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Three Temptations of Tech (Part 1)

”The devil’s three temptations of Christ aren’t about getting him to “sin”, as we think of it, but to get him to take his rightful kingdom by an easier road—to do the right thing in the wrong way.” –John Mark Comer, Live No Lies.

Today we discuss the three temptations of technology, not to be afraid of it, but to expose it for what it is. We can live free with tech, and we can also live free of it if necessary. This conversation is to help each of us recognize, and resist, the three temptations of tech.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. Today we are talking about the three temptations of technology. Basically the three ways of technology, if it is going to derail our focus and our purpose in life, the three ways it’s most likely to do that. To jump right in, I’m going to start. We’re going with Matthew 4. We’re going to read the Temptation of Christ. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loves of bread.” But he answered, it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, he will command his angels concerned in you and on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against the stone.” Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and he said to him, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone Satan, for it is written you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Then the devil left Him and behold angels came and were ministering to him.

I start with this because, and trying to wrap my brain around this conversation, I was thinking through the common pitfalls of technology or I was trying to wrap around common struggles families face when they have technology. And it isn’t wrong, this would’ve been fine. They come out basically the same thing as I’ve said for the last two, three months. And I was like, “I want to shake it up a little.” So along comes John Mark Comer wrote a book called Live No Lies and his quote is this, the devil’s three temptations of Christ aren’t about getting him to sin as we think of it, but to get him to take his rightful kingdom by an easier road, to do the right thing in the wrong way. And I love that when I think about technology, I’m like, “That’s most of what we struggle with technology.”

Some of us are absolutely burning down our lives on purpose. Like we know this is wrong and we don’t care and we’re trying to get back at someone or live our own life or define our own identity, whatever the thing is, and we are self-destructing with technology actively and purposely. But for so many of us, technology is this little bit of… It’s a slippery slope. We say things like, “But tech is a hammer,” which is true. But not all technology is a hammer. Hammer is technology, but not all technology is a hammer. And we get into these spots, we’re like, “Yeah, but it’s not that bad.” Or, “I’m using this part of it well.” And we put our technology into a corner and we basically say, “Lord, thank you for giving me grace and salvation. I’ve got it from here.” And what this conversation is to do is to draw out that our technology, when it goes sideways, goes sideways for the same three reasons that everything in life goes sideways.

We can look all the way back to Adam and Eve, we look to Christ and tech does the exact same thing. It tries to get us to do good things but in the wrong way. Things that line with this isn’t necessarily bad, but you’re going to get there other than the way you were supposed to. And that’s what today’s technological conversation is supposed to be about. So take a half step back. When we talk about technology, we break into two categories.

We have tool tech that helps us create drool tech that helps us consume. And the main difference between the two is that tool tech will wait for you. It’s only there to help you accomplish your goals. You know it’s waiting for you because there’s no notifications, there’s no behavioral hooks, there’s no followers, there’s no infinite scroll, there’s no algorithmic design feed that’s bent to your interests in order to keep you longer than you wanted to stay. There’s no micro-transactions and there’s no leveling system or series of popping sounds and exploding lights that make you want to return in a future opportunity when you get bored or have a down moment. There’s nothing to leverage this creative tool beyond your drive to accomplish the task.

Drool tech on the other hand, will help you accomplish a task. It might help you learn a language or connect with friends or accomplish some development goal, but it always has those behavioral hooks tied in. The goal is to get you to repeat a behavior because the more you repeat it, the more permanent that behavior becomes. Because as the Hebbian theory of learning tells us that neurons that fire together wire together. So if, as Nir Eyal says in his book Hooked, if there can be a trigger, be it boredom or a notification that leads you to an action, that gives you a variable reward, that could be as literal as a loot drop in a video game or as metaphorical as a like or a comment in a social media feed or I would actually say if you pulled the refresh, a variable reward is the information that pops up.

