The Economist's brilliant cover of a haloed Steve Jobs carrying his new iPad made me think that -- pace the Vatican spokesman's warnings about obsessing with cyberspace - Apple's new gizmo could well transform church life.
Christians already use their smartphones and handhelds to read the Breviary, or listen to meditations on Scripture, or check a Scripture reference. But the small screens make it hard work. I sometimes bring out my Palm to follow the Mass readings, but it's hard for older members of the congregation not to think I'm distracted by my mobile phone -- which in turn distracts me. Whereas the iPad is definitely for readers; that's its point.
Spool forward, then, just a few years, to when the prevalence of the iPad and its inevitable competitors is taken for granted, when wasting paper is considered a serious sin. And imagine Sunday Mass at your local parish church, which by then is fitted with a wireless network. As the reader steps up to the ambo, people pick up their iPads and scroll to the reading of the day.
The problem would be how to get people just to stay with the text, which would be inevitably be crammed with hyperlinks and cross-references to other parts of Scripture -- not to mention the thoughts of exegetes which, the celebrant will vainly hope, would arrive via an app bearing the local bishop's Nihil Obstat.
But think of the advantages when it came to the parish notices, which would of course be downloaded directly from the parish server. The celebrant would ask all those who can make it to next Wednesday's meeting to press the "OK" next to the announcement, and an appointment is created in your electronic Calendar. No more "sorry, Father, I forgot to put in my diary."
Far-fetched? I don't think so.