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On being hacked..

Yesterday morning a post of mine appeared on BigBible, extolling the virtues of fusing technology with traditional church. In it I explored some of the ways in which digital technology could prove not just a companion, but an enhancement, to traditional moments in church life.  By the time the day was over, I appear to have been bitten by the digital hand I had fed!

At the close of evening service, I went to log off my computer before locking up and going home. I opened a slightly odd- looking message from a colleague, ignored its contents, shut the computer down and went home.  Within an hour a friend contacted me to say that he thought my Twitter account had been hacked – and he was right. A spurious direct message had been sent out to over 400 followers, and those who opened it suffered the same fate as me. Acting on advice I solved the problem, but it has given me cause to reflect…

Emotions

My overriding emotion was one of embarrassment. I felt like I had gone out wearing filthy (and possibly flea-ridden) clothes – and sat down on the virtual sofa on every single one of my online friends. Maybe this is why I spent the next hour with a digital dustpan and brush sweeping up behind me with apologetic messages. More worryingly, I also felt a tinge of panic. I hold so many of my followers in the highest esteem – I value their insight, cherish their friendship and enjoy their updates. The thought of losing them through this unsavoury episode was very worrying.

Responses

As I have said before in other places, tales of the digital space as a den of nastiness and corruption are hugely exaggerated. My annoyance at my anonymous hacker was more than outweighed by the kindness and helpful advice I received from others. Within an hour of the event happening, people were letting me know about it without accusation. Within 5 minutes of that, I had numerous helpful and succinct responses on how to fix the problem. The rest of my evening was spent reading reassuring messages from people that they did not hold it against me!

Lessons

  • Don’t open dodgy Direct Messages!
  • Change your password immediately when this kind of thing happens, and occasionally anyway.
  • Be prepared for nastiness to be swamped by goodness and panic to be hushed by co-operation.
  • This episode reinforces my belief more strongly than ever that Christians are needed in the digital space.
So has the man who shouted about digital potential on BigBible changed his mind? Very definitely not. The answer to episodes such as this is not to withdraw, surely – but to redouble our commitment to integrity and creativity online?
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Flemish artist shows you how

Image:designswelove.com

If the church in the image above doesn’t look quite right – its because its not. Constructed next to a cycle track in Belgium, using 30 tons of steel and 2000 columns it is an outdoor artwork commissioned by the contemporary art museum in Hasselt. Though it has a certain ethereal beauty to it – there is neither room nor comfort to use it as a worshipping space.  The artist, inspired by the shape of the (largely vacant) churches around about him, describes it as ‘the traditional church transformed into a transparent object of art’.

Seven years ago the church where I work was transformed by chopping out the middle and creating a two-storey high glass atrium. (You can see a picture here)  The effect of this transparency on the local community has been magnetic- and I’m pleased to say that the building is nearly always busy.

In the speeded-up film below,you will see Van Varenbergh’s construction come together in a matter of seconds. Of course it really took much longer than that.  Constructing a properly transparent church at the heart of the community takes even longer – but it is definitely worth it.

I think this video really needs a soundtrack – any suggestions?

… scepticism

Earlier this week  I handed an expensive computer and an equally expensive software package over to a complete stranger in order for him to repair the computer and install the software.  We had never met before, and I only knew him by his screen name, since we had only met on Twitter. Ours was not a business arrangement as such, since this was an IT professional doing some repair work in his own time for ‘pocket money’, as he described it. We parted with nothing but an exchange of phone numbers and Twitter names as proof of our encounter.

The computer is back now, new software installed and well on the way to being used again.

Of course, this could all have turned out very differently. I might have misread things entirely, and waved goodbye to computer and software in a moment of spectacularly misjudged folly. I believe, though, in the power of community. Like other on-line communities such as Ebay, Twitter is built on trust. I met my computer doctor through a friend’s recommendation, and now will pass on that recommendation in similar vein. The relationships we build on-line are just that – relationships. There are many differences between them and their off-line equivalent, but some important similarities too.Trust, openness and honesty count for a great deal. Feedback is the lifeblood of the on-line world, without which it cannot function.

Maybe what clinched it for me in this on-line turned off-line encounter was the moment when my computer helper said to me that he was glad he had moved to our town because it was a “real community”. In a day when social media is occasionally demonised as a tool in the hands of society’s most destructive people, let’s not forget those moments when it serves as a tool for positive community engagement.

Richard Littledale

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