Implications for Missionaries.

Any discussions around the Gospel Library App on various mobile and electronic devices.
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carljokl
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Implications for Missionaries.

Postby carljokl » Fri May 28, 2010 4:14 am

I may be touching on something of a tricky subject. It is something I have fairly strong feelings about but I hope not to cause any offence by any remarks I make.

I have been wondering for some time since my involvement with the JavaME Gospel Library application about the implications for Missionaries.

This issue is a tricky one because it touches upon a fundamental attitude towards Missionaries particularly when it comes to technology.

Last year in the UK the missions had a renewal and update of mobile phones. Given at the time the go ahead had been given to investigate getting the scriptures to run on JavaME I had a look at the missionaries new phone and checked out the specs online to see what JavaME capabilities it had. To my great disappointment the phone did not support JavaME. I had taken for granted that even the most entry level of phones supported JavaME but unfortunately the Samsung phone in question (I can't remember the model number of the phone of the top of my head but could try and find out) has no Java support.

I was very disappointed by this wasted opportunity. Some might think that this is a matter of the Church saving money but I don't think that is the core of the reason for the choice of phone. Current missionaries use their phones quite a lot. I would expect the phones to be to be on some kind of a contract. It would cost more for them to be "pay as you go" and would not be economical. For the past several years a JavaME capable phone would be thrown in for free with even the most basic of contracts. It seems to me (unless some official source knows otherwise) it is not that the phones provided for the missionaries were the best that would have been available on the contracts but rather the Church/Missions are specifically getting the mobile providers to give them the most cut down and basic phones available instead of the more powerful one which would have normally been provided for free.

It seems like the driving force behind this is a level of distrust towards the missionaries (I could be wrong as maybe it is about ease of use but am not convinced of that). I was a missionary about 10 years ago. Owning a PDA was against mission rules. Having a mobile was against mission rules. There was a general paranoia that missionaries having technology would mean that the technology would distract them from their missionary service. Missionaries now have mobile phones but it seems that the paranoia of technology in the hands of missionaries still exists.

Even 10 years ago I could imagine how technology and particularly mobile devices could be a powerful asset to the missionary work. I imagined the scriptures and Church materials in the palm of my hand in multiple languages. I imagined being able to have easy access to information I needed and vast libraries of potentially not only books but audio and video resources that I could have with me on a mobile device.

Welcome to 2010. The technology is there. I have a phone with 16gb of storage in it or about 4 DVDs worth. The technological problems may prove less difficult to address than attitudes of distrust towards missionaries. This seems a real shame as the vast majority of missionaries I have known are committed to the work but for the sake of the few disobedient ones rules are put in place which affect all of them.

The mission mobile phone renewal opportunity in the UK has come and gone and in my view been wasted. I am writing this post in hopes I can use my professional energy to try and stop similar opportunities being wasted in the future. If the Gospel Library application works out it could just be the tip of the iceberg as regards what could be done. JavaME could provide this on commodity phones provided free with contracts (or even many for little money on pay as you go).

I hope my views don't cause offence but I was frustrated by the wasted opportunity and had at the time been thinking about talking with the mission president about the potential for mobile applications in the hands of missionaries given (as I then hoped) the devices the missionaries had would support JavaME. After finding that the phones did not support JavaME it didn't seem there was much to talk about. It may have to wait until however long in takes the phone renewal cycle to come around again.
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Postby aebrown » Fri May 28, 2010 7:15 am

Carl Jokl wrote:I hope not to cause any offence by any remarks I make.


You say you hope not to cause offense, which is indeed a good hope. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to consider the possible effect of using words like "distrust", "wasted", and even "paranoia" when you are trying to avoid giving offense.

Carl Jokl wrote:The mission mobile phone renewal opportunity in the UK has come and gone and in my view been wasted.


It seems to me that you have provided only one item I will grant as fact (that the Samsung phones provided to missionaries in the UK don't support JavaME), since I have no reason to doubt that assertion. But much of the rest of your post is quite speculative and needlessly critical:

  • I'm guessing you are basing your assumptions about pricing for cellular phones and service on your personal experience with buying individual plans. But volume purchases are often made with an entirely different set of rules. We all know that no phones are free; they are simply included with a service plan because the provider will recoup the cost of the phone many times over in the monthly service charges. It could well be that the price the Church has negotiated for service is low enough that the provider won't include more powerful phones. That seems to be as plausible an assumption as yours.
  • You seem to be concerned that those who have been called to make these decisions for missionary work in the UK have a high level of distrust for the missionaries. But I see no reason to leap to that conclusion; there are many other possible reasons for their decisions. In the absence of facts to the contrary, I prefer to trust that they have all the needful data at hand, an understanding of the relevant Church policies, and the privilege of receiving divine inspiration in their assignments. Neither you nor I have any of that.
  • Technology can certainly provide benefits, but it has costs, both in terms of money and time. Providing mobile applications to missionaries would require time and money to be devoted to analyzing needs, selecting appropriate applications, then installing and supporting those applications. It could be that these costs were actually considered and weighed against the possible benefits, and other items were considered to be a higher priority for both missionaries and administrators in moving forward the missionary work.
Clearly I am making speculations here, and by no means am I trying to say that I know any facts in this case. I am simply hoping to show that one can make charitable assumptions just as easily as critical assumptions.
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Postby gregwanderson » Fri May 28, 2010 8:27 am

Perhaps the original post sounded harsh but I understand where it’s coming from. I’ve recently started to ponder how much I use technology for church-related duties and how the very things I enjoy using are (for all I know) prohibited for missionaries. For one, I always avoid taking paper books to church. I’d much rather use a pocket-sized device which holds all scriptures, lesson manuals, hymns, pictures, and other study materials. The missionaries in our stake literally carry backpacks full of books. Also, as a general habit, I can't seem to go anywhere without taking a handheld GPS receiver. There are places where it would be indispensable for anyone (including full-time missionaries).

Since I don’t have a family member either serving as a full-time missionary or preparing for a mission I don’t know all of “the rules” about electronic devices. Is there a definitive list online?

When I think of my own missionary experience, it included lots of photography on “P-days” and, from time to time, making a cassette tape to send to friends or family members back home. Those things are precious today. But how does a currently-serving full-time missionary manage to create such a record (particularly in a third-world country)? Are they allowed to have things like the Zoom H2 flash recorder (a relatively cheap device with high-quality output)? Are they allowed to use a computer (other than computers at public libraries) to back up their camera memory cards to CD-R or DVD-R? Are they able to have large attachments on the email they send home?

I was able to do my photography and audio recordings without becoming “distracted” from my work as a missionary. But I wonder how difficult it would be today and how current rules would further complicate things.

I also happen to agree that many of the restrictions on electronic devices appear to be based on a lack of trust.

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Postby russellhltn » Fri May 28, 2010 10:24 am

Carl Jokl wrote:Some might think that this is a matter of the Church saving money but I don't think that is the core of the reason for the choice of phone. [...] For the past several years a JavaME capable phone would be thrown in for free with even the most basic of contracts.


For the most basic of individual contracts, yes. But when dealing with a large group contract, it could easily be quite different. The service provider still has to pay for the phone, and in order to cut costs to the bone to win a competitive bid, they will likely do a special order for a cheap phone.

In addition to my personal phone, I carry a phone with a volunteer agency. It's a basic model that I can't find in any store. Even in the store for the service provider that provides the signal. This was for a group of maybe 20 phones - not all that large.


Carl Jokl wrote:Even 10 years ago I could imagine how technology and particularly mobile devices could be a powerful asset to the missionary work. I imagined the scriptures and Church materials in the palm of my hand in multiple languages. I imagined being able to have easy access to information I needed and vast libraries of potentially not only books but audio and video resources that I could have with me on a mobile device.


While there are certain advantages, I've noticed the church seems to be working hard to "get back to basics" in missionary work. Things like discarding memorized discussions for example. As much as we can see an advantage to having technology at our hands, I wonder if the Priesthood has a different approach to missionary work when it comes to the full time missionaries. I'm trying to think back when I've been in the presence of General Authorities when they've done Q&A sessions to remember how they did it. I can't think of a one that used an a electronic device.
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Postby russellhltn » Fri May 28, 2010 10:27 am

GregAnderson wrote:But how does a currently-serving full-time missionary manage to create such a record (particularly in a third-world country)?


Interesting question. They might well use a machine in a local store to back it up to CD/DVD or to print them out. It's really no different then getting film developed.
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Postby aebrown » Fri May 28, 2010 10:39 am

RussellHltn wrote:
GregAnderson wrote:But how does a currently-serving full-time missionary manage to create such a record (particularly in a third-world country)?


Interesting question. They might well use a machine in a local store to back it up to CD/DVD or to print them out. It's really no different then getting film developed.


You're right -- the same kind of shops that used to develop film now provide digital image services, so this is generally not difficult.

Over the last 5 years I've had three missionary children serve in three different countries. All were easily able to find places in every town they served in that would copy the pictures recorded on their digital camera's flash memory card onto a CD to send home. We made sure they had two camera cards, and once they heard back from us that we had safely received the digital pictures, they would clear off that card and continue the rotation.

