Displaying items by tag: technology
Covid-19 has plunged the world into an economic crisis and accelerated digitisation in the workplace. Adopting digital technology creates opportunities for millions of new businesses and jobs, but millions without access to technology are left jobless. Unequal access to the internet and technology will impact the unskilled and offline communities in the developing world where connectivity is expensive, slow and unreliable. For example, a vegetable trader in Nairobi may make basic mobile phone payments but cannot sell his produce online because most of his buyers are neither online nor aware of e-commerce. Governments in developing countries lack the funds, and private companies lack financial incentives to invest in broadband for all. The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic will discourage investing digital infrastructure where it is most needed. Pray for the 3.2 billion people who will remain unconnected, those who don't have laptop jobs or access to virtual education or work, to find ways to survive in post-pandemic times.
The following is based on ‘Reflections on Doing Church Online’ by a researcher in digital religion who points out that people are realising that online church can spiritually interconnect us when we are physically separated. Technological social interaction is growing with weekly congregational rhythms of regular online morning and evening prayers, musical worship (streamed or interactive) throughout the week; there are daily activities for children, regular ‘Sabbath’ breaks from news and digital media; eating meals together as a family, prayer and contemplation connections; assistance for working from home, shared Bible reading, the encouragement of responsible contact with neighbours, and recruiting for all manner of community support. We can pray that pandemic lockdown re-awakens the church to her mission and calling through fresh expressions of church. Many are saying building-centred churches may never recover from low attendance, and thus low collections, compounded by pandemic-related recession.
For months both adults and children, many of whom are working at home, have spent significantly more time online. Now the Internet Watch Foundation reports that images of child abuse images online have increased by almost 50% during lockdown. In the eleven weeks from 23 March its hotline logged 44,809 reports of images, compared with 29,698 last year. The Government has promised to draw up legislation to reduce online harm. The fastest-growing category of images being removed in recent years has been those generated by children after grooming or coercion. The updated figures are likely to renew the debate about how to keep children safe, after months of parents grappling to limit children’s online activity. There are now growing concerns that appropriate draft legislation will be delayed by the pandemic.
Boris Johnson is expected to draw up plans to phase out Huawei from Britain’s 5G phone networks now that US sanctions have undermined the Chinese telecoms equipment maker’s ability to supply the UK market with exactly what it promised. Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said that GCHQ can no longer guarantee Huawei’s security. Mr Dowden’s department has yet to deliver its conclusions to Mr Johnson, who has said he does not want the country to be ‘vulnerable to a high-risk state vendor’. Huawei has stated that it remains ‘open to discussions’. China's ambassador to the UK warned that if the UK got rid of Huawei it would send out a wider message about its openness to foreign investment. MPs are currently discussing the implications of a potential ban.
Technology is a powerful tool for light and life in this pandemic. A surge in Google searches around the theme of hope and faith plus a phenomenal increase of people searching Christian websites means that more are hearing the Gospel. Global Media Outreach registered a 170% increase in clicks on search engine advertisements about finding hope. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Campus Crusade (Cru) created special internet tools for ministry in the pandemic. Cru’s student page is expected to receive 20 million more visitors than last year, and BGEA’s outreach had 191,000+ online visitors and 11,000 decisions to accept Jesus as Saviour. See also Intercessor Focus: praying for the local church.
The island’s phone-tracking system is an ‘electronic fence’, using existing phone signals to triangulate mobile phone owners’ locations. To ensure users comply, an alert is sent to the authorities if the handset is turned off for more than 15 minutes. More than 6,000 people subjected to home quarantine are monitored this way. Officials phone users up to twice a day to make sure they have their mobile to hand, and to ask about their health. Milo Hsieh is under quarantine. Early on Sunday morning, while he was sleeping, two police officers knocked at his door. His phone had run out of battery; in less than an hour four different administrative units had called. Police were dispatched to check his whereabouts. A text was sent saying that the government had lost track of him, and warning of potential arrest if he had broken quarantine.
A national day of prayer and action for the global pandemic of coronavirus has been organised for this Sunday. The organisers are Archbishop Justin Welby, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Revd Dr Hugh Osgood (the Free Churches Moderator), Archbishop Angaelos of London (the Orthodox Church) and Pastor Agu Irukwu, the Pentecostal representative. They write, ‘This Mothering Sunday we are calling all churches to a national day of prayer and action. At this time, when so many are fearful and there is great uncertainty, we are reminded of our dependence on our loving Heavenly Father and the future that he holds. At 7pm this Sunday, light a candle of hope in the windows of your homes as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer.’ Also churches are looking to livestream services. The Baptist Union hosted an online prayer broadcast, with 2,300 joining in, and has a number of resources online.
Israel’s government has approved emergency regulations to enable the Shin Bet to perform mass surveillance of phones belonging to Israelis who contracted COVID-19. This is not to monitor quarantined people, but to track the movements of those found to be coronavirus carriers, to see with whom they interacted in the 14 days before they were diagnosed. Those who were contacted will receive SMS messages instructing them to enter home quarantine. Netanyahu announced the use of these digital counterterrorism measures, as one of several drastic steps to curb the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. He acknowledged that the digital measures might interfere with people’s privacy, but he argued that Taiwan has successfully used similar means in order to stop the coronavirus spread. Public criticism and warnings by human rights groups mean that authorities must limit these measures to only thirty days.
Until now, firms like Facebook, Tiktok, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter have largely been self-regulating. New powers will be given to Ofcom to force such firms to take action over harmful content. Companies have defended their own rules about taking down unacceptable content, but critics say independent rules are needed to keep people safe. It is unclear what penalties Ofcom will be able to enforce to target violence, cyber-bullying and child abuse as they make tech firms responsible for protecting people from such content. Pray for wise action to ensure that content is removed quickly. Also, there is growing evidence that Internet use can harm mental health, but research is still lacking. In January leading UK psychiatrists said that tech companies must be made to share data and pay tax to fund research into the risks and benefits of social media use on children’s mental health. See
5G is widespread in China and being tested in America and Europe. Potentially, it will unleash a tidal wave of smart devices. Doctors will carry out surgery remotely, taking advantage of 5G’s speed to control precision robots. Designers and lawyers will work remotely through shared virtual realities. Scientific experiments will be carried out over long distances, allowing scientists across nations to take part in common research projects. 5G will transform ‘smart cities’, with sensors for gathering, analysing and processing data on public transport and energy consumption. They will improve waste collection, detecting whether bins are full and telling bin-men where those full bins are. 5G will keep traffic flowing by working traffic lights based on traffic volume. Self-driving cars will communicate instantly and avoid crashes. Rural areas will benefit from autonomous drones hovering over plants and spraying sticky ones with pesticides when needed. The most surprising innovations are those that still live in our imaginations.