When I walked off the stage, I was greeted by similar looks to when I was speaking. There was the adulation from a few, but also that puzzled look – you know, the one that’s similar to the one that kids and other 1st timers at the beach get when they are in the water and realize that the sand under their feet moved, along with their relative positioning to their towel and other belongings. Yea, it was like that, only this time I was also the one feeling moved, as if I finally said things the way I wanted to and at the same time lost some of the sanity that made these presentations useful.
Granted, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. At least, this isn’t the way that I picture the end of these talks. I usually get up, throw out a few facts that make eyes widen, and then wrap that around a story and the main points in order to unveil plainly the level at which mobile is a part of the way things are done. This was a bit different, in this one I was prompted to swing for the fences a bit more, to talk with less of the restraint and more of the “here, this is what its been looking like for a long time now” filter. I knew better. But, I was prompted to go this direction. And in doing so, it seemed like I finally ignited the kind of viewpoint towards mobile that had been wanting for a long time.
With regard to mobile computing, what will replace the dominant “black slab” touchscreen uniformity of smartphones and tablets?
Certainly if you look back at the history of feature phones, you can trace a similar path from simple, black/grey hardware to more colorful, decorative, jewel-like designs. That’s likely to happen again. However, this time around, there’s something very different going on. The hardware is no longer really the story. The hardware is really just a minimalist frame for that touchscreen. It’s where the action is and we’re finding what really works is to get the hardware out of the way. That tends to drive a lot of similar designs, in terms of very simple and very similar devices. The focus is simply shifting away from the physical object. But I still believe we’re going to see a lot of variation.
The bigger story is that we’re going to eventually start to see devices, essentially computers, in new shapes. Some designed for our bodies, and others designed to be part of the rooms we live in. I’m looking forward to this future. I think we all love what computing does for us, but we don’t like computers. We’re babysitting them way too much.
If you would have heard me, you’d think that Frog’s Mark Rolston and I were drinking from the same pint. So much of the conversation before that talk was about “what mobile can I do ‘X’ with” and “I’m not sure that I can purchase a smartphone, will I stay on the outside of the future.” Yet, in that talk, I was finally able to make these kinds of points. That it wasn’t so much about the quality of the slab – they are all slabs. There’s more than just a broadcast-to-me-your-Gospel window present, there’s a literal canvas that can be taken advantage of like no other. And folks are missing the forest for the brush – usually ignoring the trees too.
And then there was that component of going beyond and what that looked like in practice. I don’t know, perhaps I’d been in this bubble a bit too much. I’m used to taking a stab at living differently – whether personally or as a media entity – and then living with the results of those lessons. There are some that say entrepreneurs are risk takers by nature and so this kind of approach to learning about how to live with these mobiles comes natural. I’d argue that you’d be living too cautiously if you didn’t take risks, break something, create something, or at least get to that point of being so stumped that you had no choice but to take another route. I’m used to that (at least that’s what the compliments after this presentation were framed into). I’m not living as my generation does, or at least not how they are advertised to. And certainly not living how my immediate culture does. Perhaps there’s another perspective to be mined here.
From a device point of view there is a constant tension between accurate data and a commercially viable product cheap enough to use. Data-wise there the integration challenges and access to data sets that could improve the quality of the information available.
As a society, we don’t understand the power and the consequences of the data that we would be unleashing. From a legal point-of-view, we get the politicians that we pay for, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we get laws that favour commercial special interest groups that spend money on party contributions and lobbying programmes.
It wouldn’t have seemed like a discussion that could have went down these lines until it did. This idea or perspective of using tools to augment and later live outside of yourself – the quantified self. Very much making the mobile device like an appendage (to quote a good friend). Yet, if I were joining in the voices in the audience about these devices’/this medium’s ability to be another mouthpiece for the Gospel, then certainly I had to go down this route. You can’t ignite something that you are totally invested in… right?
A few pulled me aside to ask me the perils of so much mobility, so much digital/virtual interaction. We are at this place where its as scary as its exciting. And I responded the same way that I normally do, with some nod to history and the decisions that were made long before our time that we now don’t even think about, but are willing to consider as always part of the way that we did things.
At our core, we create stuff. God’s given us this ability, as much as it is something that beats within him. And alongside that ability to create, we also want to connect. Nothing about anything we’ve built wants to change that outside of the weapons that we’ve made to dominate one another. With mobile, the challenge becomes living with it such that our ministry opportunities don’t become contrived or scripted. That we don’t do mobile ministry because we can, but that we do it because this is in our DNA of how we connect and create life with one another. And if it is an additive to our lifestyle experiences – as it is with many who were in that audience and well beyond that conversation – then we either need to become cyborgs and implant this into ourselves so that it is mostly natural, or we get back to teaching the core concepts of faith and life so that to those it is natural (there was no such thing as a world without it) it becomes strange when we aren’t using this magic wand in order to display and share this faith we cherish.
Mobile ministry is the skillful use and application of computer technology classified as mobile for the context of fulfilling the religious designation of forwarding the proclamation of the key ideals and history of the faith, following form to and innovating on top of cultural and faith traditions within applied contexts [source]
When I left the room, I could breathe. Some would get it and know what to do. Others would come across it later and remember. I just needed to be in the mix with them to ignite mobility to a degree that wasn’t previously before understood.