The Tyranny of Convenience

“I just boarded an international @JetBlue flight. Instead of scanning my boarding pass or handing over my passport, I looked into a camera before being allowed down the jet bridge,” MacKenzie Fegan tweeted last week. “Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?”

The quick answer? Yes and no.

Yes, facial recognition did replace boarding passes for international travelers in some U.S. airports recently, and — if the Trump administration has its way — it will be the default check-in method in many more airports by 2020. And no, Fegan did not overtly consent to this specific use of facial recognition. Nor did anyone else, presumably. In a subsequent tweet, JetBlue told Fegan that passengers can “opt out of this procedure,” suggesting that JetBlue considers consent to be implied by default.

If we take the airline’s word for it, JetBlue assumed that its passengers would find biometric check-in more convenient than the conventional method.

Part of the answer as to why JetBlue might have made that assumption — that people would actually want their faces to serve as a boarding pass, instead of a piece of paper or their smartphone — appears in a press release JetBlue linked to in its response thread with Fegan.

Back in November, when biometric boarding was introduced at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, JetBlue’s senior vice president of customer experience was quoted praising the technology as “a testament to the airline’s ongoing work to create a personal, helpful, and simple experience.” If we take the airline’s word for it, JetBlue assumed that its passengers would find biometric check-in more convenient than the conventional method.

In the ongoing and growing opposition to the seemingly dystopian world technology companies are building, convenience is often overlooked. But it’s convenience, and the way convenience is currently created by tech companies and accepted by most of us, that is key to why we’ve ended up living in a world we all chose, but that nobody seems to want.

Convenience is signing up to a social media platform to keep in touch with friends and family and keep abreast of current events, and then discovering that the personal information you’ve been required to upload to enable your account has been used to micro-target you with disinformation.

Convenience is buying a digital assistant for your home to make hands-free information searches easier, and later finding out that employees of the company that makes it are able to listen to the commands you’ve been giving it — or that its recordings of the ambient sounds of your home have been mailed to someone you don’t know.

Convenience is downloading a weather app to check whether you need to pack an umbrella, only to later realize that the app’s code makes it easy for someone to track your movements with such specificity that no amount of anonymization of the data would hide that it was you entering a Planned Parenthood, or riding along with the mayor of New York City.

Convenience is watching one video online by someone who thinks the world is flat, and tumbling down a rabbit hole of aggressive and increasingly swivel-eyed conspiracy videos until you end up believing that Hillary Clinton is a lizard from another planet. Better yet, convenience is sitting your child down in front of a supposedly child-friendly video only to discover a while later that the same autoplay function has dug up videos of their favorite cartoon characters being mutilated.

Convenience is driving a car for a ride-hail company because it promises flexible hours, only to find yourself making less than minimum wage and subject to phantom price surge promises, the absolutism of personal star ratings, and constant surveillance, including messages that prompt you to get back to driving like a notification that your phone is unmounted.

Most importantly, convenience is a value, and one we hold personally.

Convenience is booking a flight online quickly and cheaply, only to discover upon arriving at the airport that you are required to subject yourself to a facial recognition “procedure,” where your image is captured and automatically checked against a federal database, affording you little recourse if it happens to mismatch, in order to board your plane and embark on your trip.

Convenience is allowing the “if, then” logic of an algorithm to shape the music you hear, the books you read, the information you see, the news you read, the things you watch, and the people you interact with.

Convenience is the powerful marketing tool deployed by utopian evangelists to describe a world of total ease and seamless interactions that deliberately masks a frantic race to monopolize a near-bottomless well of behavioral and biometric data. It is the device used to reduce our personal agency, strip us of personal choice, and ultimately render us helpless to the terms and conditions to which we have unwittingly clicked “I agree.”

Most importantly, convenience is a value, and one we hold personally. Ultimately, this is why it keeps winning, outweighing the more abstract ideas like privacy, democracy, or equality, all of which remain merely issues for most of us. That’s why Fegan’s encounter matters. Her moment of realization at the airport is one we will all face one day: the instant when we realize that the convenience we value is not only inseparable from those issues, but that, taken far enough, that they can’t exist simultaneously. Convenience doesn’t simply supercede privacy or democracy or equality in many of our lives. It might also destroy them.

*This article originally appeared at OneZero on Medium.com

5 Reasons Millennials are Drawn to Mainline Churches

Don’t assume your church doesn’t have anything to offer the Millennial generation, says Andrew Ponder Williams. He outlines five ways that mainline churches are distinctively called and gifted to connect with younger generations and offers tips on how your church can maximize these advantages.

