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Church should bite into the Apple legacy

The legacy of Steve Jobs is a series of fantastic opportunities for the Church to connect with the people

  • Father Mike Kelly SJ, Bangkok
  • Thailand
  • August 29, 2011
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Rupert Murdoch may well outlive Steve Jobs, who has stepped down as head of Apple but remains chairman. However, Murdoch will not outlast the impact Jobs has had on the media and the communications industry.

Jobs has made five critical contributions of enduring importance.

Apple II was the first personal computer; with it came the transformation of publishing, as software allowed users to publish from their desktop.

Apple transformed film and video editing, with software that put into the hands of everyone (at 10-20 percent of the cost of industry standard software) the programs that had previously been the preserve of adept professionals and their arcane sciences.

The iPod transformed the music industry and saw an end to many revenue models because music could be downloaded through the net and played – on the run or on a household appliance – at will.  It was the end of “albums,” and CDs became collector’s items.

The iPhone changed telephony and introduced something that has forever altered access – especially in what we used to call the “developing” world – to that ubiquitous source of information and exchange, the internet.

The iPad has transformed computing, especially at the price its competitors and imitators have come up with. It has made that critical thing the internet brings to computers – interaction – affordable and mobile.

Not bad, you might think.  But what is even more significant than these breakthroughs is how they have not only led industry innovation but directed media innovation.

I’m old enough to remember what it was like before desktop publishing. That development compressed the work of five operatives into the work of a single worker – typist, compositor, editor, proof reader, layout artist.  This innovation put publishing in the hands of any individual or institution that wanted to become its own information source, producing its own material independent of the production houses and printers, and later publishers, mastheads and brands that held complete sway in the print media.

Add the internet to that capacity and you can bypass established channels to distribute your own material.  Everyone becomes their own publishing hub. Add to that capacity what Apple brought to editing voice and video, and the ability to edit and produce audio and audiovisual content, and everyone is a potential telecaster.

What is most remarkable about what Jobs and Apple have done is that they have created the tools for doing something the world badly needs – interaction, connection and the building of community around shared interests.  Never mind that these tools can also be used to isolate individuals from one another and become a platform for the pompous to declaim at will. Religion, as we know, can also be used to inhibit flourishing humanity and make communities wither, negating the purpose it was created to foster.

These developments, initiated but not exhausted by the inventions Jobs and Apple have overseen, are of profound significance for the Church.  I’m experienced enough as a priest to know the centrifugal forces at work in modern culture that break relationships and divide communities.  But with the tools Jobs offers, married to the channels of communication made possible by the World Wide Web – from email to Facebook to everything in between, and with more to come – there are tangible things to work with to build community gathered about positive purposes.

The Church is a community of relationships gathered about some central beliefs.  Here is the virtual mechanism that can build both relationships and a shared understanding of beliefs.

The US leads in all things to do with IT and the web:  purchasing of equipment, web traffic, innovations.  Elsewhere in the world, people do the adopting differently.  But they do adopt.

Facebook’s largest membership outside the US is in Indonesia. India buys 10 million mobile phones each month, and a quarter of them are smartphones that got their smarts from the iPhone. Korea and Japan have the best broadband strength in the world. In China the net is expanding its reach in Chinese forms at an exponential rate.  And this is only a superficial survey of leading features of internet-based communications developments in some places.

There are contradictory indicators – Bangladesh and Myanmar have the worst internet penetration in the region, and government controls in Vietnam and China inhibit reach.  But the development is headed in one direction:  The internet and convergent media platforms that enable the development of text, voice and video to be exchanged on a single site form the basis for communications for the future.

And for the Church, this is an unmatched, relatively inexpensive and already available opportunity at a local parish, diocesan, national and regional level.

The means are there.  All that is lacking is the will.  But Steve Jobs has provided those means and others offer the channels to people and between them.  The opportunity is there for the taking.

Father Mike Kelly SJ is the executive director of UCA News
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