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BreakPoint: From Black Friday to Advent, have a merry (offline) Christmas

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Black Friday has certainly given America’s cultural reputation a black eye. The day after we pause to give thanks as a nation for God’s provisions, we trample security guards for iPhones and flat-screen televisions. It’s now an annual tradition: America’s big-box stores drop their prices and, in response, shoppers go berserk.

News stations everywhere lead with the requisite embarrassing video footage, showing shoppers crawling over each other, throwing elbows and curse words. Checkout lines at Walmarts and Best Buys nationwide become dangerous places to be or to work. It’s not a good look.

Of course, online Black Friday sales have already been going on for a month now, which allows us to indulge our consumerist tendencies without physical violence. I guess that’s an improvement …

Dennis Prager once told me on a panel that if this is America’s biggest problem — scuffling with each other in a rush to buy presents for our loved ones — we could do a lot worse. I told him that I was not convinced these shoppers were altruistically buying for others, but still, I take his point. There certainly needs to be room for frivolity at Christmas time.

All of this should remind us of the idols vying for our attention this Christmas season. Certainly there is the idol of stuff, but, looking through social media, there is also the idol of other people’s perceptions.

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Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook are full of this idol, and we allow ourselves to feel the pressure. All those pictures of a perfectly decorated home of perfectly well-behaved and perfectly matching children, complete with color, theme and pattern-coordinating attire. Matching Christmas pajamas, shown off with a family lip-sync.

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All the Pinterest-worthy décor and Instagram-worthy celebration videos reveal a different kind of materialism — a materialism of experience. And it has become another distraction in a season meant for holy reflection.

Throughout church history, the days leading up to Christmas celebrations were to be a time of fasting. Many liturgically oriented Christians see Advent as a bookend to Lent, the liturgical season of fasting and prayer that occurs in the 40 days before Easter. For Christians, Advent is a time to reflect on Jesus’ first incarnation and prepare for his second coming. The Bible doesn’t prescribe this outright, of course, but Advent does provide us with a different calendar to go by, something especially helpful today in our hurried cultural moment.

Unfortunately, for many of us, Black Friday settles into a rushed and hurried holiday-season rhythm. And for many, along with the chaos comes the melancholy. It’s a frustrating paradox: Feeling sad during what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Jesus offers some insight in the Gospel of Matthew, when he calls the weary and burdened to come to him. “I will give you rest,” he said. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Obviously, Jesus isn’t saying that to follow him means having an easy or comfortable life. After all, his own earthly life wasn’t easy or comfortable in any sense. When he says his “yoke is easy,” I think at least part of what he’s talking about is simplicity.

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Maybe our Christmastime melancholy is the byproduct of all the pressure to have a good time and all the options we have in order to have a good time and all the pressure we face to prove to others on social media that we’ve had a good time. After all, our culture implicitly convinces us, you’ll only know you’re having a wonderful, valuable life if you follow every Pinterest recipe and constantly upload joyful moments to Instagram and Facebook and get lots of likes.

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We’re afraid our lives won’t be full, but neglect that which will fill us: reflecting on holy things, like Mary’s obedience and Jesus’ sacrifice; embracing ordinary beauty like extra time with family and special traditions.

By all means, enjoy the frivolity. But don’t lose the season curating online versions of holiday experiences or by comparing your curated memories with theirs. Celebrate Jesus’ birth. Give gifts freely. Eat some extra calories.

Have a Merry Christmas — just don’t feel the pressure to put it on Instagram.

From BreakPoint, Nov. 29, 2019; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center, www.breakpoint.org.

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Instagram Will Soon Test Tall Photos for Compatibility With Fullscreen Reels

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Photo and video sharing platform Instagram might have halted its controversial redesign, but that doesn’t mean the company plans to stop focusing on full-screen content. During the weekly Ask Me Anything, CEO Adam Mosseri confirmed that Instagram will begin testing ultra-tall 9:16 photos “in a week or two.” “You can have tall videos, but you cannot have tall photos on Instagram. So, we thought maybe we should make sure that we treat both equally,” Mosseri said.

