For the past few years, the device category called wearables has been growing in marketing and importance in the minds of some consumers, and definitely in the minds of manufacturers. From the amazing success of Pebble, to the anticipation that is more or less driving the influence of the Apple Watch, to the rise and failure of projects like Google Glass, there is some interesting energy around the field, and it begs some investigations as to what should be the approach to tackle it when it comes to ministry tech. We’ll offer a few thoughts on the space here, and perhaps you might offer some others in the comments.
Contradicting the Pauline Way
…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:8
I have a pretty varied Christian tradition, but I have noticed one consistent theme in many traditions: the aversion to physical fitness. Sure, we have some recent episodes of wellness being part of the culture of the church. But, for the most part, tracking your health and fostering a character of wellness (in mind and body, not just spirit), has been the domain of those in our communities trained in those fields, or brought up as a part of the annual fast (I’m speaking outside of the International Week of Prayer and Fasting, Ramadan, and similar fasting-as-faithful-practices).
Wearables instigate this paying of attention to our physical activity (movement: walking, running), scheduled and unscheduled workouts, and even comparing our achievements in fitness to others (see: Strava). And while Paul was indeed correct that we shouldn’t pay more attention to the physical well-being than we do the spiritual, this class of computing called wearables causes us to pay attention to the physical (and mental), and how we respond to environmental stimuli.
Tracking steps, sleep, heart rate, UV exposure, etc. is a lot to take in. And the data can be good. But, too much of it puts the focus on the wrong things. How should ministries step up their attention to the impacts of computer technologies to include wearables? What should those refined spiritual disciplines look like when the Body does wearable?
Check-In and Children Tracking
…You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes…” – Deuteronomy 6:7-8
A lesser-talked about aspect of wearables and the church has been in the area of child tracking. We’ve talked a few times about check-in stations and smartphones with parents and children, so its not too hard to think about using either a pendant or a watch not only to track the fitness of your child, but also as a check-in enabler for ministry activities when on-site.
We’ve heard of this in practice with Disney’s Magic Bands (for the entire family), and we see some other wearables doing this also. But, I think it would make sense if we saw check-in platforms integrating with the open wearable platforms so that devices can be utilized better. Sure, kids are a bit rough with things, but it still might make it a good bit easier to check-in, keep track, and even do scavenger hunt-like challenges that illustrate biblical lessons if we push that integration forward.
There are indeed questions about security, how much tracking takes place outside of the church, who has access to that data, etc. But, its a discussion where I believe church leadership is ready to embrace talking about technology as an appendage. How does the discussion about what we adorn ourselves with become again part of how faith is enacted and perceived?
Wearing A Conclusion… For Now
There are other ways of looking at this space of wearables and what it might mean for ministry tech going forward. Security, access, and even meditation become likely branches to which some churches are better able to discuss than others (I’d argue that the focus on sacraments in orthodox denominations might have such an advantage at the start of this discussion). What is certain though is that as things get smaller, more connected, and more integrated, we will have to consider not only the communication slabs (mobiles), but the device constellations around mobiles/PCs and what we choose to engage in.
I’ll leave this as my final question to think about as we put on wearables as a topic in ministry tech: