Technology, the Latter-day way

The Mormon community can rightfully boast a long association with technological advancement, from th

Whether you’re a technophobe or a technophile, it’s hard to argue against the merits of technological advances; although our heads may well be spinning at their pace.

Designer and architect R Buckminster Fuller’s remark that “humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons” may motivate some to want to slow down the ride. But humankind’s drive for knowledge is ultimately inspiration-driven, from a loving Creator to His children.

Many people of faith would accept Freeman Dyson's philosophy that “technology is a gift of God”. 

The application of know-how can, of course, be used for good or evil. But we rejoice in the God-given attribute for us to progress.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as ‘Mormons’ or Latter-day Saints) see this as a vital part of an eternal journey by which we glorify God.

Along with people of all faiths, Latter-day Saints have made their mark in science and technology.

Most Brits have never heard of Philo Taylor Farnsworth (you’d be forgiven for that). The invention of the first electronic TV is attributed to this Mormon farm boy from Idaho (although many other, more feted scientists worked on other aspects of television). As a youngster, he was captivated by electricity and the electron and talked his science teacher, Justin Tolman, into giving him special lessons. Eventually Philo had his eureka moment.

Harvey Fletcher, a prominent physicist and a devout Mormon, is regarded as the father of stereo sound – he was the first to demonstrate stereophonic transmission and stereophonic recording. And he did a lot to pioneer hearing aids too.

Technology is a great servant for the well-balanced individual. The Internet has helped bring about what we now call the democratisation of knowledge and that knowledge has mushroomed when it comes to us discovering our personal heritage.

I attended a Family History day in Cambridge the other week, in one of our Latter-day Saint churches. Hundreds of members of the public turned up to see Nick Barratt (from the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? TV series). We were enthralled by his talk.

Our church is happy to facilitate people tracing their roots; it’s a deep human need to know where we came from and who we are. Family history is part of all that and the Mormons' FamilySearch website is now the largest genealogy organisation in the world.

Over one billion names can be found within the cyber walls of the www.familysearch.org database.

Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. Users freely access resources and services online or through over 4,500 family history centres in 70 countries.

We believe that families are meant to be central to our lives and that family relationships are intended to continue beyond this life. Because interest in family history is not limited by culture, ethnicity, or religious faith, we welcome all who wish to discover more about their family and their heritage.

Technology's rapid development doesn't need to pass us by at break-neck speed. In all its forms, technology can inform and enrich our communities in real, tangible ways.

Yes, Mormons embrace technological progress and we want to use the Internet to help families too.

Malcolm Adcock is Assistant Area Director - Europe Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which runs the Family Search website

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To beat the Trump hype, we need a return to old-fashioned political virtues

If we want to resist the Trumpification of politics, what we need is restraint, duty and incorruptibility.

After the 1992 US presidential election, Alistair Cooke’s celebrated BBC radio series Letter from America struck a poignant note. Cooke described Bill Clinton’s worn jeans and checked wool shirt, contrasting them with George H W Bush’s buttoned-up Wasp manners and buttoned-down Ivy League shirts. Clinton’s style, Cooke argued, was a rebuke to a tired social and political establishment. His casualness was the new America.

Cooke, then 83, was honest enough to admit unease about this departure from the old, patrician modes and manners. “Along with the passing of George Bush,” he said, “we shall see, I fear, the passing of the blue blazer.” Cooke seemed right at the time. But don’t write off the blue blazer just yet. As ruling elites change, so does the appropriate counterpoint. To topple Bush’s stuffy golf club elites, Clinton picked up his saxophone, took off his tie and felt everyone’s pain. And now? The subtext of these turbulent months (the inevitable second question, prompted by “How do you beat Donald Trump?”) is: “What should ­tomorrow’s leaders, the leaders we crave, look and sound like?”

My conjecture is that, to beat Trump and his type – bling, shiny suits, dodgy deals – we should push towards centre stage an underestimated set of political virtues: restraint, duty and incorruptibility. If it weren’t for the gender associations, I would be tempted to call this quality gentlemanliness. Aside from personal virtue – signally lacking in the Clinton camp – how might decency inform public debate as it comes under attack from maverick showmen trained in the media circus? How can the middle ground regain its confidence?

First, level with the public. Maybe liberalism hasn’t failed so much as its messaging has failed. Instead of smashing the electorate over the head with the idea that everything is just great, make the case that not everything can be for the best in all possible worlds. As populists reach for empty slogans, a new space has opened up. Accept and exploit those asymmetries: more people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths than politicians imagine.

Kingsley Amis once argued that a writer’s voice should stay close to his speaking voice: not the same, but close. Adapting that idea, if politicians stayed closer in public debate to the truths that they articulate in casual conversation – some things are impossible; almost every policy creates a losing as well as a winning side; there really isn’t any money – they would be surprised how many people are ready to hear that not all problems can be evaporated into thin air. Stray too far from awkward truths and elections become about simple lies v tricksy lies.

Second, centrists do more harm than good when they rush to categorise dissenting opinion as not only wrong, but unacceptable. “Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal,” as John Gray wrote in a recent NS essay, “will provoke spasms of righteous indignation.” Instead, we need to be more tolerant in our tolerance.

Third, stop pretending that everything desirable can be shoehorned into the “progressive” agenda. “I really care passionately about persevering with the common-sense middle ground and doing it quite well” is a problematic political sales pitch, but not for the reasons that are usually given. The gravest difficulty may come at the beginning, with the faux passion, rather than with the substance – public service and competence – underneath.

It is revealing that those closest to David Cameron expended so much energy trying to persuade us that he was not an updated version of Harold Macmillan. That is why the gay marriage reforms, though admirable, were accorded too much significance. Ah, Cameron was a natural crusader! But he paid a price for dressing up as a “radical” when greater challenges arrived. It weakened some of his strongest cards – calmness, perspective, proportion – just as politics was coarsening. Aren’t Tories supposed to understand the virtues of yesterday? In other words, as an electoral strategy to beat Trump (or Nigel Farage), I’d put up a Macmillan type over a Clinton type every time.

Fourth, cut ties with “messaging experts”. It’s a fraud. They teach that everything must be asserted with powerful conviction. Yet ideas unworthy of powerful conviction are best left shorn of them. The electorate has endured a communications version of crying wolf. As a result of the messaging game, when something genuinely important crops up, it sounds simply like the same old shtick.

Fifth, ditch the bogus quantification. Few things signal untrustworthiness more reliably than fake precision. Something shifted in me when George Osborne argued that Brexit would leave households £4,300 worse off. What, no decimal point? Voters understand uncertainty better than politicians imagine. Precise quantification used to sound professional. Now it sounds suspicious.

Finally, think about tone. Conventional wisdom holds that the mainstream must fight the Trumpian revolution on its own terms: a simple solution, memorably expressed, a guiding vision for the country or the world. If anyone has a good one to hand, I’m all for it. But what if – after decades of ­sophisticated argument and counterargument, as politics has solved the easy problems while parking the difficult or insoluble ones – we have reached a state of such evolved equilibrium that no such easy answer can exist?

Pretending otherwise is no longer a point of difference. It takes you towards the lowest common denominator. As Trump has shown, that is well-occupied territory. Perhaps wooing the angry mob is not the solution. Instead, the admirable and successful politician of the future will have to win back the support of moderate, sensible but disillusioned voters. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage