Tablets in Mobile Ministry

Not Stopping with Pictures Under Glass

Antoine RJ Wright

Founder/Primary Voice, Mobile Ministry Magazine

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Explaination of the Outline's Questions

When asked to do this topic, I started with a series of questions based primarly out of the visual recording of the use of mobile technology within the attending members of the Mobile Ministry Forum in last year's meeting. First, asking what's relevant, then putting out a generalization of what isn't understood (last year, there was some firely discussion about the defintion of mobile, most commonly perplexing people who did little day-to-day activity on their mobiles beisdes voice and the occasional text). From there, the question has to skip any talk of a definition of tablets in minsitry to asking where some contexts where tablets are being using in ministry settings that are unique to both ministry and tablet technologies. Beyond that, the relevance of tablets in ministry is constrained by context of use and then looking beyond the noise of the (software) application paradigm that's brokering much of the mobile/smartphone conversation. Given these answers, the question of the relevance of tablet computers for ministry contexts should become a good deal clearer.

About Mobile Ministry Magazine

Taken from the Mobile Ministry Magazine website:

Mobile Ministry Magazine (MMM) is online magazine asking questions, presenting approaches, and experimenting around stories related to the implications of faith and mobile technologies.

Began in October 2004 as a PDF-based magazine to pastors, MMM has expanded to become a web blog which utilizes associate writers, technology reviews, devotionals, and editorials to create the unique content which assists individuals, organizations, and movements to better understand the implications of faith and mobile technologies.

Today, MMM serves to send and receive information around the use and discussion of the implications of mobile technology within faith-based communities. This is done in one respect by the magazine and its collection of mobile applications and resources. In addition, MMM shares knowledge, resources, and understanding through the use of workshops, training sessions, and speaking engagements.


Another Coffeeshop, Another Office Moment

The Story That Changed This Presentation

I had something of a good idea towards what I wanted to present today. However, a situation that I encountered recently changed this presentation, and really reset me in a variety of ways towards ministry. This story frames what we'll look at today in respct to tablets in mobile ministry (if you follow @mobileminmag on Twitter, this will be something you've seen.

It was Tuesday, I'd awoke before the sun and had to get on the road to Greensboro to teach a SharePoint virtual class. I got there with such a small amount of gas that it was nothing but God's provision. I'd been given breakfast and lunch there. My stomanch stopped aching. My lap, on the other hand, did smart a bit. During the class I spilled my second cup of coffee all over the front of me. Embarassed, even though it was a virtual class. I was compensated for work from some months ago. Not all that I wanted, but enough to supply needs for a time. Then I travelled back to Charlotte to connect with the Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance for their monthly meeting. Learned about brain injuries and shared my own stories. Then went to Amelie's Bakery to work on this presentation. That's when I got rocked.

I usually position the iPad close to me. The wireless keyboard is stetched out in front of me and I basically get a suitable and erogonmic position to type. I gentleman walked past me, then he came back. He wanted to know what I was typing on. It looked like I just had a keyboard and was typing on the glass table. But, then he saw the iPad and remarked that I had to be doing something different because Facebook wasn't on my screen as he'd seen on others' computers. We had a brief conversation. He told me of his situation. Homeless. Wife in a city about an hour away. I didn't want to listen, but EJ was compelling. The poem probably was it the best. Chock full of confidence and conviction despite his state. I was complaining just the other night about mine, he was about to sleep in the cold and wet.

I know better than pulling out a wallet in these moments. I had a few bucks from dinner that didn't go towards food nor the tip and they became his. I wanted to do more, so I tweeted that he had a need. Between the city tag for Charlotte (#CLT) and the handle for Amelie's Bakery, I was sure that someone might see and be able to offer him a room at one of the shelters. The CLT handle was vital. There are several people and agencies that monitor it for services and opportunities in this city. There had to be a response. But, my tweet didn't get any replies. Minutes felt like hours. There wasn't a poke of a reply. Then there was one. One of the people (I think we met at the VSN Leadership Conference a few years ago). She was in Arizona.

You can see the tweets at @mobileminmag. Emotionally, I was shot. After that guy walked away, many minutes after. It hit me that I should have done more. I should have had a listing of temporary shelters in my mobile, or at least been somewhat better adept at searching for them. Jenese Cook helped where my emotions stopped me cold. But, I couldn't find him. Drove a 2 mile radius around the area, asked around, nothing. People didn't even see him. I couldn't do what I set out to do. I could only sit in my car and stew at myself for not being able to respond better here. After a talk with a friend, I just went to sleep.

The next day I set out to work on this presentation. It would be this story that framed this presentation.

Why Is This Even A Valid Topic

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Tablets aren't new. In fact, Apple's take on tablets is quite a simple take on things with the exception of iTunes and the intertia from iPhone and iPod Touch sales/marketing/use bolstering it. That said the attention that's been thrown towards the iPad makes sense in light of the number of iPads sold (from Cumulative Stats). Such attetion to this user space, at least in light of the same attention being paid by the same persons to smartphones, social networking, and broadband, means we must consider the indirect effects to computing because of the "plop" of the use in this puddle.

