The Trouble with Consequences

A while back, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, This Week in Tech, with Leo Laporte. One of his guests was Cory Doctorow, a writer, journalist and blogger. Several times during the show, Cory made reference to the problem people have making good decisions now when the consequences don’t appear for a long time. Take smoking; people smoke today because they won’t get cancer tomorrow—it may be 10, 20 or 40 years from now. People will post all kinds of embarrassing, personal or private information on Facebook today, not realizing that in a few years a potential employer will have full access to it. We humans don’t have a good natural sense of balancing the long-term consequences against a decision we need to make today.

What does this have to do with technology in the church? Plenty! I’ve been writing and fielding a lot of questions over at my blog the last few weeks in the area of system design and church construction projects. My advice is always the same, and it comes from some 20 years of experience working in the church production world; consider your choices carefully—especially with infrastructure—because you’ll live with them for a long time. 

Consider the church that doesn’t bother to have an acoustician review their worship center plans. It may have been beautifully designed by an architect (who has no real understanding of acoustics), and will look wonderful, but if the space has excessive reflections, standing waves, flutter echos, bass build up and other anomalies that produce poor intelligibility, it will not function well for the life of the building. What seemed like a good cost-cutting measure up front turns out to be a disaster and will likely lead to a multi-million dollar re-build of a new room because the first one didn’t work. 

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, either. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that in his church, the HVAC guys located the thermostat for the worship center on the back wall of the stage—hey, it’s easy to get at, right? Except when it needs to be adjusted during the service...

Or consider the church that put in a new PA that they got a great deal on. It wasn’t necessarily the right PA for the room, but it was a little more modern than what they had. Coverage is horribly uneven, and it creates significant echoes bouncing off the back wall, but it was a great deal. Sadly, it will be expensive to tear out and replace with a proper PA. 

Last year, we went through a complete lighting system overhaul. One of the reasons we had to completely re-do the entire system (conduit, wire, dimmers, control, the whole bit) was because the previous system wasn’t installed properly. Even the wiring was too bad to fix, so we started over. We spent a good 6 months on the design of the new system. This may seem excessively long; however, I wanted to go over every single drop, each network port and every other decision 3-4 times with a few outside people to make sure we were setting ourselves up to succeed over the long run. Since the budget was tight, we put money into things that will be hard to change later. For example, we pulled wire for over 120 dimming circuits, but only bought 80 channels of dimmers. We can easily slide dimmer trays in later, but adding wiring is a lot harder. We probably have 25-40% more networking ports than we’ll ever need, but it was easy to pull them while the electricians were there. I spent hours sitting in my office looking at drawings and trying to think about how the system would be used in 5-7 years. 

I understand the reality of budgets; but too often we tend to go for immediate gratification (moving or LED lights, digital consoles and such) when we should be thinking about long-term system functionality. It’s important that we as techies lead the charge for thinking about the long-term, if for no other reason that we’ll be the ones suffering the consequences if we don’t!

What’s your biggest infrastructure miss?

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