Religion and the Connected
Many of the world’s religions are adapting to connected technologies at different speeds. Religion, at its core, is all about communicating, and thus connected technologies should naturally find a home. Although there seems to be a spottiness in the patterns of technology adoption at the local level, there are some notable happenings in the broader world view.
Muslims pray five times per day—at sunrise, at noon, afternoon, sunset, and midnight—and they have to face in the direction of Mecca. In the dessert and in other areas, it can be difficult to find the right direction. They can now use their cell phones to respectfully find the correct direction of Mecca for their daily prayers.7 LG Electronics (and others) are making cell phones with an embedded compass and an ability to point to a particular direction.8 LG’s G5300 phone is able to indicate to the user the correct direction of Mecca after being fed some location information. There are more than 1.1 billion Muslims in the world, and a relatively ordinary cell phone can now allow them to tend to their daily prescribed ritual more easily. LG is specifically targeting this audience.
In another example, the Vatican issues text messages (SMS) to subscribers’ phones containing daily prayers. A service from http://www.popemessage.com will send a daily message taken from the pontiff’s teachings to subscribers’ cell phones. To subscribe, users just send an initial SMS message ‘POPE ON’ to the number 24444, and the process starts automatically. There is a small fee of between 10 and 30 cents per message received. This service has been received sincerely by subscribers who welcome a short daily papal message as a welcome interruption to an otherwise harried day. (Note here the value of immediate yet asynchronous nonvoice messaging—a theme we explore in the following chapter). This service is overwhelmingly successful and follow-on services with more rich features are in the works. Many priests, reverends, and rabbis have similarly started text messaging their parishioners’ cell phones, for those who could use a little prayer boost in a time of need, or simply as a reminder that a spiritual leader is thinking of them.
Some effort is even being made to produce live masses (or other services) from locations around the world broadcast to your cell phone. Perhaps during an afternoon lunch walk to get away from the stresses of the office cube (or cubeless) society, you’ll take in a live evening Irish mass. Perhaps you’ll "message" a clergyman in some far-off country encouraging him in his missionary work. In much the same way that technology allows businesses to be more continuously connected, so too it seems that our religious lives could be enriched with closer (albeit less physical) contact.
PDA devices have been a boon for biblical scholars and general civilians. Selected portions of the Bible or the entire Bible (or other religious doctrine) can be downloaded and rapidly cross-referenced to easily find a needed passage wherever you are. Online services offer to download specialty material daily that users can read at their leisure. PDAs and cell devices are now an additional tool for religion that provides convenience and saves time.
Tech News World (http://www.technewsworld.com) recently interviewed Tom Ferguson, associate deputy of interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church.9 "Religion is not embracing the information revolution; it’s reaping what it sowed hundreds of years ago. Religion created the information revolution that has been ongoing," explains Ferguson in the interview. "People crave religion and spirituality without having it crammed down their throats in church. Anonymity and having the user be the one in charge have driven the [...] spirituality engines. Technology has allowed thousands—if not millions—of people to begin to develop spirituality outside of the traditional power structures."
Ferguson acknowledges that elements of religion are going through a telecommuting style change much like businesses are seeing. "I live in Los Angeles and work for the New York office. While this is common most everyplace and is a no-brainer to most people reading this, it’s taken the church a long time to fully embrace telecommuting. There’s so much in religion that needs a home, a center—a Vatican, Jerusalem, a Mecca, a Ganges River. This is going to be broken down in coming years. The definition of place and center will have to be re-imagined."
Indeed, finding "place and center" will have to be re-imagined in the connected world as technology allows a stretching of physical boundaries. Religion can thrive in the newer, more connected world, given the vastness of Web connections allowing people to self-organize and more easily share common views and find the information that most interests them. It will be different, no doubt, from the religious experience of our youth.
In pockets, members of religious communities are crossing the divide, to their benefit.