I consistently encounter the presumption in congregations of all sizes that Millennials don’t like mainline churches. I believe this assumption arises from a deep fear that our local churches don’t have anything to offer my generation. The truth is that Millennials desire and actively seek intergenerational, welcoming communities of faith. I know from firsthand experience with ministries across mainline traditions that our congregations have a lot to offer younger people.

Here are five reasons why mainline churches are distinctively called to minister with Millennials and tips for how your church can better connect with this generation.

1. We share our faith authentically.

Our consumer culture has hijacked the word authentic to describe guacamole, toilet bowel cleaners, and everything in between. The term has lost a lot of its impact and we have become immune to its true meaning.

True authenticity is something that forms within us when we are centered with God and with our neighbors. Authenticity requires vulnerability with God and with each other.

TIP: Millennials are a generation seeking authenticity. In other words, local churches should not pretend to be something that they aren’t. For example, if your church is small then don’t pretend to be big. Authentically embracing who you are as a community of faith will draw others to you.

2. We are rooted in traditions.

Please disregard everything you have been told about how your traditional church has nothing to offer young people. God has equipped you to minister to Millennials through the traditions you share and the relationships you offer. In a world that changes every five minutes, my generation understands that for something to last hundreds of years it must be pretty special.

Furthermore, traditional has gone from meaning “old” to meaning “mystical.” We Millennials grew up on stories of a young wizard named Harry Potter who escaped a locked closet under the stairs, came of age in a giant gothic castle, and was shaped by much older professors and mentors. The Harry Potter Effect, as I call it, has shaped our minds to see gothic spaces as places of great intrigue and even opportunity. It explains, in part, why Millennials are more open to traditional expressions of faith than you might think.

TIP: Embrace and showcase your traditions through creative and meaningful worship. Invoke a sense of the sacred in worship through candles, hymns, and don’t try to overly modernize your worship space.

3. We give generously.

The clearest conclusion about the Millennial generation is that we are generous in our giving to and support of impactful nonprofits. Mainline faith traditions are well positioned to engage Millennials because of our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all God’s children through missions and service. The most generous generation in history is the perfect match for the most generous churches in the world.

TIP: This is one area of ministry where it is okay to not be humble. Be bold in sharing your commitment to missions and the impact on the lives of others. Invite young people in your congregation to lead your church in its mission and service.

4. We live purposefully.

I learned from an experience with a former campus ministry student that the thoughtful theology of the mainline gives young people the opportunity to develop a distinct purpose for their lives. Our group had spent the day exploring Yosemite National Park only to discover it was too crowded to see much of anything. We took a back road away from the crowd and discovered an incredible mountain vista where we prayed.

This student shared that her day at Yosemite was like her experience with our mainline campus ministry. Her point was that most people travel just to the most famous spot within a park or destination, take a selfie, and miss the richness of what lies off the beaten path. She believed that most students at her school were joining campus ministries that narrowed their perspectives instead of helping them discover their distinct purposes.

TIP: Make mentorship a core function of your ministry whether your church has one young adult to guide or hundreds. Mentorship leads to meaningful relationships and spiritual growth for the mentor and the mentee.

5. We are based in grace.

Our theological emphasis on grace has always been especially inspiring and is more important than ever in this time of division. The grace God has for us and the grace we have for each other is something we are called to share widely. Mainline traditions emphasis grace in distinct and transformative ways. Our belief in God’s commitment to perpetual love and forgiveness for us all is something truly distinct and comforting.

TIP: Practice a life of grace inside and outside the walls of your church. Seize this opportunity to model grace for our divided society and for my generation. Embracing grace will distinguish your church as a nurturing intergenerational community of faith.

*this article first appeared on churchleadership.com

brent dodd

Title: Trance Dance
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 176cm x 68cm

This painting is about the act of realizing difficult decisions. The analogy is to that of a traditional African trance dance, where individuals dance around a fire, endlessly, ultimately entering into trances. In the dream world state one theoretically is able to realize solutions and ‘see’ the way forward. Ultimately, then coming out of the dream state back to reality. The individuals in the painting start out of focus on the left, dreaming, finally coming into focus on the right, in the new reality. Similarly, the third individual is aged, as difficult decisions can do to one, but on achieving the hard decision, one has a new lease on life, and hence the gap, between the three individuals and the new youthful individual on the right of the canvas.