First, an example. When I was up in Seattle last week, I stopped by the new Amazon Bookstore. Not the online site you are used to visiting — I mean the brick-and-mortar actual Amazon store with books in it. It has been open less than a month. It was packed. It was fun. I bought three books, just because. Not much has changed over the last few generations for the consumer experience of browsing in a bookstore. But it certainly feels different inside the Amazon store. It is different. There are no posted prices (book prices are synced to the online Amazon price, which changes frequently). And they don’t take cash. A consumer retailing operation that doesn’t post prices and doesn’t take cash. Interesting.
As an online retailer of books, Amazon has certainly been disruptive to the brick-and-mortar bookstore business. Will the new Amazon model of a real bookstore be another disruptive event? Time will tell, but don’t say no until you visit the new store. Technology changes not only goods and services but also how they are purchased and delivered. That holds for religious services as well as any other field. I’m thinking the big blowup over the recent policy changes by the LDS Church is another example, showing how social media have disrupted business as usual for the LDS Church.
Last month I did a post at T&S on the same general theme, arguing that the increased pace of online information delivery that we are all getting used to makes the current structure of LDS Sunday meetings (three hours of slow delivery of uninteresting information) ever less appealing, particularly for younger Latter-day Saints. Here is another example: The dramatic reaction to the new LDS policies requiring mandatory discipline for gay marriage and barring some children who have a gay parent from being baptized at age 8. The LDS Church has been quietly changing policies in its Handbooks for generations, but a public display of opposition by the membership on this scale has never happened before. Previously, most members were not even aware of such changes. Something has changed. I think social media as a disruptive technology is part of the explanation.
How has business as usual for the Church changed? First, the secret handbook giving detailed guidance to LDS local leadership is no longer secret. For a church that has employed secrecy as a strategy in so many areas (the Handbook, the temple, disciplinary proceedings, historical documents in its archives) the transparency of social media and the Internet is highly disruptive. Second, unhappiness can now network, communicate, and organize, and do it quickly. Granted, it takes a significant screw-up to create a level of unhappiness sufficient to spur networking and organization by those who are unhappy. But when that happens, as it surely does from time to time in any organization, including the Church, the negative consequences are now almost instantaneous. The Church no longer has years or even months to assess the damage and craft a response or execute a retreat from a bad decision or policy. Waiting even a week to respond is now too long.
If the Church does not adapt to the reality of this changed technological environment and modify its procedures and operations, similar scenarios will continue to recur.