New vs Old Wineskins — Thoughts from the World of Technology

February 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

I wrote a post several months ago about The Church, Change and Adapting, and you could consider my thoughts today a follow up, as I have recently read several more examples of the very point I was making in that post about how many companies don’t adapt to changing technologies, when their old business model is threatened, when there is money to be made in adapting and changing with the new trends in how people are using various products.

I first wrote about this in my post Are Bookstore Closures a Bad Thing?, and was forced to think about it again when I read this report that many avid readers and book buyers are resistant to the idea of buying an e-reader.  I read this on the heels of the announcement that Apple has “re-invented the textbook”.  Now keep in mind, I’m an avid reader myself, and I always said that I’d prefer an actual paper book to an eReader, such as the Kindle.  But then I got one myself.  I completely changed my mind –not having to turn pages, and not losing my page due to a breeze or wind being a couple of benefits to them.

That’s not to say I don’t want or like actual books, but let’s remember that a book is not a book because of the format it comes in, but because of its content.  The printed book was once a revolutionary new technology that changed the game for the better when it first came out, so let’s not pretend there’s only ever been one way of obtaining information in the form of literature.

Books were one of the most disruptive technologies ever invented , but they are also remarkably good for humanity. Socrates feared that writing would destroy the ‘life of the mind’ he loved so much. European theologians called the printing press the ‘work of the Devil.’ And when books became commonplace many intellectuals bemoaned the way salons were dying and that people were no longer talking to one another. Telephones were expected to destroy writing. The train was predicted to destroy communities all together.1

Trying To Preserve An Old Way of Doing Things

The problem is that most of the time, when business men or individuals resist change claiming it will harm an old business model of some kind, they’re usually right.  Amazon and other players in the game are radically changing how publishing and selling books is done, and this spells doom for agents and marketers who are still trying to cling to an old way of getting books sold and marketed.  I’m not going to focus in this post on the benefits both technologically and economically of eReaders for college students with books on their devices versus paying thousands of dollars and getting a suitcase full of them to put on a shelf.

But my point is, most of the motivations and claims for why something is bad, usually is motivated in preserving something from an old way of life that itself was once new and cutting edge technology or trends itself.

Take digital entertainment as another realm this type of fear-based stupidity happens in; recently, Warner Brothers refused to allow their new releases to be made available on Netflix for at least 28 days, because they’re hoping this will increase DVD and Blue Ray sales instead.  Rather than adapting to changing trends in the way consumers are renting their media, which is increasingly online, they fight to preserve their “old wineskin” of DVD sales, so to speak.  For my satirical thoughts on that, watch the 2 minute Onion video at the bottom of this post.

If businesses and companies would just adapt with the times, they’d realize there’s other ways they can generate their income, I’m sure.  This is also almost certainly why silly bills like SOPA and PIPA are drafted, rather than finding other more modern ways of dealing with how piracy can be thwarted.  I recently read a humorous (to me) article in Forbes magazine about how the MPAA feared the VCR would cause the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars each year that went to produce quality programs to theaters and television, and cause their decline.

As a side note, the research and blogging I’m doing for PulseMobi, I’ve been finding with the web going more and more mobile, with more people using their smartphone to engage on the internet than those using a desktop PC, yet over 80% of websites are not mobile optimized yet, and a small percentage or business have a strategy for marketing on the mobile web.  That of course, is all going to change very soon very fast, but I say that just to add to my point.

The Church And Change

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matt 9:16-18, ESV)

My personal fear is that the Church as well, generally speaking, is exactly like some of the older head business CEOs and workers in different firms and companies–not realizing there’s a place for both the old and the new, but in particular the new.  How many up and coming employees, trying to make a mark for themselves in some innovative way, come up with a good idea or product that’s relevant to how consumers are spending or obtaining content they desire (legally at that!) only to get stopped somewhere up the chain by an executive over 50 years old who just “doesn’t get it” because that’s a revolution in the way the industry will do things.

Change and innovation are not to be feared

I remember just a few years ago, having an experienced missionary scoffing at me when I told attendees at a missions conference that I didn’t need them to subscribe to my paper newsletter updates, but that they could just subscribe to my podcast and along with it they’d get my PDF versions of news letters.  I suggested they save a few trees in the process.  His reasoning was that people like a paper newsletter they can put on their fridge or hold in their hands, and that without the paper postage-paid remit envelope inside the newsletter for people to mail their checks in, surely my support levels would drop.  Ironically enough, I have more people sending me support electronically through PayPal, unconcerned about tax credits, than I ever did this method.  One of my donors–a millennial like myself–even told me he’d never remember to send me the support if he had to write a check and find a stamp.

I know another missionary who years ago was told not to bother emailing her newsletter because people would never read it.  HA!  At any rate, my thoughts on this gravitate towards the idea the digitization of books, for example, is not going to stop but only accelerate.  This is not a bad thing.  Hold on to your traditional books, they won’t become obsolete, but maybe a collector’s item a few decades from now.  But why on earth we need to fear progression is beyond me.

If you look at human history, the printed book came on the scene fairly recently and were quite a technological revolution.  The average person just simply didn’t have access to the kind of information we’ve come to take for granted.

In closing, I suggest giving this post on The Verge a read–Sorry iBooks, Paper Books Still Win On Specs, but like the author concludes,

“With ebooks, we’re still looking at the equivalent of the day after Gutenberg printed his first Bible.”

Some poignant satire:

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  1. Memo to Bibliophiles: Books Are Technology Too - John Bergquist, Huffington Post []

Steve Bremner

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Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. He is passionate about blogging and podcasting, and is general editor of Fire Press, and also produces & co-hosts its podcast called Fire On Your Head. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books.