of Iranian Women” — was set up by Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad and has attracted almost 150,000 likes.

Alinejad told the Guardian, which first reported about the site, that she has been inundated with messages and photos since launching it May 3.

“I’ve hardly slept in the past three days because of the number of pictures and messages I’ve received,” she told the newspaper.

The photos show women — sans veil — in parks, on the beach, or on the street.

Christian Piatt 4-01-2014
Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Religion has, for centuries, been fairly obsessed with the afterlife. For some, what awaits us after our physical death is fairly central to their faith. But thanks to the Internet, many of us end up having a sort of life after death, whether we intended to or not.

In a recent article published in the New Yorker magazine, Pia Farrenkopf experienced the sort of digital life after death that some might find appealing, while others would consider it rather horrifying. Pia traveled frequently for work, so it was not unusual for her neighbors not to see her for long stretches at a time. They would mow her lawn when the grass got long and kept an eye on the place during her long stints out of town.

As such, she lacked many close ties near home, and like many of us, all of her monthly finances were automated and tied directly to her bank account. So although she died in early 2009 while sitting in her car in the garage, it was not until very recently that anyone actually discovered she was dead.

It took that long for her checking account reserves to run out, which led to utility shut offs and a visit from the bank to issue an eviction notice due to missed payments. So although her body had set partially mummified in the garage for nearly five years, as far as the outside world was concerned, she was still alive.

In his book, The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil speaks of a not-so-far-off point in our future when the ability of computers to process information and replicate human thought and behavior will get to the point that we will question what it means to be conscious, and to be a person.

It seems like the stuff of science fiction, to consider the possibility of people uploading the entirety of their life experience, or even some iteration of what we understand to be their consciousness, to a network of computers. But the fact is that we already are wrestling with these sorts of ethical implications, even today.

Ben Sutter 2-07-2014
Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Maybe it’s fitting that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this very clickable headline from the AP: “Go Figure: Facebook Read Daily More Than Bible.”

Ouch. That one hits pretty close to home. That aimless scrolling through my Twitter feed could just as easily have been time well spent in front of the Good Book. Has my daily devotion to social media really eclipsed my daily devotion to spiritual practice?

After 10 years of operation, Facebook has usage stats that put it in the stratosphere of dedicated readers. Just over half of adults in the U.S. and Canada use Facebook daily. The same cannot be said for the Bible or other religious texts. Really, it’s not even close.

The AP story notes that Facebook “says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those, 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that's more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily.”

Compare that to these numbers from the same article about those who read a religious text every day: “A 2006 CBS News poll found 15 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible or other religious texts daily. There are about 267 million adults in the U.S. and Canada. That means about 40 million people reading the Bible daily.”

In a country where 79 percent of adults claim some sort of religious affiliation, less than a quarter of that number statistically reads their religious text daily. Historically the term “People of the Book” has referred to the Jewish people and their reverence for the Torah, their holy law. Perhaps those of us in the U.S. should call ourselves “the people of Facebook.”

Bad religious puns aside, personally, I’ve never been one to read my Bible with much consistency, and certainly not on a daily basis. While I’ve tried my fair share of daily Bible reading programs, plans, and even Bible apps, I’ve yet to develop the habit of daily reading.

Eric J. Lyman 12-11-2013
Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

ROME — It’s official, but no big surprise: Pope Francis is now the most-talked-about person on Facebook, according to information released Dec. 10 by the social media giant.

Pope Francis took the top spot, followed closely by Royal Baby George.

Evan Dolive 10-10-2013
'Like' illustration, Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock.com

'Like' illustration, Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock.com

Facebook, with its nearly 500 million users, connects us to the world around us and we are able to share everything from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died. The site has moved past its original intent of social networking between friends; businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs, and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook. Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website. The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes, and beliefs.

But what has Facebook done for Christianity? Has it helped or hurt the Gospel message? Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.” These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.

To be honest, I can’t stand them. 

Katherine Burgess 10-08-2013

Craig Parshall, senior VP of the National Religious Broadcasters speaks on Thursday, Oct. 3. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess.

Todd Starnes did not think he had violated Facebook’s community standards when he posted about “wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea” and generally being politically incorrect.