Currently, Instagram tops out around 4:5 when displaying vertical images that have been cropped accordingly. But introducing support for slimmer, taller 9:16 photos will help them fill the entire screen as you scroll through the app’s feed. CEO Adam Mosseri confirmed that Instagram will be testing this feature during the weekly Ask Me Anything.

Recently, Instagram pulled its TikTok-like redesign. Several photographers criticised Instagram’s TikTok-like redesign for the way it forces all photos to awkwardly display in a 9:16 frame. The new feed also added overlay gradients to the bottom of posts so that text would be easier to read. But that clashed with the original appearance of photographers’ work.

During the course of Instagram’s shaky redesign test with users, Mosseri admitted more than once that the full-screen experience was less than ideal for photos. Now Instagram very much still intends to showcase that ultra-tall photo experience, but without mandating it across the board.


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WhatsApp Working on Login Approval Feature to Improve Account Security: Report

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WhatsApp is reportedly adding a new security feature to let people protect their accounts from potential scammers. According to a feature tracker, the feature is called Login Approval, and is currently under development. This will build on the two-step verification feature that the instant messaging platform already offers. With this feature, users can receive alerts inside WhatsApp when a user logs in to an account from a different smartphone. Recently, it was reported that WhatsApp is working on adding the ability to view past group participants on iOS.

According to a report by WhatsApp feature tracker WABetaInfo, the Meta-owned instant messaging platform is rolling out the WhatsApp beta version 2.22.17.22. The feature tracker has spotted a new security feature called Login Approval, which is currently under development, and could be released as part of a future update.

The rumoured Login Approval feature will send users an in-app alert when another user tries to log in to their accounts from a different smartphone, as per the report. A user will reportedly only be able to log in after approval has been granted from the handset where the account is already logged in from. This feature is said to mitigate the risk of a user’s account and information being stolen.

WhatsApp already offers two-step verification feature. The Login Approval feature can reportedly also protect users in case they have inadvertently shared their six-digit security code. As per the alleged screenshots shared by the WhatsApp features tracker, the alert also displays the time when the log in attempt was made and also information about the phone.

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According to a recent report, WhatsApp is also working on adding the ability to view past group members with a beta version of its iOS client. The said update was reportedly released to a limited number of beta testers. A wider roll out of the feature to more beta testers can happen in the coming weeks, the report added.

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Government Issued 105 Blocking Orders to Social Media Firms Under New IT Rules

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The government has issued 105 directions to social media platforms under the new IT rules that came into effect in February last year, Parliament was informed on Friday. According to information shared by minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar in a written reply to Rajya Sabha, the directions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the new rules.

The data shared by the minister shows that 94 directions to block content was issued to YouTube between December 2021 and April 2022, five to Twitter, and three each to Facebook and Instagram.

Chandrasekhar said that the government’s policies are aimed at ensuring open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet for its users.

He said that the government has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”) on February 25, 2021 to make intermediaries including social media platforms accountable to their users and enhance user safety online.

“Neither the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 nor the above said rules contravene users’ right to privacy,” Chandrasekhar said.

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The Ministry of Electronics and IT (Meity) is also said to conduct compliance audits of social media companies every quarter.

At present, social media platforms are required to disclose their compliance with IT rules 2021 every month where they disclose action taken by them in response to various grievances.

“MeitY has now put in place a mechanism to audit compliance of social media intermediaries under IT rules every quarter. As part of the audit, the ministry will verify if social media companies are reporting about grievances raised to them correctly and if their action taken is in sync with the laid out rules,” the source told PTI.

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To tighten the noose on social media platforms, the government has proposed to set up an appellate panel which will have power to overrule decisions taken by social media companies with respect to any grievance. The public consultation process with respect to the proposed rule has been wrapped up by the IT ministry.


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