Call it the “BlackBerry Dilemma.”
It goes like this: Corporate technology officers love the new BlackBerry cell phone developed by Research in Motion: it’s built on a secure, proprietary network that’s easy to manage centrally. When given a choice, however, corporate workers prefer smartphones like the Apple iPhone because they do more, tap into boundless creativity, and allow more freedom. One estimate found that only 5 percent of workers would buy a BlackBerry.
As a result, IT chiefs are bowing to workers, and smartphones are winning, Apple is now the world’s highest-valued corporation, and RIM reported a deficit, lost some key executives, saw its stock price plummet, and might not get a product overhaul out in time to save the company.
The BlackBerry Dilemma has it all: control vs. freedom, centralized vs. distributed, boss vs. worker, familiar vs. new, dull vs. exciting.
It’s not just a problem for mobile technology. In the Roman Catholic Church, where central control is everything, a wave of decentralized thinking is threatening Rome’s control over congregations, personal practices and even doctrine. The Republican Party, too, is working hard at the state level to discourage free-thinking by limiting voting rights.
Old-line communications providers like telephone carriers, television networks and cable companies also face the BlackBerry Dilemma as free-thinking consumers explore other avenues.
Because health-care reformers lost the public relations battle, the war over reform is portrayed as protecting individual freedom to choose. In fact, it’s about the medical industry’s desire to control the market to their benefit and the parallel desire of people with adequate means to deny health care to everyone else.
Meanwhile, people are discovering they can do legal work online, get medical advice online, make their travel plans online, shop for houses and cars online, and read newspapers and magazines online.
As a result, industries that were once accustomed to centralized control through systems that required their expensive services now find themselves stuck in business paradigms that have stopped working. One analyst saw Best Buy’s decision to close 50 stores as “the end of big-box retailing” and, thus, a victory for decentralization. In an age of Travelocity and Expedia, when’s the last time you used a travel agent?
As Christians make their annual pilgrimage into Holy Week, they are reading this very story: central authorities who had set up self-serving systems found themselves facing a decentralizing Messiah, whose method was to form circles of friends, to avoid army vs. army, to go to the people, to encourage their freedom from all constraints.
Desperate to protect their central institutions of temple, throne and empire, the authorities denigrated, dehumanized and eventually destroyed this impertinent voice of freedom. The scandal of Christianity is that temple and throne both collapsed, and an empty tomb and voices set free from fear became markers of the new era.
This year’s Holy Week pilgrimage will have unusual irony because the centralized institutions that took control of the Christian message and tried to rule the world now find themselves under assault by the same decentralizing and freedom-seeking forces that Jesus expressed. Left free to choose their own ways to God, more and more people are choosing fresh voices, distributive faith, non-tradition, non-control, non-conformism.
Freedom can be stopped in the short run. Counter-reformations win some battles. The millions now flowing into conservative coffers, as oil barons, polluters and financiers seek to preserve “socialism of the rich,” could win in November. But free-thinking people will find other ways.
In God’s economy, an empty tomb and freedom from fear are the markers of life.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
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