New technology

There never seems to be a day when new technology or technological changes aren’t happening.

For some they pass them by.

For others, often called innovators, it excites them and they look forward to trying the new technology.

So today I hear that the iPad 2 is being launched and also single CD’s are being scrapped.

Some technological changes create new markets or tap into a need that wasn’t being met. When computers were first being touted the head of IBM is reputed to have said:

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers

The computer not only created vast new markets but also has been able to meet needs that weren’t previously possible – whether its satellite systems, advanced medical care, complex mathematical calculations – or whether its blogging and Facebook and other social applications.

But are all technological advances actually really technological advances?

Well take the new iPad 2. “Everyone” is raving about it.

or if you look on twitter for ipad 2 the messages are displaying too quick to read!

But this 14 year old got it right:

The iPad only does less than a regular computer to us geeks. To everyone else, it does more. This is what Motorola and Google and Samsung and BlackBerry and everyone else, with the sole exception of Apple, do not get about “open” computing. It’s powerful, but for ordinary people, it’s too powerful.

What he is saying is that the iPad is open and does loads of stuff BUT it actually can do less than normal computers – its just no-one really wants the freedom to make use of it – except for geeks. Most people want ease of use rather than the power of a regular computer.

U2 Single - Beautiful Day

Beautiful Day by U2

Or take the humble CD. The record label Mercury has said it will stop production of the single CD.

Since 2006 it has seen the singles sold drop by 85%. The future is all to do with downloads so that people can put them on their ipods and their computers. However, the bit rates of downloads is inferior to that of a CD! In other words the sound quality isn’t as good. So if you care about quality then you should buy a CD. But again the convenience of the download to most outweighs the quality of the track – and don’t even get me on the quality of the standard headphones on a ipod!

Or take the DAB radio – again the vast majority of stations transmit at low bit rates – one of the few that actually plays at a decent rate is Radio 3 (192 kbs). Many rock/pop stations broadcast at much lower rates – Magic & Heart at 128 kbz and some go as low as 64 kbz. So in all of these an analogue radio with a decent aerial has a much better broadcast quality. But people like the simplicity and the number of stations and how easy it is to find them.

bose radio with CD and ipod

Bose radio & CD and Ipod all-in-one

Its an odd thing this. That people see the “more” in the ease rather than in the functionality or quality of the product. Of course, this happened a long time ago with HiFi where separate HiFi components gave way to the all-in-one. Or in surround sound systems where most people want small speakers for their TV’s rather than decent speakers that will give a better sound – and don’t even get me going about Bose!

So the “technological” advance is in the user interface and the ease of use. These aren’t actually better in terms of functionality or sound. But if we tried to keep to the “superior” ways we would be left high and dry and out of touch with the general population. We would become dinosaurs. So, the church needs to keep up with what is going on and be able to judge what is going on and what this means for communication. It is all too easy for the church to try and focus on purity and not changing things and to be afraid of change.

I have a phrase I use quite a bit. Springfield was called to be on the “bleeding edge”. I mean by that  that we are called to try new things and new ideas even if it means that things sometimes go wrong and we end up getting cut. This doesn’t mean that we go out and catch each passing trend. I am not an Innovator (someone who goes out and buys the latest technology as soon as its available). I tend to be in the early adopter/ early majority category – it tends to be a) cheaper and b) you start seeing what it can be really used for. But it does mean that we shouldn’t have an inbuilt resistance or a harking back to old ways (even though I still prefer the sound of “proper” HiFi and prefer fountain pen to a computer (I have over a dozen and over 40 bottles of ink – but that belongs to another post sometime)!

So, for instance the church website or this blog are not innovations. Millions of others are out there. But the time for these has come when they can be understood. Or take the decision by the PCC to buy a camcorder on Monday to allow us to have more video content on the website. We trialled it with a borrowed one in Kenya and we now are looking to use it to share more of what is going on at Springfield. But don’t worry it won’t mean that we will be videoing all the time or that you will need to keep ducking!

So technology needs to be looked at to see whether it a) gives you more and b) it is worth it. There will always be questions to ask and there always needs to be sanity checks but technology change is part of our lives and the church is called to communicate. It took advantage of the printing press in the 15th and 16th centuries and it continues to need to do so. We also need to continue to see what is going on and see what will help (and what might hinder).

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5 comments on “New technology

  1. Ian Paul
    March 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Will, thanks for this. I have a motto and an observation:

    Motto: computers allow you do to very efficiently things you would never have otherwise thought of doing.

    Observation: there are two ways people use computers. The first is to do complex things with small amounts of data (eg maths, translation). The other is to do very simple things with large amounts of data (eg processing video, pictures).

    The first is now done over the internet, using ‘cloud’ computing. But for the second will always need your own processor.

    Don’t know if that helps.

    • Will Cookson
      March 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

      I do agree with the motto – why, for instance do we need Pi to 1 million decimal places?

      I think on the observation its clouded by how we do things that don’t need a computer at all but we just use it. Its better to talk than do an email – but we use Facebook or similar rather than talking on the phone!

  2. Jean
    March 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    My mum used to say, don’t buy anything that does a lot. There are more things to go wrong. She was talking about washing machines and vacuum cleaners – and I think she would have said the same about computers. 🙂

  3. Howard
    April 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Actually a very interesting post. However I read it differently.

    The analogy of computers and iPads and hifi sound etc it is not just about convenience winning out over quality.

    It is about core needs winning out over unnecessary frills. Downloads are of a slightly lower quality, but 80% of people do not hear the difference.
    iPads do less than computers are capable of doing. But 90% of people don’t need to do any of those things that only a computer can do. A 5 year old PC can do almost everything most people want to do. An iPad likewise.

    What any organisation can learn here is that it needs to stick with it’s core message and not to get diverted into the frills. If I were advising a religion (which I wouldn’t …) I would tell them to stick with the message at the core of their Faith. Don’t get diverted into pontificating on all aspects of every day life. Don’t get seduced into diluting the core message by trying to spread it out, thinner and thinner, over issues that don’t matter. Technology needs to be used to communicate the core message.

    • Will Cookson
      April 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

      Howard,
      I do agree that most people need a fraction of what is provided. I was asking a friend who was a graphic designer what % of Photoshop he used – he reckoned about 20%.

      I also agree with you about concentrating on the core message. The context that I am operating in is slightly different from most churches. We don’t have a church building or a parish so “all” we have is relationships. Everything is about people for us without the distraction of buildings etc. Of course, that means that we have to be more open and real and honest – which sometimes can be painful.

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