It’s all virtual now!

“Unfortunately, many of the benefits of living in a technology-rich age accrue primarily to those who can afford to learn about and gain access to new technology. Those who cannot are left further behind.”

(taken from Chapter 1 of  “Creating an Information Democracy” Centre for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University)

In our embrace of modern technology will we find ourselves disenfranchising some members?

I don’t deny that there are some pluses to technology in church. It was pretty mind-blowing to discover the same wifi password that allows me to access the internet in my own ward building, not only also works in my stake centre, but chapels in Japan and Australia as well. But is this enthusiasm for embracing technology sometimes taking us too far?

I live in a Stake which has, for many many years, produced a Stake Diary, annually. It contains important information such as names and contact details for all Stake officers, Bishops, Family History Centres, temple opening times, lesson schedules (with reading assignments at the top of each calender week) and a phone directory and meeting times for each ward, in addition to all the required diary information (meetings, interviews, activities) for the stake, printed at the appropriate date. For me, it is the go to source for phone numbers, and to review who is in which ward.

For the last few years there have been noises that the Stake will no longer be producing this paper diary, and although the diary was in fact produced, with each succeeding year, the noises have been getting louder. This year looks like the year of the big push, the year I’ll have to keep the diary beyond it’s annual usefulness, if I want that quick reference directory. It’s only March, and already we have been told, there will be no diary next year. This time they really mean it. We will all have to set up our lds accounts and permit online access to those details.

The idea of the paperless office has been around for a long time. Yet walk into any office supplies store, and there are reams and reams of paper for sale, of varying brands and grades, stacked from floor to ceiling. They sell computers, but also printers, and printer ink. It looks like the paperless office is a long way off.

I have observed however, a change in where the costs fall, both out in the world at large, and at church. As examples:

  1. My children no longer bring letters home from school. Parents are expected to subscribe to an electronic mail system where they will be sent links for pdf versions of those letters. Quite often there are reply slips that will need to be returned, signed by the parent. The cost of paper and printing now falls on parents rather than the school. And it is absolutely expected that parents will have internet access, and a printer (also required for much of your child’s homework).
  2. At church, back when I was very young, the children’s lesson manuals would have associated activity kits for each child in the class that the ward would order. I particularly remember a stickered time-line chart that we completed the year we covered Church History in Junior Sunday School. With the advent of photocopy machines, each church building came to have a such a machine, and manuals contained activity pages that could be copied as many times as necessary for the number of children in the class. The added advantage being that these copies could be made on the day, and so there was little wastage. Come my time spent as a primary teacher, and in the primary presidency, and these costs fell on the teacher and presidency members themselves, as things are printed from online, and the ward no longer maintains a functioning photocopy machine. Because all printing is done at home, there is either quite a lot of wastage of paper and ink, or you find you haven’t printed enough because for once all your usual class members are here on the same day, and you have three additional children of either stake officers, or visiting family. In theory, you can put in a claim for costs, but you absolutely need a receipt for purchases. Whilst you are able to keep “primary paper” separate from your usual paper, it is not straight forward to separate “primary ink” (the largest cost), or the “primary wear and tear” of your printer. It is my experience that these costs are born by the teachers and presidency members themselves, for many of whom this is a significant sacrifice.

For the stake there are benefits to doing away with the printed diary: member details can be kept up to date, meetings on the calender can be changed (though these will still need to be announced, not everyone will be checking so regularly), and of course they won’t have the costs of printing and binding the diary. The departure from the printed diary will be difficult for many members though, and make quick reference a thing of the past for them. Many members keep their stake diary with them. It’s easy to look something up in a hurry. Even with an appropriate mobile device, logging on to look at the stake calender, or check a phone number is instantly more unwieldy (and I know already that my iPod touch is too old for this stuff, no longer supported). You will only be able to see those members who have created their lds accounts, and enabled their visibility (it remains to be seen how many will do that), and browsing will be more difficult. Members with a only a PC (and not every home has one) are certainly going to find it a bind to turn it on simply to look up a phone number. How many will flick through the ward directories and familiarise themselves with the names of the other members in the stake? It’s an exercise I find to be unifying, even if I don’t yet know who all those people are, but maybe I’m just weird. Our members have pretty modest incomes on the whole, not a few live in relative poverty. Many are very elderly, and are simply not accustomed to this modern cloud-connected way of living. Not everyone has internet access, even now. Mobile devices are not cheap, and internet access has to be paid for. To me this looks like significantly increasing the costs for members.

  • Does your ward or stake have a printed diary or directory?
  • If so, do you use it, do you like it or dislike it?
  • Has you ward or stake gone online in this way?
  • If so, does it work, do you like it or dislike it?
  • What do you think the pros and cons might be?
  • What is your opinion on the shifting costs technology seems to bring?
  • Have you seen other uses of technology disenfranchise members?