So when you have to swipe down and it gives you that little pinning or spinning pinwheel of thought and then goes, ah, new news or followers or whatever information it wants to give you, that is a behavioral reward which gives you now more investment. So now the next time you get the trigger of boredom or a notification, you’re more likely to stop what you’re doing and take an action to get a reward and gain further investment. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You could have done that in seven seconds. It’s still one loop. It matters how many reps you get. That’s important for today’s conversation because when we’re talking about this tech, some of it can be tool tech, but almost all of it’s going to be drool tech. Almost all of this is by design. It’s made differently. Again, hammer is technology, but not all technology is a hammer.

And so with that idea, we have three temptations of tech. I’m actually going to use John Mark Comer’s three categories that he uses in his book Live No Lies. It’s a great… Listen by the way, if you’re an audible person, if you’re a reader, it’s very short so you would be able to pound through it very quickly. It’s accessible. But he basically relies on the early church fathers and mothers and says the three enemies of the soul, which I would argue are the exact same temptations that technology offers us because we have the same enemy. Technology offers us temptations for our flesh, for the world and from the devil. And the idea being those are the three enemies of the soul. Those are the things, if your soul is the way God has made you for all eternity, then your flesh is the way that is communicated now, but the flesh isn’t going to be forever.

You’re going to have an eternal body that isn’t flesh. The body generally references. Flesh is the mortal body and the thing that struggles, right? My flesh is so weak, but my spirit is willing. We have that language. So the spirit is the immortal part, the part of you that makes you in the image of God, the soul of you is the unique part and the flesh is the part of you that lives for now and needs to be submitted regularly. Paul talks about crucifying your flesh. There is a regular commentary that the flesh isn’t bad but it’s wayward. It doesn’t do even what you tell it to do. Read Romans 7. I prefer more on that where Paul ends that section with the, wretched man, am I who can save me from this body of death? The body is not bad. We don’t need to hate our bodies, we need to recognize they’re limited.

And when we have these conversations about temptations, flesh, world, the devil are going to be the three we see. So we heard the temptation of Christ there and when he goes into the desert. It’s important to recognize that he didn’t go out to get weak, he went out for the same reason he went out early in the morning to pray was to get strong. That there is a physical practice to being strong with our tech. We go, “Man, I can’t seem to manage my technology.” There’s a good chance that simply removing the tech, which is a great start, isn’t enough that there’s a heart issue and heart issues are not going to be fixed by adding or removing technology. Technology cannot make you bad. It also cannot make you good. It certainly can make good choices harder to make in the drool tech side, and that’s what we care about.

So listen to this. This is Genesis 3:1. This is the temptation of eve. Now the serpent… And Adam, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight. So here we go.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit and the trees in the garden, but God said, you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden. Neither shall you touch it lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be open and you’ll be like, God knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate and also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate.

All right, so we have this picture and that’s why I said Adam, he apparently just stood there for the whole time and let this happen. So we’re talking about temptation of Eve in this case. The three are the same. We have temptation of the flesh, temptation of the world, temptation of the devil. The flesh is our appetites. When she saw that it was good to eat, this is the heart wants what it wants phrase is what John Mark Comer says in Live no Lies. Basically a reference to, at some point we’re just going to make our own decisions and we will make up any excuse we want for making the mistakes we want to make. But the flesh is, it’s good for food. That’s a temptation. And when we will return to that with the technological side.

The world, which is you at the center, you can do this, it’s going to be delightful to the eye, right? “It pleases me to make this choice. Why wouldn’t I? It’s beautiful. I like the way it looks. I want to participate in it. Because, frankly, it just looks fun. It’s not a need. It’s not food for my body. It’s not my flesh craving, but it’s this esoteric longing to matter and to make myself matter and I’m going to do this choice on my terms.” That is absolutely a temptation we see with technology. The world is still a temptation that we see come through our technological means, just like for Eve. For Jesus, this was throw yourself from the temple.