Workers at Facebook thought otherwise, blocking the host of “Fox News & Commentary” for 12 hours before issuing an apology.

Starnes and other conservatives say the incident is part of increasing viewpoint discrimination from organizations such as Facebook and Google. They  want these new media companies to protect their freedom of speech.

Tom Ehrich 10-08-2013

Tailoring workshop. Photo via Shutterstock/Miguel Garcia Saavedra

I got fitted for a custom-tailored suit this week.

Not because I suddenly found a pot of money. I didn’t, and I didn’t need to. The cost for this Hong Kong tailor is comparable to what I have been paying for off-the-rack suits.

My problem is middle age. My shifting body type makes off-the-rack suits too wide in the shoulders and too long. It’s proof that life keeps on changing, and that the way forward must include getting unstuck from old ideas.

Suzanne Ross 9-23-2013
Kardashian family, admedia / Shutterstock.com

Kardashian family, admedia / Shutterstock.com

One odd way that we all keep up with the Kardashians is in the extraordinary effort we put into maintaining our own personal “brand”. The reaction of Khloe to recent allegations of drug addiction against her husband, NBA player Lamar Odom, is a Kardashian case in point. In reporting on this newsworthy event (sarcastic sigh), Huff Post speculated as to why Khloe was continuing with business as usual, posting “booty shots” and making no reference to her husband’s problems. They asked, “Is the 29-year-old trying to avoid the harsh reality that her husband is struggling with drug abuse, or is she simply trying to keep up the family’s brand?”

Posturing like a Kardashian

We can all appreciate that Khloe might need some privacy from prying and judgmental eyes because you don’t have to be a Kardashian to want privacy when things go wrong. Who wants to be judged for our mistakes by gleeful critics and gloating rivals? When we err, we tend to hide our errors from others and all too often, from ourselves. We are as desperate to maintain our “brand” – our self-identities as flawless, perfectly good, failure-free paragons of virtue – as if we were the public face of a multi-million empire.

Timothy K. Snyder 9-16-2013

On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.

In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 9-05-2013

I have this friend Caitlin who tends to just tell me the truth about things, which isn’t always comfortable.

Caitlin and I close friends but are really different people, and years ago we were both planning our 40thbirthday parties. Mine was a roller disco party at a rink I rented out – and hers was a group of close friends watching the sunrise on a hill over looking the city, which made me comment that Caitlin has so many personality traits that are just truly lovely and that I don’t have those same traits and she said “Of course you do Nadia, they just aren’t your favorite ones.”

I thought about that this week when I was reading our Gospel text and how Jesus seems to be addressing the things we do or don’t do so that we can be thought of in a certain way. As though he can just see right through us. Which is just the worst.

Ed Spivey Jr. 8-02-2013

Illustration by Ken Davis

If you have something to hide, hide it better.

Rachel Marie Stone 7-12-2013
"Share if you love Jesus." Vector image via wizdata1/shutterstock.com

"Share if you love Jesus." Vector image via wizdata1/shutterstock.com

One of my favorite comments from yesterday's post on Seven Deadly (Social Media) Sins:

"My biggest annoyances are those "If you love Jesus, 'like' and share" posts. My faith and my love are not to be measured by whether I like your cheesy photo/slogan/tool of judgement."

Amen, sister. I think these are even more annoying than those “Just checking to see if you will even read this…if you are reading it, comment and then copy this exactly and paste as your status update. 95% of you will ignore this. Just trying to see who my real friends are” updates. Sniff. Sob. Poor me!

Tom Ehrich 6-19-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com

Portrait of a man in a suit with an umbrella. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com

After denials and evasions, we learned that two successive administrations lied to the American public about unprecedented spying on ordinary citizens.

The latest phase of this longtime spying effort began shortly after 9/11 and accelerated steadily, as the government used existing laws and newly passed laws to demand access to supposedly private information, such as cell phone call logs and email data.

It might have begun as an effort to track foreign terrorists as they interacted with allies in the U.S. and visited the U.S. But it spun out of control as the National Security Agency decided it needed to spy on all citizens.

Ed Spivey Jr. 6-05-2013

Designed by Ken Davis

Elvis impersonators make lousy terrorists.