The metaphor of using a keyboard and mouse for computing dates to the early days of computing (Babbage Computer 1890s, mouse 1960s). These have become the primary input paradigms, and for many people are the only contextual clues that information technology, IT, computing, is being referred to (ref: computer icons and meaning). However, touch-based interfaces for computers are as old as the mouse and current keyboard we use (ref needed), and this done with that same intertia that Apple has used to revolutionize the application and further use of smartphones challenges whether we've truly been advancing in computing, or simply settling for a metaphor that doesn't allow us to use all of our physical, mental, spatial, and even communicative abilities (see Jaron Lainer's You Are Not A Gadget).

Types of Interface Philosophies: Natural User Interfaces (NUIs), Organic User Interfaces, Brain-Computer Interfaces, Adaptive User Interfaces - or just start at Accessibility and work outward

Addressing Tablet Misunderstandings

Mobile Ministry Sketchnote Mindmap

If we are going to understand tablets, then – like last year at the MMF – we have to define tablet computing within its approrpiate context in light of the rest of what we understand about mobile computing.

Once we've defined mobile, we need to look the speciifc contexts in which tablets are being used and prune from mobile's definition what isn't present (or uniquely present) in tablets. From there we can begin to formulate some contexts of use that lead to a clear and broadly applicable definion.

For context, this is our definiion of mobile computing:

Then to refine for tablet computing, we star from this equation:

Tablet = (Definition of mobile + unique characteristics of mobile) – (Identified Contexts of Tablet Use + Most Common Input Technologies for Tablet Computing + Physical Qualities versus Market Definition of Laptop/Mobile)

Unfortunately, when we start going down this line, we actually see that the market attention being paid to tablet computing actually misses more than it defines, and we end up with a weighted impression of tablet computing, constrained to singular instances of input methods, and basically, nothing more thana glorified photopad - see Pictures Under Glass video linked above.

If we can move outside of that Pictures Under Glass approach, we then start challenging the very contexts of computing that are instilled by our culture/behaviors. If then tablet computing is a new genre, or a refinement to the PC/mobile paradgm, then we can start asking questions of development and use that go beyond simply touch and swyping.

If we cannot see outside of our usage paradigm, then its our misunderstanding that disrupts our abilities to see and walk with others whom this is relevant.

Some links that when read together provoke the tablets as challenges or enhancements to productivity discussion:

Faith Explorations of Tablets

Upcoming Article: Tablet Application Ideas

Going to just throw this one in there since its really recent, and he's not written anything up yet (at the time of producing this presentation):

LaRosa Johnson, a software developer with WordSearch/LifeWay Publishing purchased the Asus Transformer, an Android tablet with an included keyboard dock. He purchased it in order to better understand the paradigm of using a tablet, versus a smartphone or laptop, for producing optimal experiences with Bible software. One of the suggestions that I threw out to him was to take it on his trip back to the Wordsearch offices instead of his laptop. Hee remarked that he needed to do a softare demonstration of desktop/laptop software. I pointed him to the ability he has to utilize his tablet to log into his laptop remotely, and then run the presentation using the VGA connection from the Asus tablet. In testing and trials, this has worked. He is doing this activity while this conference is happening. His report of that experience should be insightful to some.

We can see though that there is certainly a canvas of use for tablets in many ministry contexts. The good thing is that use cases are being explored. The behavior scoping of what's happening is key to getting a clear understanding of what ministry use is versus aspects of using mobile which might have ministry implications, but don't start there.

Extending/Replacing Metaphors

Link to O'Reily Radar Article: Projects That Use Multiple Screens via QR Code

And so one of the keys for understanding tablets and their application in ministry is figuring the metaphor of computing that the tablet (uniquely) addressses. If that can be discerned, then taking those steps through its other layers (for example, mobile's layers are devices, services, and experineces) gives some leading towards the application of tablets (tool) that enables some ministry (behavior/resulting action).

Other Reading Material

Does This Matter

Tablet computers, their effects, and even those most using them, aren't always relevent. However, relevance is always a case of context:

No, It Doesn't Matter To: Laypersons, Evangelists/Missionaries in nations considered developing (not emerging)

Yes, It Does Matter To: Architects/Developers, Historical Theologians, Media Producers, Sensory/Mental Therapists, Educators

Going Beyond Apps

Link to this presentation via QR Code

Emphasize tactilie creation, shared use, interact-cast


As you can see from the depth of this discussion, the subject of tablets in ministry has a ways to go before it could be taken as more than an alternate display mechanism for activites already happening on mobiles and laptops. There is some reason to think that interaction methods with this size of screen will create more clearly defined unique characteristics which will better point to specific ministry applications. But at this time, ministry applications of tablets is merely replacing methods of use or walking alongside more defined use cases where tablets and their visual/input methods are more tied to a specific outcome that the tablet (slate) is best suited for.


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