Think about it. Everyone will see it. You’ll throw yourself, people will flock to you and then be like, “The Messiah, he’s come.” And guess what the best part? You don’t have to die. You could just do this and everyone will know you’re God and it’ll be amazing. Do the right thing but do it in the wrong way. Subtle. It’s a little temptation. It’s a subtle temptation. But Jesus calls it for what it is. It’s like, “No, this isn’t a shortcut thing. This has to be done this way. This isn’t an either or option.” That brings us then to the devil, “Do the wrong thing but for good reasons. Like, “Absolutely, we get it. We understand. You want to save the world and so do I.” Eve is given, choose knowledge. If you just knew, think about this. We have one source of knowledge. Now God is telling you what is right and wrong. Just picture this with me. There’s two gods, you’re God and you get to know right and wrong and God is God and he gets to know right and wrong. How much better is that right? Think about the efficiency here.

That is what Eve buys into this idea of like, “It would be nice to make that decision for myself.” By the way, it doesn’t mean that she actually knows right and wrong in terms of being able to make the right choice. It means she’s now going to try to determine it for herself. She’s going to be the master of her fate. She’s the captain of her ship. And that is what we see there, is this idea of like, well, “I’m determining right and wrong.” It doesn’t actually change right and wrong. It’s not magically like God’s like, “Well, now I guess we have to have a committee to decide what’s right and wrong.” It’s simply that Eve now is forced to try to weigh this out. Her sight is dimmed. Her eyes are open to her own brokenness and the despair that brings.

Think about all the young people we have who we tell, “Hey, the world is your oyster, just make sure you go out and make yourself matter.” And we’re forcing kids at the age of 10 and 12 to build their own brand. So everything they post has to be curated. Every comment can be reviewed for perpetuity. This has a permanent impact on your long-term success and whether or not you’re going to make it? At youth, as a teenager? It’s crushing. And we wonder why they’re anxious, and we wonder why they’re depressed. Because no one can add up to that. No one can do well enough at any phase of their life to make themselves matter despite our best efforts to do so. That is what we are then offered and it’s a crushing way that we were never meant to carry. The devil says, “Use your knowledge to choose your own truth.”

He tells Jesus, “You could save the world. You just don’t have to die, right? If you worship me, I’ll give it to you. It’s mine to give to whomever you give me worship and I’ll let you save all these little peons down there that you care so much about and nobody’s got to die.” So again, you could get glory in the middle. You could get your job done without having to do it the hard way and you could choose your own truth. Go for it. And when we look at technology, flesh, world, the devil are the exact same three temptations we process. Not because tech is bad. Technology, it was hard to get it concise in the title. So I do apologize. I really try not to give clicky bait. I thought it was the best summary.

But I want to be clear now because summaries can be misunderstood that technology’s not the thing tempting us. There are temptations that come via technology. Be like the three temptations of food. It’s not food tempting you, but there is a real tempter and our flesh is really tempted to take back our own kingdom. And when we see that, let’s just look at the flesh, when we look at just the temptations of technology from the flesh, you could go to Galatians 5:19-21. And I’m going to go there myself right now. When we look at Galatians 5:19-21, it says, Now the works of the flesh are evident. Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. And again, I’ve mentioned this in a previous episode, but just to make sure we’re understanding the Bible well, orgies being carousing, drunken parties and the craziness that comes with losing your inhibitions and really your personality. Your inhibitions are a major part of what make you.

So to keep that in mind as we think through this, those are the fruit of the flesh. Well, all right, so if we have temptation of the flesh, what do we see. If we just went through a few of those? If you look at envy and jealousy. I’m going to join those two for this conversation. We have entire social media platforms that profit off this. Instagram would be an example. Instagram knows that your child is worth about $250 for the lifetime of their involvement with the app. To maximize that 250, they have to get engagement because your child’s eyes need to be on that screen to be worth money. We know that that’s true because we know from internal documents starting in 2021 that they track how much a single teenager is worth.

