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Blog

How can we make the web better?

“Cancel Culture” is all the rage, and rage is a currency on Twitter. It’s getting so out of hand that this joke (from Twitter, no less) hits a little too close to home.

I believe many content creators, digital natives, and developers would be willing to admit that web experiences became notably more hostile between 2016 to 2019. In a recent example, Stack Overflow treated one of their most valuable Jewish community members with undeserved hostility, doing so on a Jewish holiday, admitting to it, then dragging their feet to reinstate her. As of October 19th, she is still not reinstated. Other community moderators have now stepped down because they don’t trust the company.

It’s not only hostility (not to mention the outright garbage) that is making web experiences ugly. The economics of social networks are causing frustrating user experiences. Also, companies and developers are imposing system constraints on their Internet products too quickly without first considering basics like security and the necessity to constantly change the system based on ongoing needs. Consequently, privacy leaks, broken trust, and lawsuits abound.

After being in web development in both full time and part time roles for 8 years, in observing both delightful and ugly experiences as both a user and a builder, these are some personal opinions on how we can make the web a better experience for everybody.

Be Nice

Did someone behave offensively on a website or on social media? If you know them, address it personally with them and with grace. If you don’t know them well enough to address the issue well, just stop following them and move on. No need to give them any more of your time, and no need to publicly vent. I’ve made that mistake before and it didn’t serve any redeeming purpose.

Name calling should also have no place on our websites or social feeds. Even if the other person is legitimately wrong. Politically-charged terms such as “libtard”, “nazi”, and “racist” have almost never solved a problem or changed someone’s mind. They have almost always fed unnecessary conflict.

If you are a Christian, then this step is not optional:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18, ESV

Increase Decentralization

Web users should ideally have a “home base” for their web presence. That home base must be 100% self-owned. Right now, we’ve become too dependent on social media platforms to own our home bases for us. While social media has its place to be something of a “bullhorn” to market our ideas and products, we should work harder to decentralize the content of the World Wide Web by running our own websites based on personal interests.

Are you not coding-savvy but want to build a digital home base of your own? I recommend either Squarespace or WordPress.com.

Are you coding savvy or at least IT savvy? Try self-hosting WordPress. I currently use Digital Ocean but aspire to host it from a Raspberry Pi at home later next year. Don’t like WordPress’ templates? Roll your own with Gatsby or a custom front-end consuming WordPress’ data. Don’t like WordPress at all? Use another solid Content Management System such as Drupal. For nerds, the possibilities are myriad!

Abandon Truly Bad Digital Products

If a product is truly bad, stop using it. They don’t deserve your business and the majority of the time there are good alternatives. For example, are you done with Twitter but want a microblog? Roll your own by writing short form content on any blog platform of your choice or join a Mastodon server.

Don’t post on social media about how much you hate a product or dislike a product’s CEO. Especially if you intend to still use that product. If you are saying you hate something but still use it (such as Facebook or Uber) then you don’t actually hate it.

Stop virtue signaling. It’s gross.

Simplify and Strengthen Web Engineering

Warning: this section gets a bit nerdy

Businesses tend to focus first on delivering features within unrealistic deadlines and with overly engineered systems. Right now, it is trendy to break apart systems into a bunch of smaller running systems, known as a Microservice Architecture. While there are many excellent uses for this architecture when it comes to scaling systems to meet high demand, there are costs as well. A major data aggregation company has written a blog post about why they have moved away from this architecture in their specific use case. Monolithic systems could become all the rage again for many use cases!

Another trend I’ve encountered is to use a framework for no reason. While frameworks can simplify code and make life easier, I’ve also seen developers adopt a large framework without proper coding conventions. It resulted in a tar-pit of writing more (and buggier) code than if they had adopted no framework! If the team doesn’t know why they’re using something and doesn’t know how to leverage what they’re using, that is not a good sign.

