Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary on the iPad

The iPad is the Message

Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary on the iPad

When the iPhone came out a few years ago, I remember seeing a few people pull them out during church, and I would always lean in to get a glimpse of the mythically powerful device (see Modern Family for a hilarious take on iPad hype). Well, today I was that guy with the fancy device only this time it was Apple’s much hyped iPad, and I sat in the very back row of church so I’d only distract my wife.

I actually bought it as part of my work responsibilities as DTS (pretty sweet perk, huh?) to continue building out their online education initiatives as we move into other languages like Arabic. To the right is screenshot of the video player I’ve been working on. If you’re using Safari or Chrome you can test it out at http://my.dts.edu/player-html5, but please note that it’s very, very rough right now since I built it without actually having an iPad to work with.

My man cracking his first Easter eggOutside of my day job, I’m also very interesting in what the device means for the future of computing and human interaction with it. There are probably already hundreds of reviews on the iPad’s technical strengths and weaknesses (its pretty, but still no multitasking!), dozens of predictions about how successful it will be (my kids will take these to school in 5 years!), and lots of ideas about how to use it for ministry (it’s a Bible with Netflix!), so I’m not sure there’s much I could add there. But I will be trying to use the device quite a bit over the next few weeks in an effort to understand it from the perspective of media ecology and Christian spirituality. I’ll be posting some observations here and also writing an little article for Collide magazine.

Overall, I would say the device is just incredibly cool – everything is just so fluid and pretty and fun. There are some great free apps, and it looks like more are on the way.  However someone asked me today if I would buy one for myself if it weren’t for the job. I told him, “No way,” just because it’s I don’t really have any personal need to carry around a $500 device along with my cell phone and laptop.

But right after saying that I pulled out my iPhone and instantly thought, “Man, this thing is so tiny – I can hardly read on it…”

Update: Believe it or not, this morning I read Zephaniah on the iPad – it basically says God’s going to destroy all this silliness quicker than a “Will it Blend” video.

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

15 thoughts on “The iPad is the Message”

  1. Don’t own an iPad and will be a while before I do, but was thinking in today’s service at my church how cool it would be to run projection media for the morning service from the pew beside my vs. the production room at the back of the balcony behind a glass window.

    Sure, I could figure out the logistics of doing it with my MacBook Pro, but it seems like it would be easier to command with the iPad.

    1. You’re right there are certainly a lot of cool ways to use it. Right now i feel a little silly carrying around so many devices, but in certain places it does seem like a good fit.

  2. Your update is what has me most fascinated about this. I’m somewhat of a pack rat, and I’ve had the same bible for about 12 years now and it is jam packed full of sermon notes, personal notes, not to mention having all of the underlines and comments in the outsides of the pages.

    The programmer in me starts thinking, how awesome would it be to have something that lets me go through the bible with all of my notes right there to interact with without having to worry about point and click. I’ll admit I don’t know if Logos handles things like this, but having a very “natural” interactive bible with the power of searching my own notes and resources seems like it would fit great on an iPad, or maybe a 13 inch Tablet PC, since you could use the keyboard if you wanted and it recognizes the stylus.

    I hope you do some followup posts on the iPad, and if you get bored with it, you can send it to this fellow geek 8^D

    1. Yeah i think the book experience will only get better and better and eventually become a major way of reading. It’s not quite there yet, and for that reason it feels funny carrying around another device, but it’s still really cool.

  3. no multitasking? probably marketing strategy to differentiate the 2012 MacPad. personally, i see pads more as scaled down notebook PCs than enlarged smart phones. get ready for a deluge of pad products.

    1. I agree that pads will be a big part of our future. Right now it probably seems like a microwave did when it first came out – like an underpowered oven for rich people. But now we all have both…

  4. I find it interesting that we strive to make things smaller and smaller (conceivably, more and more efficient) – such as computers. Then at a certain point (when we think that are maximally designed?) we start making them bigger and bigger (arguably, awesomer and awesomer) – such as HD flat screen plasma at-home theater wall covering TVs. And the iPad.

    When do pass over the R&D line and just simply program our way straight into driven discontentment?

    1. I did see it and I think I basically agree, technological studies are mostly anthropology studies and concerned with the nature of being in the world (which has both natural and technological components).

  5. Thanks for this input. A couple of comments:
    1) I think that both you and Shane Hipps are cool, but there’s a difference betweem the media (iPad) being the message and the media affecting the message. I can cope with the latter, but the media is not the actual message. Don’t believe the marketing hype on face value.
    2) Your kids won’t be taking this to school in 5 years. In 5 years this will be as passe as MySpace, Apple Newtons and Motorola Razor phones. 5 years is a long time.

    1. Chris,
      Thanks for your comment. You make a really important point, and if you’ll allow me a longer comment, I’d like to clarify what I meant.

      First, as I understand it, “The medium is the message” – like most of McLuhan’s catch phrases – it not meant to be taken literally. Although it’s true that the medium affects how a person receives the message, I don’t think that’s what McLuhan was interested in. He meant that the effect a medium has on a culture is more significant than what anyone says through that medium. For example, in contrast to hand-writing, the the medium of print radically altered the way people think and process information, and that change is so significant that it becomes the “message” of the medium of print. Electronic communication (mobiles, the internet, etc.) all have major effects on society that go deeper than the data transmitted on them and that becomes the “message” of the devices.

      So to say that “the iPad is the message” is not to say that it will alter messages, but that the presence of tablet technology in society will have a significant impact.

      And you’re right, I don’t think that my kids will take the “Apple iPad” to school, but I do think that tablet technology will be around for a good long while. MySpace may be defunct, but social networking is not. Apple Newtons and Razors are old news, but smartphones are not.

  6. Hey John haven’t been here in a while. I’m still intrigued and interested in researching further this concept that the medium is the message.

    Tomorrow I head to Phoenix for 3 days of meetings with a team of missions researchers I am on working on a multi-year study on church planting among specific groups of people around the world (can’t into many details for security reasons). We using quantitative and qualitative methods to determine which factors play in the the success of church plants. One of those factors has to do with communications and media.

    What is interesting to me about new technologies like the iPad is how they now and will one day be seen as some sort of key to an individual coming to Christ or being trained in some distance and foreign land.

    I was just listening to KCBI’s (Christian radio station in Dallas). A ministry which give radios to thousands of people in least-reached areas of the world was raising money (I think they are on every Saturday). The announcer said, “One radio is like sending a missionary to a person for 10+ years.” The entire campaign was built around the notion that the only way these least-reached people were going to hear about Jesus was if they received one of these radios. I looked on their website and found two problems with that claim. First, doesn’t someone have to distribute the radio to these people and why wouldn’t that person just tell them about Jesus? Second, of the countries they are trying to get radios into I know of numerous missionaries who are on the ground there right now.

    So, I am wondering, why does a ministry like this put forth such claims? What has caused them to few the technology as the key to the ministry instead of a tool for ministry? Because the ministry is centered around this technology (much like HCJB) are they afraid to admit that other methods might be more successful?

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