But we also know from those same documents that in 2021 September 14th, Wall Street Journal had an article that came out saying, hey, Instagram knows that its app harms the self-image. Harms the way teenage girls think about themselves. In fact, it’s one in three teenage girls feel worse about their bodies than when they started using the app. So after using the app, one in three girls say, “I feel worse about how I look and I feel worse about my body.” That’s a 33% in girls feeling that way. It’s an app that knows that and it’s happening because of comparison. Why would a girl go on that app and come away feeling worse? It’s not because she saw a bunch of people that look like her. She saw filtered people, she saw airbrushed people. She saw people that worked very hard to be fit and they’re glamorized and they get the followers and they get the likes and they get the attention and that girl looks in the mirror and goes, “I don’t see it.

So if I don’t look like that and that’s what’s beautiful, then I’m not okay.” One in three girls came away with that. That’s unacceptable. That’s important to know because a year later a study was done that came out. So it came out in 2023, but it’s over the year of 2022. That looks at how do teenage girls feel mentally. This study found that in the United States, teenage girls, two in three, experience prolonged bouts of sadness and isolation. Two in three. So one in three go on Instagram and they come away feeling worse about their body. Why? Envy, jealousy, comparison. Two in three say I have felt sad or lonely for prolonged periods of time. It’s matching up with their use of social media.

We know that because of Jean Twenge and Jonathan Haidt. Jean Twenge is a researcher from San Diego State University, Jonathan Haidt, researcher from New York University, NYU, and they have built a 350 plus page Google document that has since turned into a book now. And the document basically says we can show causal links between the use of social media and depression and suicidal ideation. It actually started with Twinge’s study in 2017 where she said, starting at hours a day of social media use the likelihood of depression and making plans about taking your own life goes up 22%. At two hours. Up to five hours it’s over 60% more likely to experience depression and suicidal ideation.

We need to recognize that that is because there’s an app that job is to take your time, your focus and your money. And it does that by making you envious and jealous. You do not go onto Instagram and say, “I come here to feel amazing.” Two thirds of girls and one third of boys, by the way, say, “I go to social media,” and it’s not just Instagram, that’s the one we have the hardest data on, but we’re seeing it happen with Snapchat and TikTok. Not a lot of kids are on Facebook, but I see it with adults in Facebook. There’s just not a ton of research on there. People go on there, read their news and feel much worse about the world than they did when they started. And not all of it is rooted in a firm truth and reality.

Some of it is true-ish. It’s true to the extent that it doesn’t include the rest of the information, but we know TikTok, Snapchat and specifically Instagram is the one we have the most released documents on showing leveraging fruit of the flesh, leveraging the temptation of the flesh to be better. That comparison piece, I don’t have identity yet, I need to earn it by followers, by likes, by attention, by profit, by making a name for myself, by looking like those people, by feeling good in comparison to other people. Those are temptations that technology offers us as entertainment. It is not the selling point of the app. The app is connect with people and have fun and don’t miss out.

That’s yet another temptation of the flesh. This idea that I must belong, and this is both comparison, but it’s also it causes dissension and me trying to establish my own little kingdom. There’s also lust as part of this. Man, I went so many directions when trying to show that technology offers us lust. I’ll go with this. Something like 4% of online content is pornography. So a relatively small point, but you need to understand we have 30 years of content that’s just been constantly uploading. So saying 4% is still a massive amount of that content, but 20% of mobile internet searches are for pornography. So even though it’s 4% of the internet, it’s one in five internet searches globally. That’s an important little piece to know. It’s a temptation. You know it’s there, it’s always there.

It’s constantly on the internet. We have no way of actually stopping it. There are some filters, but that doesn’t stop our heart either from remembering what you’ve seen before or wanting to see it. And that is still sinful. If I’m actively looking for pornography, my heart is lusting in the process, meaning I am experiencing the attraction and the draw sexually unilaterally. I’m applying this attraction towards someone, even if I’m not seeing it yet, my heart is less, and I’m committing adultery in my heart and my mind, and that’s something I need to repent of. Even if the filter stops me, even if whatever wall was built makes me not be able to view it, but know that that 4% is out there, but it’s getting one in five searches on the internet.