I don't know how difficult it might be in some third-world countries, but missionaries in almost all places manage to send e-mails, so it's not like there is no technology available.
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Postby carljokl » Fri May 28, 2010 11:15 am

If the clarification of the situation is as you suggest then the issue may be different. I did wonder if the cost situation would be different when buying in bulk but I am not closely enough acquainted with the administration within the Church to know how the Church goes about making such contracts.

If cost is the only factor in that decision then that is really the end of the matter.

I suppose the discussion is an opportunity to clarify if that was the main reason. The impression given to me by the missionaries (and I know that this isn't officially authoritative) was the decision was more about a desire to have very simple phones.

10 years ago the official reason given for not allowing missionaries to have PDA's was because of a fear that missionaries would play around with them and this would detract or deflect focus from their missionary work.

Due to the fact than modern phones are becoming more and more like PDA's and historically (as well as potentially currently) missionaries were banned from having PDA's then this is a good opportunity to clarify whether this is still the case and the reason for the official position.

As the mobile phone renewal cycle is likely to be a number of years in duration then I would expect there is a long time to go before these decisions are made again.

If the motivation to not have more sophisticated devices is that they may cause a distraction and that stance is going to remain then I suppose it doesn't matter how long until renewal comes up again because I would not expect matters to be different in a few years time. Also in that case it may serve no purpose to discuss what might be possible in terms of creating mobile tools which support the missionary effort. If that case there would be no grounds for further discussion.

I am frustrated and probably too outspoken for my own good. Perhaps I should have used different language.

As regards distrust I don't think that this is an unreasonable stance. The white handbook contains many rules which the majority of the missionaries would consider common sense. For the sake of the few or those who have caused problems in the past, rules are created to govern all missionaries.

If I refused to lend my phone to someone and gave as the justification that I did not want to let them borrow it because they would play around with it and it would detract from their work I would consider that act to demonstrate some degree of distrust on my part for that individual to do the right thing. The distrust may or may not be justified but in either case it still constitutes distrust.
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Postby lajackson » Fri May 28, 2010 11:24 am

RussellHltn wrote:I'm trying to think back when I've been in the presence of General Authorities when they've done Q&A sessions to remember how they did it. I can't think of a one that used an a electronic device.


We had one of the newer apostles at stake conference a few years ago. At priesthood leadership meeting, after a few introductory remarks, he said, Get out your laptops, PDAs, workbooks, phones, or whatever you are using for scriptures, and let's get to work. Paper still works just fine, too.

And he cracked open his black triple combination and off we went.

I now have everything I need on an iTouch. I use it a lot in meetings, but almost never when I am speaking, and not very often when I am teaching or training. I will use it when called upon without notice, and in class discussions or meetings as a participant, and in those kinds of circumstances.

But when I am the presenter, I find that paper doesn't reboot, doesn't scroll too far, doesn't go into screen saver mode, and the print doesn't disappear when the screen hasn't been touched for a minute or two, I don't have to reenter passcodes to get back where I was, and I can thump the page for emphasis.

However, if I did happen to run off and leave the printed notes for my talk at home, I would no longer hesitate to crack out my iTouch and use it.

I just have a personal preference that this is not yet the way to go in formal speaking situations in the chapel.

As for the original question concerning missionary work, the objective is still to teach the lessons in Preach My Gospel and get the investigator into reading the Book of Mormon, helping that person to begin understanding and feeling the Spirit. I have always found that happens best with one on one conversation, and does not require any electronic devices at all.

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Postby gregwanderson » Fri May 28, 2010 12:03 pm

In 2004 our ward received its first Windows XP-based computer to run MLS. Even then I was kind of amazed that the CD-ROM hardware was a read-only device. I thought: Wow! You'd have to really go our of your way to get one of those now. Then, last year, we received a brand new computer and, again, it had a read-only optical drive. (At least it had the ability to read DVDs this time, so that's nice.)

Of course, I don't know the specifics of the giant contract with Dell to get all of these computers but I was still wondering if it was more difficult to get a read-only drive instead of the more common read/write hardware. I did wonder if there was a trust issue and the hardware choice was simply a way to discourage people from copying things which shouldn't be copied. Then again, I have a flash drive in my pocket that far surpasses the capacity and convenience of a CD-R and I can use it with the ward's PC.

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Postby carljokl » Fri May 28, 2010 12:44 pm

Well there have certainly been many things to think about. I regret my choice of expression for my original post. Should I revise it or is it a bit late for that now?
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