Christianity Today online has an article about some of the effects of the tech revolution on the life of missionaries. It's a huge subject and a short article but it highlights some of the ways that the internet, cell phones and computers are changing things.
Among the things mentioned:
PHONES: Unlike the old days, where a long distance call was super expensive and rare, today even missionaries in rural Africa can make cheap, crystal clear calls around the world. Sometimes the connection is even better.
HIGH SPEED INTERNET: Nearly 75% of missionaries in their survey had high speed internet.
CONNECTING WITH SUPPORTERS: Technology makes it easier and more regular for missionaries to relate information to their supporters about their ministry, their life, and the issues important to them. Twitter, Facebook, web-pages, Skype etc. are making it easier to "see" the field.
LONGEVITY ON THE FIELD: Then they make the dubious claim that all this technology helps missionaries stay on the field longer than they otherwise would. Actually, that's probably not true. Other factors that we've written about here on this blog regarding student loans, the effect of short-term missions, anti-institutionalism, and multi-career lives are bigger trends that are negating that effect it seems. The long-term trend is for shorter tenures.
TOO MUCH CONNECTION: A downside is that all of this ability to connect is leading some missionaries to spend so much time online and keeping up with friends back home that they fail to integrate into the local culture. Now everything seems so close.
I remember when I was a kid having to wait for weeks for Grandma's chocolate fudge to make its way from California to Costa Rica by ship. Letters were slow---and in the Third World---things regularly got lost in the mail. That was not uncommon at all.
Another downside mentioned is that even when missionaries are on home-assignment (furlough), technology means that the field follows them and that they are just as actively involved with things in the home country as if they were on the field.
I would add that another downside for administrators in central offices is that while the old days required mail for important questions that required answers (3 or 4 weeks each way), nowadays, thanks to email, central offices have to make big decisions daily at a moments notice.
There are many things not delved into in this article and we won't go into them now (I've got to pack my bags), but there are a lot of benefits. One is the way the Bible can be put on one's phone or a memory stick. The transmission of the Bible has never been easier and that alone is a huge benefit.
Another negative though, is the way we are constantly surrounded by media (and thus work). It comes at you via the computer constantly and it doesn't stop when work hours stop.
One of my New Year's Resolutions involves how I manage my time. This past week I did an experiment. Once the weekend arrived, I stopped reading email for the entire weekend. And for the first time ever, I did not do anything work related (including reading). Wow. What a huge difference that made. I felt like it cleared my head, and created some sort of buffer to move into the next work week.
I also barely surfed the net (I'm a news junkie...and news is mostly negative really).
There was this crazy idea in the Bible called "the Sabbath" which seemed to suggest that our bodies require rest and focus on higher matters once a week. Perhaps the overwhelming impact of technology means that we need to really create a Sabbath that minimizes or cuts out a lot of this technology at least once a week. Just thinking out loud...
This week I am off to Lebanon to meet with the leadership there about a few different key issues. My laptop has gone on to be with the Lord, so I think my internet connection will be minimal this week. That may be a good thing considering the subject of this post.