That’s important because it comes to a 2022 study done in France. France is pretty libertarian about this. They don’t have a lot of rules, especially protecting miners. They don’t have a lot of rules around consumption and in fact they kind of see it as just an educational process to view this type of content. One in 10 of their citizens view it every day.

I told that to my wife, Anna, and she was unimpressed. She’s like, “Yeah, I just assumed that was the case.” I’m like, “One in 10 every day?” Even someone who would consider themselves to have an unhealthy use of pornography. From conversations I’ve had with adult humans, Christian and non, they would say a couple times a week is a lot. This is 10% of a population of a nation every day. Not only that, but when you get down to a longer view, if you said, “Okay, in the last four weeks.” It’s 33% of the country. You take 12 and 13 year olds in France as a country, 51% in the last month. And it just goes up from there. That is important. I believe the 16 and 17% was in the mid ’60 for viewing pornography in the last month. The reason we need to know that one of the temptations of technology is you can feel good now, right?

Take what you want to make yourself feel good. Sure, you envy that, but you could have it. So go take that, right? Turn these stones into bread. Feel good now. Just scroll a little longer. You need relational connection and a feeling of intimacy? You could go get it right now, it’s only 4% of the content, but one in five searches. You could be one of them. These are lies that technology offers us. This promise of it could be okay if you just were able to go.

I’m going to end with this one. When it comes to the flesh, we are so bad at fighting our flesh. And that is the thing, by the way. You’re saved by grace, but your flesh is still real. There is still a giving over an act of faithfulness, what Jesus would call picking up your cross and burying it, a death to self, if you will. You died in the big picture in your burial and resurrection of baptism. That’s why it’s such a beautiful metaphor for what Jesus did for us, and we are buried into his life, our death, and then raised again to new life with Christ. It’s no longer us who live it is him.

Great. So what does that look like, to live in Christ? It means daily denying our flesh. The temptation that comes sometimes through technology and says, you could feel good right now. Go belong with people. Go get yours right now. You could look like that. You could be like that. You could be better than those people because they make the worst ideas and you should let the world know how much better your ideas are. You could have intimacy right now on demand. And then my last one is that we are so bad at fighting this that we don’t know how to be alone.

Technology promises ubiquitous, even if it’s with an AI trained conversation bot. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, GPT was used basically to inspire a Snapchat bot. And there is a social bot and Snapchat pinned to the top. If you go to your messaging part, you can text effectively with an artificial intelligence and it’ll talk to you and you can share pictures with it. And it is just there to make sure that even if no one else on the planet is there for you right now, the bot’s always there. You don’t ever have to be alone.

The reason I bring this up is there’s a 2014 study where people were given an option. They were told you could take an electrical shock voluntarily. Here’s the context. We’re going to put you in a room. We’re going to have you sit in a chair. There’s nothing in the room. There’s no pictures, there’s no toys, there’s no fidget spinners, there’s a chair and a completely empty room. We’re going to leave you from somewhere from six to 15 minutes. The only other thing in the room is this device. You press that button, you’ll receive a mild but painful electrical shock, so stronger than a nine volt battery on your tongue, but not a car battery. It’s not going to do any internal damage. But you’re going to going to enjoy it.

More than two thirds of men press that button. One third of women, plus let’s say closer to a quarter, it’s like 27% of women press the button. But two thirds of guys. Why? We would rather experience something rather than have to be alone with our thoughts. Just for six to 15 minutes. Keep in mind this wasn’t 15 hours, this wasn’t solitary confinement. This wasn’t some kind of torture. This was, I would rather experience pain than experience solitude. And when we talk about the temptation of the flesh to meet your need right now on your terms, it was real for Eve, it was real for Jesus. But he had the right answer when Eve didn’t.