Another key issue to avoid is too much dependence on the individual knowledge of a developer or architect. If your team cannot operate with a key team member missing, including the team lead, your project is already in serious trouble.

Conclusion

The World Wide Web has some excellent and delightful things, and has lowered the barrier to fun and thoughtful creativity. It’s also overdue for an overhaul in many places. Users and developers alike have both the relational means to do this as well as the tools.

Categories
Blog

How to avoid posting fake news on social media in 3 easy steps!

If you value truth, then you know as well as I do that it is important to curb sharing lies. Even partial ones! Fake or sensational news is possibly more engaging on social media than clickbait ads used to be. They are usually making money off of you from website ads or else they are trying to manipulate your beliefs.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16 (ESV)

Here are 3 easy steps to avoid posting fake or sensational news on your social media accounts:

  1. STOP. Don’t post something simply because it confirms your personal beliefs. Just stop. The fancy term for this is “confirmation bias”. We all have done this (I’m guilty as charged!) and it’s so easy to click that share button or to copy and paste something. It requires self control to stop ourselves.
  2. VERIFY. Check if you can verify it from a primary source. Then corroborate it by checking for a second primary source that confirms the verified source’s claim. Then do due diligence by checking against any claims made to the contrary.
  3. DISCARD. If you cannot verify the source, discard the post automatically. If you cannot corroborate the source, use careful language to indicate you are quoting a primary source (and not making a statement of fact, since a fact has not been established). There is a difference between saying “he/she says this is X” and saying “this is X”, but even then, if the source is not truthful, you run the risk of spreading something not truthful.

Primary Sources

What is a primary source? News sites and social media posts are not primary sources, unless a primary source directly posts on one of those platforms. For example, a YouTube video saying a politician wasn’t bullied is not a primary source. However, if that politician writes a guest article or a Twitter thread about their experience of being bullied, that is a primary source. At this point, it is up to your discretion of whether or not the primary source is truthful, because primary sources can still lie. This is why corroboration is also important.

Corroboration

What is corroboration? In short, it is someone reputable who was there or who read the information being claimed and is saying “I saw it too.”

For example, a Fox News or CNN article including a video snippet of Donald Trump saying something is not corroboration. Videos can be selectively edited by either of these news outlets to fit their respective agenda. Seeing an unedited video on C-SPAN, however, is a way to personally corroborate something Donald Trump said at a speech.

Another example is if a friend or news site says something is or is not healthy for you. There are medical journals that document scientific studies in detail. If the claim has been verified by means of a double-blind study (which means there was an unbiased oversight of the test, thus a primary source plus corroboration) with a large study group, it is possibly a valid observation, but not inherently proven because science doesn’t prove anything. It observes. If the study in question was not double blind and/or the study group is small or the study was short term, it is highly likely to be error prone. A library with database access to these studies is your friend.

How about you?

How much do you value the truth? Has a news source tried to fool you before? How about a meme page or a YouTube video? Did you find primary sources to the contrary? How did those you know who fell for Fake News respond when shown evidence to the contrary? Did they dig their heels in? Apologize but keep the fake post up? Remove the post? How much do they value the truth?

Categories
Theology

Bad company in Ancient Jewish Thought

Credit goes to my friend Sam Stephens, who provided review and thoughtful ideas. A few sentences are verbatim from his input.

Introduction

Should Christians avoid befriending unbelievers?  A common passage referenced by Christians regarding the befriending of unbelievers is 1 Corinthians 15:33. Here are three popular translations of the passage:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

(ESV)

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

(KJV)

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

(NIV)

The assumption made is that befriending an unbeliever is to hang out with bad company.  Does Paul consider unbelievers (including sexually immoral unbelievers) to be inherently bad company?  What was Paul talking about in that section of 1 Corinthians 15?  And what does “bad company” mean in a Jewish context?

What is “company”?

The Greek word for “company” in 1 Corinthians 15 is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament.  The Greek word is ὁμιλία (“homilia”) from where we get the word “homily” (another word for “sermon”).

