Obsolescence (A Dirty Word?)

Obsolescence. That's a word we don't really like in our society. To some extent, it's a sad commentary on our culture that we fear obsolescence. We loathe working on  "obsolete" computers. Watching standard def TV on a CRT? Please. Even at church, we don't like having A/V equipment that is obsolete. And that can be a problem. 

For this article, I'd like to define and contrast two different types of obsolescence; technological and functional. Technical Obsolescence (TO) happens when a piece of equipment becomes outdated by the introduction of a newer, more technologically advanced piece of gear. For example, a PowerMac G5 would be technologically obsolete because the MacPros are now out, with their spiffy new quad and octo Intel processors. A three-gun CRT video projector would be technologically obsolete with the advent of LCD, DLP and other, newer imaging systems. It's really hard to avoid technological obsolescence because technology changes so fast. The first iPhone is only a year old, and the new 3G model made the old one obsolete (sorry early adopters!). You can spend a lot of money trying to stay ahead of that curve.

Functional Obsolescence (FO), on the other hand, happens when a piece of equipment no longer effectively performs it's mission. Our previously mentioned PowerMac G5, while TO, might still be an excellent tool. In fact, I know of many post houses, recording studios and churches that use them every day. They work great, loaded up with RAM and a fast hard drive, you can edit all day long on them. And for recording audio, they bring plenty of power to the party.The aforementioned CRT projector however, is probably both TO and FO. When it was new, 800 lumens was as good as it got, but today, people expect brighter, sharper images that don't need to be re-aligned every three weeks. Thus, it's time for a replacement.

Here's how I think this plays out for us in the Church. Us tech guys (and gals) can get pretty wrapped up in the latest and greatest technology. And it's pretty easy to feel like we need that new MacPro, just because ours is now TO. Or Panasonic just released a new camera that makes our old one look not so wonderful (though it was the bee's knees a year ago!). Or perhaps now that 7,500 lumen projectors are readily available, we feel we need to upgrade our 5,000 lumen ones.

This is where I think we can lean back on function. Does our current equipment still perform it's stated mission well? If so, then there's really no need to upgrade. Just because my Quad-core MacPro is now TO with the release of the Eight-core, I'm not planning on buying one (much as it would be cool). Why not? Because my Quad-core still performs just fine. The money not spent to upgrade a fully functional computer can be used to further other areas of the ministry. 

I started thinking about how much money the Church spends trying to avoid technological obsolescence. A lot of it has to do with the "use it or loose it" budgeting process (which is all-wrong for a church anyway, but that's another post), but a lot of it is just buying stuff because we can. But what if we started looking at the big picture. What if instead of buying a new computer that we really don't need, we took that money and partnered with a church in the third world (or another mission organization, take your pick). What if, instead of trying to figure out what stuff is merely TO (and not FO) and trying to find ways to spend that money, we used those dollars to help equip a church overseas that might not have say, chairs. Or a building. Or water. What if we actually cut back on our geek squad budgets, and gave more to others who have a lot less than we do. Instead of trying to keep up with NorthWillowGraingerBack (or insert your local mega-church here), we evaluated our A/V purchases based on Functional Obsolescence instead. How much more could we contribute to the Kingdom?

Now, keep in mind, I say all of this not to make anyone feel guilty. If you're editing on a PowerMac G3, then it's probably time to consider an upgrade. Or if you're squinting to see the output of those 1,000 lumen projectors in the sanctuary, picking up some new 6K LCD projectors isn't a bad thing. But think about what you're upgrading and why. What could we accomplish for the Kingdom if we looked at technology through that lens instead? Just a thought...