We can take the temptation of the flesh and say, “You know what? I don’t believe that this is actually my best. I don’t believe that this is what I should do. And in fact, I don’t believe this is going to bring me wholeness. I’m going to repent of this. I’m going to force myself to come before the Lord and ask for him to be my joy rather than to seek it in this other way.” Man, as we talk about the three temptations of the flesh, I want that to be so, so, so clear because otherwise we run the temptation to think that our technology can in fact make us better and make us okay when that’s not in fact true.

So we’ve gone on a long time. I’m actually going to cut this off here. We covered one of the three temptations. So part one, temptations of technology is the flesh. With Eve it was, “See that it’s good for food.” With Jesus it was, “Turn these stones to bread.” And he said, “I have to live off more than just bread.” And for us, we need to recognize that that is a real sirens call of technology, that we can have our satisfaction on our terms, be it social belonging, comparison and identity, be it physical intimacy. But we need to know that the real battle comes for our souls and it demands that we are able to be present. John 15, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you’re going to abide in me.” You can’t be frenetically. Busy and abide. Abide has this image of dwelling. Bearing fruit happens when the branch dwells in the vine. We have to dwell. We have to show up and read God’s word.

We have to talk about it. We have to meditate on it, which is just the mental chewing of our food, of our spiritual food, in this case. It’s the process of take a single verse or a set of verses or a few words and just chew on and be like, “What does this mean for me? What does this mean about God? What does this mean?” And by for me, I don’t mean apply your own truth to it. I mean based on what Christ said and what God says through scripture, what is the truth about this when it comes to who God is to what that means for me. God is something, so therefore I’m something else because not God. And what does that then mean that I should do? There’s actions probably to take, like repenting to have. There are certain things I gain as a child of Christ that I need to know are already mine. And to be, it takes an action. I’m saved for good works, not just from the world but for it.

So do, have and be. It’s going to look like something in my daily life, which often involves denying my flesh. So three temptations of technology. Flesh is the first one. As parents, our conversation can be, hey, when you use technology, what’s the best thing you see come out of it? Use that Galatians 5:22 fruit. What of these do you see as just really beneficial from your technology? And they’d be like, “Man, every time I play this game or use this app or go to this place, I really have joy or peace or self-control.” Phenomenal. Have that conversation. But hey, where do you see your friends struggle with their technology use? And just pick three of the lust, the jealousy, the dissension, one of those and be like, “Which of these do you think is most prevalent in technology? Where do you see that happening? How do you think we could use technology well and avoid it? Or do you think some of this tech can be used without that?”

Just those little conversational pieces. Where did you see for yourself? Where do you see your friends struggle. And use Galatians 5:19-22 is your basis for that? And then the conversation piece turns to how are we using it well? What’s the fruit look like? And is the temptation of tech too much or is it something that can be managed with the right parameters and roles? And so for an example, a smartphone provides all the temptations we just talked about. And yet I still own one because I have found that it’s possible to make a dominant phone and build enough hedges that you can in fact use it well. It can be tool tech and it’s not leading me to sin and therefore perfectly fine. And I can make it accountable even on an iPhone.

But maybe there’s technology that’s too far for some people. Maybe they found ways around that are too hard for them to resist now, and maybe there’s some tech that’s just a little too far fun. And we go, “You know what? There’s probably something else we could do with this.” So have the conversation about the first temptation, the flesh, and the truth that our flesh even belongs to the Lord. And in Christ we can have true freedom from it. It’s not just about managing our sin well enough, it’s about letting Christ kill it. And the only way we do that is we expose it to his truth and to his light. That is the whole point of this conversation. The temptation of technology is, take control of your own life. And the truth of Christ is, put it to death in love by the power of Christ and what he’s already done.

So, my prayer is that that will help you in conversation and in thinking about your own tech and the tech for your family, and encourage you in the journey. In the next week, it’ll probably be a shorter episode, but we’ll tackle the next two, the world and the devil as we talk about how does technology apply in these areas. So I hope this is encouraging. If you have any questions, reach out to me, [email protected], or you can send your questions to [email protected]. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube now at Love God Use Tech. And you can join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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