Given the variety of lexical definitions and translations available (look up Strong’s Greek number G3657 if you want to see them all), the best way to anchor in a higher likelihood of an accurate lexical definition of the word is to observe the usage of the Greek word in Jewish literature that was highly probable to be in use during Paul’s time.  The Septuagint (which we’ll refer to as LXX going forward) is the best source since it is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that is quoted verbatim by authors of the Greek New Testament.

As it turns out, ὁμιλία is used 4 times in the LXX! Two of them are in the canon (LXX contains some non-canon, if you didn’t know already).  We will focus on the canonical uses but quickly cover the non-canonical too.

The first occurrence is in Exodus 21:10. It is the Mosaic covenantal law regarding men having a polygamous martial relationship in which one of the women is a Hebrew bondservant.  The translation of ὁμιλία is in bold:

If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

(ESV)

If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

(KJV)

If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.

(NIV)

There is strong agreement across the translations on the meaning of ὁμιλία in this passage: an intimate, sexual form of “company”!

The other occurrence is in Proverbs 7:21, regarding the seductress who entices the foolish boy. Again, the translation of ὁμιλία is in bold:

With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.

(ESV)

With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.

(KJV)

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.

(NIV)

Once again, strong agreement on the word meaning in the translations.  It’s communication, but of a sexual nature.

In the non-canonical LXX passages it is used in the context of being close to wisdom as a husband being close company with a spouse (Wisdom of Solomon 8:18), and it is also used to describe a party involving drinking and “revelry” (3 Maccabees 5:18).

In biblical Jewish literature, this word is always used to mean company of a particularly intimate nature. Within the scope of the LXX it’s used for marriage, drinking buddies, or sex.

So what was Paul talking about?

We must marry the Jewish lexical use with the context of the passage.  Pun intended.

In the context of verse 33, Paul is saying that a hedonistic lifestyle is logical if the resurrection isn’t true.  However, being in company with people for the purpose of loose living is known to be bad for you, so therefore hedonism is false.  Which also means the Corinthians, who have been tolerating sexual immorality in their own congregation (1 Cor. 5), must needs stop living like hedonists and live in the light of the resurrection!

If you do not subscribe to the above contextual interpretation, there are two other probabilities:

  1. The “bad company” may be referring to the “some” who “have no knowledge of God” in verse 34.
  2. The “bad company” may be referring to the person asking “how are the dead raised” in verse 35.

For these two warnings, perhaps the warning is a bit more dire: Simply engaging in a close way with people who doubt God’s ability to raise the dead (by extension, people who do not teach proper doctrine) can itself lead to morally sinful living, even if that idea wasn’t on the table to start with.

The end is the same, though. The “bad company” is not friends who are unsaved or horribly sinful. It’s close conversation motivated by a desire to be like people who willfully disbelieve God.

Did Paul believe that unbelievers were inherently bad company?

It is contextually clear in the New Covenant sciptures that Paul allows for believers to at least have some degree of association and to even have meals with unbelievers who are sexually immoral, idolaters, and who even take advantage of other people!  Avoiding to even eat with such a person is reserved for those unrepentantly practicing this lifestyle while claiming to be believers.

It is clear that sexually immoral, idolatrous, and even exploitive people are not inherently the “bad company” of 1 Corinthians 15:33 unless they are working to seduce you to sin, or if you are trying to hang out with them for the purpose of disobedience.  The scriptures warning us to not participate in the sins of our unbelieving friends are numerous!

In conclusion, Christians are NOT being commanded in this passage to avoid friendships with unbelievers (including the sexually immoral). This common misapplication of the passage ignores the passage’s surrounding context and the historical Jewish usage of the word for “company”. An appropriate use of this passage is for warning people who are in relationships with either professing believers or unbelievers for the purpose of going along with their sin. Being in such relationships will corrupt character.