Internet Ministry: Convergence Has Arrived

Mar 11, 2003 05:03 PM EST

Two significant technology events on the west coast in January were Macworld and the Con-sumer Electronic show. Just a short time ago they were two entirely different and distinct events, aimed at different target audiences. One was about desktop productivity using things called (and misnamed) computers. The other was about consumer devices for entertainment correctly referred to as toys. Comdex was a little of both and has since gotten caught in the squeeze.

Macworld is now populated with entertainment devices and CES has an ample showing of computer-driven entertainment with an astounding number of desktops and laptops running in the background. Macworld is loaded with the latest from Apple – a product innovation company, not a computer company – managing and creating an astounding amount of entertainment. In fact, Apple appears to be migrating rapidly in becoming the digital hub for the home. What is clear at this juncture is the digital world plunging headlong into convergence.

Years ago when the industry first started, desktop computers or PCs were called home computers. It was imagined that they were too small to be or ever become a serious business tool. After all, large scale computing was getting bigger not smaller. In a moment, so it seemed, everything shifted from central processing to the individual. Centered in the revolution was the increasing power of the individual chip and the ability to connect all machines into one communications network. Convergence of technologies took us to the next level in the 80s. It’s here again twenty years later and right on time.

I’ve mentioned earlier that I spend little time looking at the future since my purpose and calling is to apply what we have today in linking ministry and technology to effectively communicate the Gospel. My intent is not to dream about tomorrow but to be productive today. However, I must confess that I do peek into the future now and again just for the fun of it. On a more serious note, I think it vital for the church to understand trending so we can capture the moment when it arrivers. Jesus and the Apostle Paul did that very effectively.

To see the future, follow the money – investment capital. It’s going into wireless. Into things (for lack of a better description) that connect digital devices producing voice, words, pictures, music and motion video, known in plain English as movies. I am actually listening to my MP3 file on classical music while composing this material on a 17” flat screen 16X9 aspect ratio iMac, with a picture in the upper right corner of the screen. For you computer nerds this is no big deal but I’m amazed at the possibilities I see here before me to communicate the Gospel. The aqua candy interface is gorgeous.

Convergence it truly here when Intel sounds like a network company. CEO Craig Barrett talked about the emergence of the home network and just a little bit about chips. What’s at the center of this network? The chipmaster himself describes it as “the most versatile and interactive piece of equipment in the house that can manage and create rich content.” O my gosh, could he have meant a Macintosh? (I’ll share a Silicon Valley secret. Reportedly, rich media at Intel is created on Macs.)

Barrett’s remarks echoed the sentiments of many of the manufacturers and developers at the CES this year. Companies such as Apple, Sony, Microsoft and major PC makers are looking to the increasingly popular wireless home networking market not only to help bring the consumer electronics and technology world together but to add broadband access and rich multimedia content into the fold.

There were a slew of new digital cameras. When it comes to music and video, the new Archos AV140 is a real gotta have toy. The 140 is a handheld personal entertainment center that combines a MP4 video player, a MP3 player and recorder, and a data storage device along with a photo viewer. It holds up to 80 hours of video. Plus, it fits in the palm of your hand and will sing you to sleep.

Japanese cell phones, which went away for a while because of a standard- less American market, are back in profusion. These aren’t phones but voice based computers. The Japanese have always been able to cram many features into tiny packages and are still at it. In this case, the phones are loaded with cameras, fine color screens, PDA capabilities, Internet browsing and e-mail access. This is not your father’s phone. In fact, this is not even your current phone. Hitachi launched a camera phone that uses Sprint PCS’s CDMA network. Hitachi and Sprint also plan to sell a personal digital assistant/phone in the spring that runs a Microsoft operating system.

In a demonstration, a Panasonic representative used his phone to connect to the Internet, then retrieve pictures from a wireless webcam perched on a pole inside the Las Vegas Convention Center. However, the camera could’ve been anywhere in the world.

I get the feeling in looking at the future the church is falling further behind in its use and understanding of computer technology. Computers are no longer computers or about computing. These devices connect people, talk to people, influence them and aid them in decision-making. People are transported from isolation to connection. Computers are about the information of life – and the church has the content so many are in search of. The truth and the love of God.

There was one single booth that stood out among all the glitz and glamour of the new toys. It stood out because it was so untechnical. So traditional. It didn’t belong and for that very reason was a huge hit. It was Swanson Food, as in frozen TV dinners, touting the fact that they had been around before Apple II, HDTV, cable, or even color TV. They had Heather Locklear come to the show to cut a cake! In a press release she adds: “I’m thrilled to join in the celebration of a true American icon, a brand that’s part of the fabric of our childhood, and one that remains so relevant to the way we live today.” For just a moment, Swanson took our eyes off the toys and focused us on something so obvious. The food we need to live. The brand we can trust. The fabric of our childhood.

Overstated to be sure, but what a big win.

Convergence. Next year, I thought, we need to get Saddleback Church to build a CES booth into their budget to focus us on something of value. To focus us on the Bread of Life. It will be a showstopper. Then we’ll see meaningful convergence.

Next year, can we get Rick Warren to cut the cake?

By Walt Wilson