Information Age Aids New Pace

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by Clarence White –
Territorial Information Technology Secretary

We will be competent in the use of new technologies…

“The internet changes everything.” These four words spoken by Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft Corporation, recently caused me to consider the staggering rate of change in the marketplace, and to contemplate the impact that this pace of change will have on our personal lives.

On the surface, it poses a threat to the way The Salvation Army has carried out our mission for well over a century. Unlike the impersonal world of technology, we are an organization that is all about people! We identify with people who are most needy and in distress. We express the love of God in practical ways, in person, and we have always done it that way. The notion that many who are in need of the gospel are unavailable, except through their computer or television screens, is something very new to us, and it threatens many of the evangelistic and social services strategies and traditions which we have come to identify as “Army.”

I don’t think I’m overstating this. I recall arriving home from work a few weeks ago in time to see a UPS driver delivering a box to my front door. It’s exciting when the UPS person comes, since it means something special has arrived. Imagine my disappointment when I ripped open the box to discover my wife’s weekly drugstore shopping. Yes, my computer-neophyte wife had discovered! I am accustomed to buying books, gadgets and CD’s over the internet, but the idea of my wife shopping for our antiperspirant and toilet tissue through a website signaled some sort of shift!

What is the Army’s role in such a society? How will we share the gospel to those we cannot see and touch? How will we reach people at the other end of a wire? Is our grip on practical Christian service loosening in the “Information Age”?

I think not. Rather, I suggest that we are on the cusp of the greatest opportunity we’ve faced in decades. Technology is not a threat at all, but an opportunity to exercise one of our most significant traditions! After all, we have a long pedigree as innovators! The Army legend of the famous one-word telegram ­ “OTHERS” ­ General William Booth sent around the world is certainly an excellent example of the use of technology in service of God and humankind, as was Booth’s deployment of early motorcars in his evangelical campaigns.

Using the advanced technology of our age may likewise offer us the opportunity to reach more people, more efficiently, offering more personal service than ever before. Technology allows us to tailor our message to particular individual needs, yet it can give the recipient a sense of anonymity, and in some ways allows even the most hardened heart to let down its guard without feeling threatened. Used intelligently, we can improve our efficiency and reach more people than ever before with a message that is individually significant to them.

May God grant us the wisdom to identify opportunities when technology can be used to further the gospel. May he give us the courage to jettison traditional activities that no longer work amongst the people of the present age. Through it all, may we have a good measure of common sense to know when to avoid using technology or any other new methods when they are ineffective and costly.

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