Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


More on the Confession App: Are You Getting Tired of Technology Hype?

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Are you getting tired of technology hype? I am.

What am I talking about? The tendency for people – especially those in the media, both old and new – to get overly excited about new technologies, losing perspective in the process.

For example, yesterday I blogged about a new iPhone/iPad app. It’s called Confession: A Roman Catholic App. This app has received plenty of attention, including a New York Times op-ed piece, as well as scores of articles in major news sources. Not surprisingly, there has also been plenty of controversy. A friend told me that she was listening on the news to Catholic priests who are terribly upset about the confession app, even though it was made by Catholics for Catholics.

As I explained yesterday, I bought the Confession app to see what all the fuss was about. It cost me $1.99, and it runs on my iPad and my iPhone. (Yes, I have a trinity of Apple products, including a MacBook Pro. In my last post described in detail how the app works. It’s really quite simple. It guides the user through a time of spiritual introspection based on the Ten Commandments. It suggests specific sins and gives the use an opportunity to log them for future confession.

There are no bells and whistles in the Confession app. No fancy graphics or sounds. There is nothing trendy or kitschy or exciting about the Confession app, other than the simple fact that it is an app, one that runs on portable Apple products. The content of this app could be easily contained in a small booklet without any significant loss of functionality.

Tempest-teapot-5.jpg

Yet, because this “booklet” is an iPad app, it gets the attention of the New York Times and other major news sources. Christians are weighing in right and left, pro and con, happy and sad. Frankly, I think all of this is little more than a tempest in a teapot. The Confession app is not going to bring church renewal. And it’s not going to ruin the church, either.

The folks at Apple must be laughing all the way to the confessional, . . . uh, um. . . the bank. They have created some fine digital tools and have brilliantly managed to make us think their tools are changing the world. And we, or the press, at any rate, believe them. Now I’m quite pleased with these tools. But they are not a big deal. If I happen to receive guidance for confession from reading my iPad rather than a printed booklet, why is that so revolutionary? I also tend to read the Bible on my iPad and I do almost all of my biblical study and writing on my computer. Should this make headlines?

I remember several years ago when the media went ballistic over blogs. Blogs were going to ruin serious journalism forever. Blogs were going to change the world. Soon, everyone would have a blog. Etc. etc. etc. Today, blogs are simply one communication tool among many. They do make a difference, but that difference is far, far less than was once promised (or threatened).

Let’s be clear. The iPad is a tool. The iPhone is a tool. The Confession app is a tool that depends on the others. These are powerful tools, to be sure. They facilitate certain kinds of learning and communication and experience that are quite impressive. But, in the end, they are just tools. And like all tools, they can be used for good and for ill. If we are going to use them for good, then we need to calm down and think. We need to avoid overreacting. We need to get through the hype so we can deal with the substance of the technology and its impact on our lives and our culture.



  • cx

    Well, to answer one of your questions, when had “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” been published in print before now? Large numbers of people have been literate for about 500 years now, with a majority literate for possibly our entire lives, and this feature has just now been printed and generally available for all?
    Today, for a small fee for large numbers of humans, even a pittance for many, you can share one of the best-known features of your religion with others across the entire world – from across town to across continents, to the other side of the world. No need to train for a mission, to travel across oceans, deserts or forests, to spend months getting there – just pick up your phone and call.
    I think it’s still tremendously amazing what prices we can now pay for a mobile personal computer that allows us to immediately converse with others across the entire world.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    CX: Yes, you are exactly right. The text of that app is nothing new. Things like this have been around for a long, long time. The new part is the ability to get out one’s message broadly. I completely agree. And I am also amazed by that. But there is still a hype factor that goes beyond amazement. It’s about selling media and machines and whatever else. It’s about getting caught up in a frenzy of trendy enthusiasm, rather than thinking deeply about the meaning of what’s happening among us because of technology.
    I also agree with you that the much more interesting and significant feature of digital technology is not the ability to read a confessional guide on an iPad. It is, as you say, the ability to communicate broadly without the constraints of the past. After all, you and I would not be having this conversation twenty years ago.
    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  • http://www.calvin.edu/weblogs/deusexmachina JB

    Reading this reminds me of a blog written by a former classmate at the University of Illinois who is an engineering professor at Calvin College. In his blog, Steve regularly comments on the implications of technology and how it amplifies what behavior human beings already practice. I see this app as a reminder to those of us busy with technology in our daily lives to set aside time for confession; something we otherwise see few prompts outside of Sunday worship.

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