Caroline Langston 4-24-2013
Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum

Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum / Flickr.

Well, somebody had to do it: Somebody had to go buy the incessantly hyped volume Lean In by the stratospherically successful Facebook COO (and mother of two) Sheryl Sandberg, and figure out what’s behind the seemingly endless radio talk shows and online profiles — they have been following me, they have, filling up my car like clouds of incense and dinging on my phone with the book’s mantra-like subtitle, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

I bought this part-memoir, part self-help book on a gorgeous spring weekday when, because I work part-time, I was supposed to be home anyway. Because the pollen was getting to me and I had woken up groggy, my husband generously offered to take the children to school on his way in to work, something that Sandberg would applaud: husbands who will assume major leadership at home are a major key in enabling mothers to succeed.

I stumbled around the house in my nightgown for a while, then finally got dressed and picked up Lean In at the Target in suburban Largo, Md., which at 10 on a weekday morning, was as silent as a tomb.

I drove half an hour to have lunch with a homeschooling friend, folded laundry and cleaned some grout, picked up my children from school and finally settled down to read the book on the bench at my son’s baseball practice, as the evening sun sank over the trees.

I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it: Sandberg, who’s about my age and who shares some of my generational preoccupations, comes across as warm and intimate, gently self-deprecating in describing her own “monkey bar” career path (it’s not a ladder, she says, because you can move sideways too), as well as some of her mistakes.

Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock

Social media and broken hearts. Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock

Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide on Friday.

In the days since, uncounted strangers have joined the 20,000 congregants who worship at the megachurch network “Pastor Rick” built in Southern California, Warren’s nearly 1 million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers in flooding social media with consolation and prayer.

“Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words,” Warren tweeted on Sunday. “You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”

But a shocking number are taking the moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on their digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed both at him personally and at his Christian message.

Tom Ehrich 12-11-2012
Photo: Citibank logo, Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Citibank logo, Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — The ancient dream of making money by simply moving money took a hit last week when Citibank announced plans to lay off 11,000 workers.

Across town, the dream of making money by actually making things – a dream that had seemed lost to foreign labor – got a boost when Apple's boss Tim Cook announced plans to make some computers in the U.S.

Citibank's move sent shock waves among people educated to take meetings, crunch numbers, and parlay networking into fees for passing money through their hands. There's no actual creation of wealth; just dipping a large ladle into wealth as it flows past.

Apple's small and somewhat symbolic move, by contrast, stirred hope that manufacturing might return again to American shores and stimulate the manufacturing wages and productive attitudes that once built a middle class.

Jennifer Grant 10-18-2012
The chalk drawing by Wes Noyes, 17, with his superhero brother, Jonah, 8.

The chalk drawing by Wes Noyes, 17, with his superhero brother, Jonah, 8.

“What I do every day is get a pencil, take a piece of paper, and draw,” Wes Noyes said.

The 17-year-old artist hopes someday to work in animation or as a graphic artist. Wes works for more than an hour a day, takes classes, and to date has made more than 500 pencil drawings.

After Wes playfully collaborated on a chalk drawing made by his mother Rebekah Greer, his work as a cartoonist gained national attention.

Greer, a photographer, musician, and the mother of five, had drawn fanciful backgrounds — a cityscape, an ocean scene among them — on the family’s driveway one evening this past summer and took portraits of her children posing in front of them. Wes added to the drawing she had made for son Jonah, then eight, by adding flames and interjecting himself into the picture as Godzilla.

When Greer posted the photo to Facebook, it quickly went viral.

“It sort of spread around,” Wes said simply.

The picture, titled “Brother of the Year,” has indeed “spread around.”

Chris Lisee 8-03-2012
Facebook image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

Facebook image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

Meet the social media “nones.” A new survey finds that Americans, while mostly religious, generally do not use social media to supplement worship and mostly keep their faith private online.

The Public Religion Research Institute survey found about one in 20 Americans followed a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. A similar number belonged to a religious or spiritual Facebook group.

The results seem to defy the familiar story of prominent religious leaders using social media to build a following – and a brand.

“We were surprised when this turned up really low levels of people engaging religion and faith online,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.

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