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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.