Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bored Naysayers

The arrival of 2015 brought with it a deluge of articles from a variety of  news outlets, all acknowledging that Back to the Future II was set in 2015 and then critiquing all of the things which didn’t come to pass as imagined.  Unfortunately, most of these articles are are misguided in their facts - about both the movie and technology - and are overly critical.  So as a die-hard Back to the Future fan who graduated that magical year (1989), allow me to counter their shortsightedness.

First, it’s not Oct. 21st (the date in the “future” when Marty McFly arrived), so these articles' criticisms are 9 months premature.  With technology innovation, that timeframe is like eons.

Second, we DO already have many of these technologies:
  • Video calling (through Skype, FaceTime, and a variety of cloud-based webconferencing systems) are fairly common now, as well as card-based financial access like Marty used in his call from Needles.
  • No, we don’t have flying cars in common usage…yet, and no, our cars don’t all have angled designs modeled after a Lamborghini on steroids.  That looked cool and “futuristic” in 1989 but it turns out it’s not that aerodynamic.  However, flying cars do exist: Check out the AeroMobile and the Terrafugia Transition.  It may be a few years before they’re practical and their usage is widespread, but B2TF wasn’t too far off.
  • No, we can’t hydrate a pizza in 30 seconds…yet, and such machines aren’t in common circulation.  But all of the technology involved already exists; we can dehydrate and rehydrate food efficiently both on planet Earth and with lightweight space food for astronauts. It just isn’t that practical or lucrative of an idea. 

There are also many more of B2TF’s technologies which currently exist or are in beta stages, just not in widespread usage yet:
  • A prototype of self-tying power shoes has been developed and its inventor is actively trying to get them to market:
  • Hoverboards do exist…sort of.  Two models have been proposed and working prototypes of them are in circulation (one is even trying to release them by the Oct. 21st date).  I’m not impressed with either; their inventors struggled with some very obvious practicality issues and I don’t think either of the current solutions reflect B2TF’s design intent at all, but I am certain my kids will get to enjoy something very similar to Marty’s hoverboard within my lifetime.
  • Robots filling your car up at a fuel station may be non-existent, but we have robots in active use now for nearly all repetitive tasks, from vaccuming your floor to milking a cow to machining a car or laptop.  And let’s not forget the electric cars with inductive charging stations like the Tesla which make B2TF’s depiction seem archaic compared to what we have now.  It’s not that we can’t, it’s that in general the public is simply not ready for trusting their car fueling to a machine…yet (but we’re getting closer to it since we have no problem paying at the pump with automated systems).
  • We also don’t quite have an indoor garden center fruit dispenser.  But with all of the advances in hydroponics as well as the 4x4 gardening movement, it’s only a matter of time before something along these lines becomes a practical reality.

The two things they didn’t get “right” were Jaws 19 and the Cubs winning the World Series.  But keep in mind, these supposed “predictions” were satire anyway: Nobody wants to see 16 more editions of that movie; we’ve long since moved on to piranhas, anacondas, and vampires.  And the Cubs winning a World Series?  Well, as this article suggests, don’t give up just yet; what seemed impossible in 1989 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

So what on earth does this have to do with church communication?  Church folk are notorious for being bored naysayers, criticizing every new idea, approach, and innovation.  And most of the time, we don’t have our facts straight nor even take the time to understand what’s really being proposed before we shoot it down.  In so doing, we make a cynical media seem lame in its debunking of ideas.

An irrelevant but well-timed question or a critical and skeptical groan from a respected board member can kill a Spirit-inspired idea before it even has a chance at consideration.  Much of the science fiction I read as a kid has become today’s technology, and I continually admire those thinkers of the past whose revolutionary ideas seemed preposterous back then and now are commonplace.  As my mentor pastor Jess Gibson often said, “He that says it can’t be done should not interrupt the one who’s actually doing it.”

Creativity and innovation are gifts from God which reflect His character and He delights in it.  Negativity and criticism are foreign to God’s personality and anathema to His character.  Therefore, use your words carefully (Matthew 12:36-37); take care to ensure that you're encouraging your pastor and church leaders as they explore innovative ideas to solve tomorrow's challenges.