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



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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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,

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5 Alternatives to Zoom App for Video Conferences From Home



Zoom gained a huge traction in a short span of time as several people are working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak. The video conference app pulled in more than 200 million daily active users last month — significantly up from a maximum of 10 million users previously. However, despite its skyrocketing growth, Zoom has been under fire over security concerns. From schools and officials to various governments, people have been asked to refrain from using the app. The Indian government also recently warned its officials about the Zoom. Also, some of its users have alleged that the app sends data to third parties located in China.

That being said, its key features such as being able to video-conference with up to 100 people for free (up to 500 participants in paid plans) and recording support make the Zoom app a great solution for virtual meetings. The app is also available across platforms and can enable video calling through mobile devices. But if you don’t trust Zoom and are look for capable alternatives, you’re in the right place.

Here, we are listing top five free alternatives to the Zoom app to help with your video calling needs.

Cisco Webex Meetings

Cisco is offering free access to its Webex Meetings in all countries where it is available to support the work from home needs during the coronavirus outbreak. Despite being available as free, you’ll get all enterprise features including unlimited usage with no time restrictions, support for up to 100 participants, and a toll dial-in in addition to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) capabilities. All you need is to sign up on the Cisco Webex portal to get started with the Webex Meetings. Overall, the experience that’s been offered by Cisco is nowhere limited when comparing with Zoom.

Skype Meet Now

For users who don’t to go with an highly enterprise-focussed solution like Cisco Webex, Microsoft recently brought Skype Meet Now that serves as an alternative to Zoom. It works without requiring an account and supports up to 50 participants — all for free. You’ll also get features such as the ability to record calls, blur background before entering the call, and screen sharing. Moreover, you just need to visit the dedicated webpage to begin with Skype Meet Now.

Microsoft Teams

If you don’t want a solution just to make video calls, you can look at Microsoft Teams. It is also available for free during the pandemic. The free version brings unlimited chat and search, group and one-on-one audio and video calling, and 10GB of team file storage along with 2GB of personal file storage per person. If you already have an Office 365 account, you’ll get real-time collaboration with Office apps for Web, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.


Discord has also emerged as a strong alternative to Zoom, thanks to its video conferencing capabilities that let you connect with up to 50 participants at once. The platform is popular amongst gamers, though you can use it as a tool to communicate with your office team or some friends. You can also download its mobile app to connect with your contacts using your smartphone. There are also features to share your screen or perform voice calls. Just like other free alternatives to Zoom, Discord provides video conferencing at no cost. You just need to sign up on the Discord site or through its app to get started with your virtual conferences.

Google Hangouts

If you don’t want to use Discord for any reason, you can opt for Google Hangouts, which is also a decent, free alternative to Zoom. You can make video calls with up to 10 participants or chat with up to 150 participants at once. Google also lets you host video calls or talk with your colleagues through text messages using a mobile device. Further, being a Google product, Hangouts just needs your Gmail account to let you get started. If you are open to pay, you’ll be able to increase the limit for video calls to up to 25 participants as well.

What else you can look at as an alternative to Zoom

Since video conferencing isn’t new, there are several other solutions in the market that can cater to your demand. You can get Google Hangouts Meet that is available for free for all G Suite users until July 1 and provides features such as up to 250 participants per call, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain, and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive. If a Google solution isn’t something you want for your conversations, you can consider Jitsi Meet that can be accessed through your desktop or laptop or using a mobile device. You can also connect it with your Slack. There are also paid solutions such as Zoho Meeting and GoToMeeting that you can get for free under a trial.

Is iPhone SE the ultimate ‘affordable’ iPhone for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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6 Businesses That Are Getting Creative With Social Media During Coronavirus (COVID-19)



Ally Kirkpatrick, owner of Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA started offering virtual book clubs, a kids reading challenge and online writing classes on Facebook. The store inspired the community to set time aside for indoor creative pursuits. Ally created printable and sharable coloring sheets of her locally famous shop dog, Scout, and then reached more people by creating various artistic challenges and art projects on Facebook.

Online writing classes became donation based, or “pay-what-you-can,” to encourage people to join the store for creative time online. Old Town Books is using the donations they received to offer programming online through May with award-winning authors.

The Latest News from Facebook for Business

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Millions of Social Media Users in India Set to Lose Their Anonymity



Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok will have to reveal users’ identities if Indian government agencies ask them to, according to the country’s controversial new rules for social media companies and messaging apps expected to be published later this month. The requirement comes as governments around the world are trying to hold social media companies more accountable for the content that circulates on their platforms, whether it’s fake news, child porn, racist invective or terrorism-related content. India’s new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, no warrant or judicial order required.

India proposed these guidelines in December 2018 and asked for public comment. The Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade group that counts Facebook,, and Alphabet’s Google among its members, responded that the requirements “would be a violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”

But the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is expected to publish the new rules later this month without major changes, according to a government official familiar with the matter.

“The guidelines for intermediaries are under process,” said N.N. Kaul, the media adviser to the minister of electronics & information technology. “We cannot comment on the guidelines or changes till they are published.”

The provisions in the earlier draft had required platforms such as Google’s YouTube or ByteDance’s TikTok, Facebook or its Instagram and WhatsApp apps, to help the government trace the origins of a post within 72 hours of a request. The companies would also have to preserve their records for at least 180 days to aid government investigators, establish a brick-and-mortar operation within India and appoint both a grievance officer to deal with user complaints and a government liaison. The Ministry is still finalising the language and content.

The rules cover all social media and messaging apps with more than 5 million users. India, with 1.3 billion people, has about 500 million Internet users. It isn’t clear whether the identities of foreign users would be subject to the Indian government’s inquiries.

Law enforcement agencies around the world have been frustrated by tech companies that have refused to identify users, unlock devices or generally cooperate with government investigations, particularly in cases relating to terrorism.

In India, where the Internet — and fake news — are still relatively new phenomenon, a false report of rampant child abduction and organ harvesting circulated widely via WhatsApp, leading to mob violence and over three dozen fatal lynchings in 2017 and 2018.

WhatsApp refused a request from the government to reveal the origins of the rumours, citing its promise of privacy and end-to-end encryption for its 400 million Indian users. It instead offered to fund research into preventing the spread of fake news and mounted a public education campaign in the country, its biggest global market.

WhatsApp will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” it said in a statement Wednesday, adding its global user base had reached over 2 billion. “For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”

At the same time, tech companies and civil rights groups say the new rules are an invitation to abuse and censorship, as well as a burdensome requirement on new and growing companies.

In an open letter to IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, executives from Mozilla, GitHub, and Cloudflare said the guidelines could lead to “automated censorship” and “increase surveillance.“ In order to be able to trace the originator of content, platforms would basically be required to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users, they said.

Companies such as Mozilla or Wikipedia wouldn’t fall under the new rules, the government official said. Browsers, operating systems, and online repositories of knowledge, software development platforms, are all exempt. Only social media platforms and messaging apps will be covered.

© 2020 Bloomberg LP


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