Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Technology successes and the global church

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

This week, I'm going to write two posts about the possibilities and limitations of technology in helping to foster ministry and collaboration in the global UMC.  This first post will focus on a couple of successful implementations of technology.

The first of these stories comes from Malawi.  There, United Methodist Communications and the Church of the Resurrection (Leawood, KS) sponsored a workshop on ways to use cell phones to facilitate communication for ministry purposes.  These tech solutions include the use of mass text messages to communicate (Frontline SMS), cell phones as a way to track medical data (Medic Mobile), and technologies to create more stable or widely available power supplies for cell phones and other devices (Inveneo and solar chargers).

The second story comes from Liberia, where the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), and Gbarnga School of Theology are partnering together to distribute e-readers to theology school students.  These e-readers will come with a variety of texts necessary for pastoral training.  Despite limited electricity or internet access at Gbarnga, the project provides a better and cheaper method of making these training materials available than shipping traditional books.

Part of what makes these projects a success is that they rely on relatively cheap, widely available forms of technology.  The rate of cell phone usage in the developing world is actually greater than that in the developed world.  Even though e-readers are more expensive, at about $70/piece, they are still considerable below the price of a computer.

Another factor in making these projects a success is that the software or content necessary to use the devices is relatively cheap.  Frontline SMS and Medic Mobile are both free.  UMPH was able to make e-reader content available at substantially lower prices than normally available.

Finally, neither of these projects requires significant infrastructure to support it.  Cell phones run on an existing private infrastructure.  The e-readers can be used without continuous internet access or electrical supply.  Using these devices doesn't depend upon maintaining a fragile or expensive system.

Tomorrow, I'll look at a form of technology less likely to be implemented as a form of connection building and examine some of the limits of technology-driven global partnerships.

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