The price of knowing good and evil

In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then in Genesis 3:5 the serpent deceived Eve into desiring the fruit of that tree, so she ate from it. Verse 7 states that the eyes of Adam and Eve were immediately opened to know that they were naked. Presumably this realisation of their nakedness is a result of knowing good and evil, so it was an instant impartation of the knowledge.

However, in thinking about this recently I started to wonder if perhaps the sin and evil which resulted from this event are the expected effect: Adam and Eve were already experiencing ‘good’ even if they were unaware of any other state of being. To understand the knowledge of good and evil they would also have to experience evil.

One of the fundamental questions people have regarding belief in God is, “How can a good God allow evil?” The explanation must surely be that evil was demanded by the first humans reaching out to take the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot have such knowledge without knowing both what good is and what evil is.

I assume that theologians have discussed this at great length and explained it far better than my stumbling thoughts, but this is a new idea to me.

Deleting Facebook

delete-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! 

What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?

I posted a link to this blog post by Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui some time ago on Facebook but want to link to it here because I think it expresses well how I often feel myself about the idea of ‘getting ahead’ or ‘success’. Read the whole post, it’s worth it.

What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?

What if all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between? Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

New name, new host, same blog

Yesterday I made a couple of changes to my blog, though I’m hoping that you will barely notice one of them.

The change you will most likely notice is a change of blog name, from ‘Mike McArthur’ to ‘A Saved Wretch’. This is the name I used for my blog for a while in 2014 and despite not using it since then I kept the domain name because I like it.

Over recent weeks I’ve been feeling that I should write more about my faith than I have been and the name change is based on this conviction. I like this name for the depth of meaning it derives from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

I personally identify with being amazed that God in his grace would save a wretch like me. This is a significant element of my story so seems appropriate to use as the name for my personal blog. And while I do want to write about my faith a bit more, this remains a personal blog – an ongoing story of my life. Topics will continue to range wherever my wandering mind happens to go.

I mentioned having made two changes. The second is switching my hosting provider from Siteground to WordPress.com. My one year of hosting at Siteground expires soon and while they offered a 60% discount on the first year, the full price thereafter is a bit steep for what you get so it was time to look elsewhere.

WordPress.com have a massive and efficient infrastructure, tailored towards ease of use. The platform is restricting with respect to not allowing plugins on the cheaper plans, but this is not currently an issue to me so the pros outweigh the cons for what I need. I’m using the same theme as I had previously, so all you are likely to notice about this change is different wording in the site footer credits.

Eliminating human interaction

I’ve only this week become aware of a retail revolution that causes me significant anxiety the more I learn about it.

The poster child of this revolution is Amazon Go, a cashier-less grocery store in downtown Seattle which opened to the public on 22 January 2018.

There are cameras and sensors, to detect when you’ve walked in and when items are removed from shelves, and there are check-in kiosks near the entrance for scanning your phone to register your presence via Amazon Prime. (Nick Statt on The Verge)

For an idea of what the sensors are like check out the article: Amazon Go cashierless convenience store opens in the Seattle Times. The idea of computers and artificial intelligence tracking my every movement in a shop has a distinctly Orwellian tone to it, but on the other hand being able to just walk in, pick up what you need and then walk out without waiting in queues is appealing.

Amazon is not the only online retail giant playing with this sort of technology, Alibaba  has also trailed a checkout-free store which uses facial recognition to charge customers for their purchases automatically: Alibaba’s cash-free Tao Cafe

I want to emphasise that I am not a conspiracy theorist, I think the development of ways to avoid checkout queues and reduce staffing costs is an obvious progression based on human nature. Customers want secure ways to pay that minimise waiting times, and retailers want whatever mechanism they can find to maximise profit, reduce theft and streamline accounting. The hardware and software used in these cashier-less stores facilitates advantages for both retailers and customers.

For the majority of people, convenience subtly but strongly influences behaviour, gradually altering social norms with things like cars, ATMs, and contactless payment now quite normal. It’s not difficult to envisage a progression to biometric and implanted technology which enables people to completely do without credit or debit cards, cash or cheques. A completely cashless society is still decades away in my estimate (it was predicted when the first EFT-POS machines arrived), but probably inevitable.

The convenience of not having to worry about carrying cash or cards would be nice, but I do have some concerns about the whole thing. Obviously for Christians there is the scary spectre of Revelation 13:16-17, but even without that I worry that our technological ‘progress’ is taking us too quickly into realms in which our psychological wellbeing is unable to cope.

Humans have always lived in community, to be alone is risky for survival and useless for propagating the species. Because we are social beings, we are finely tuned to the reactions of people around us and the relationships we have with them. By automating everything they can get their hands on, engineers are interfering with this dynamic and may end up driving increasing numbers of people into serious psychological distress. Maybe this seems like an over reaction, but it is not difficult to find reports of people who live alone and only really interact with shop attendants and bus drivers, is it a good thing to eliminate even these few personal interactions?

A few relevant links:

Disadvantages of always carrying a notebook

For at least the last five years I have carried a small notebook in my back pocket, a habit I highly recommend. I very seldom use my iPhone to capture short notes, anything I want to remember goes into my notebook.

However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to always having that notebook in my back pocket:

Pocket wear from my ever-present notebook

I always keep my notebook in the same pocket, with the result that over time it has worn a hole in that pocket of my jeans. I would have thought my phone would have worn a hole, but I must carry the notebook around more than the phone.

This last weekend I was working in our back yard and got a bit wet at one point, with resulting damage to my previously pristine notebook:

It dried out OK so I’m continuing to use it. And the advantage of having used pencil in this notebook is that there were no issues with ink running.

Perhaps I will find more downsides to pocket notebooks as the years go by, but compared to the headaches I’ve had with smartphones over the same time span, old fashioned paper and pencil is remarkably robust.