Previously in Daily Kos I discussed some of my thoughts on how social media and mobile communication potentially affect the physical aspects of how we live (here, here and here ). I focused not so much on what these technologies do to make our jobs and social lives better, but how this better life affects the physical and economic choices we make in response.
In the previous posts I explored whether the surprising decrease in per capita vehical miles driven could in part be traced to modern communication technologies and if so what it may imply.
Recently I came across another surprising statistic that demonstrates the impact of these technologies on the particular community could be profound and its applicability to other economic and social communities potentially both revolutionary and disturbing.
According to a US Department of Commerce: Census Bureau analysis published in 2012, the total construction spending of religious buildings decreased steadily from almost $9 billion in 2002 to under $4 billion in 2012. Some commentators have suggested that the decline in church building may represent a fall off in church membership or religious commitment. Others see current economic uncertainty affecting church finances. I suspect something a bit more complex may have influenced this particular decline especially over the past few years when the slide accelerated.
The sale of religious belief recently, I suspect, to some extent has migrated from church pew to the airways and now to the internet. It may have become more profitable for ambitious divines to take their ministry out of the stationary pulpit and move it to wherever a believer may be at the time; home, car, work. Now through the wonder of mobile communication, social media and the internet they can be reached from anywhere at any time by the Word of their choice. In addition, no longer need anyone sit silently in a pew while the sermon washes over them since they now can participate as well; comment on the message, share enlightenment with other believers, contribute to the ministry’s missionary work or political lobbying activity through Pay-Pal.
This is just another example of the many ways new communication technologies may affect society, community and physical development. Will a new community need a building in which to worship or will God dispense his grace electronically? If a building is still desired, does it have to be big or just plush? Does it require soaring ceilings, stained class windows and gleaming organs, or just a chair, a modem, i-tunes and a wandering u-tube crew.
Will fewer churches be built, office buildings constructed, shops opened, parking lots needed? Will city halls and governmental buildings be necessary? If so, what will new communities look like? What happens to already existing structures? What happens to the economy if we build fewer churches, offices, stores, parking lots, governmental buildings than we did in the past? What will all those people who built things now do to make a living? Will we live closer together or farther apart?
What will the society be like where fewer people get their religion in churches, work in office buildings, shop in stores and drive about? What will we do with all that time we do not spend going to and from those places? We certainly will fill up the time. That is what people do. One thing we know we will not do with all that time; improve ourselves. That we never seem to get around to do.
None of these changes need to be universal or even particularly large in order to have a major effect on society. If say just five percent fewer churches, office buildings, stores and the like are built than what past experience dictated would occur in similar populations how great an impact would that be? What happens to jobs and profits? Is this what is already happening now? Could it be that the whole foundation of economics is wrong? That neither demand creating supply or supply creating demand is anything more than a temporary phenomena generated by technological change?
(See Today's Quote below for a description of another unintended consequence.)
"Recent developments in the global system of cities present a curious paradox. With the cost of communications declining almost to zero and substantial, though less dramatic reductions in transport costs, there is now little technical requirement for most kinds of production to be undertaken in any particular location, or for elements of production chains to be located close to each other. This fact has had dramatic consequences for the organisation of manufacturing industry. Simple production chains involving the import of raw materials, usually from developing countries, for processing in a specialised centre, have been replaced by far more complex structures.
Yet, in important respects, the dominance of a small number of ‘global cities’ has never been greater. In this paper, it is argued that the dominance of global cities reflects a desire for clustering on the part of finance sector professionals and corporate executives. It seems likely that such clustering provides private benefits by enhancing the value of personal contacts, but reduces the efficiency and profitability of the corporate sector."
Cities, Connections and Cronyism, John Quiggin 2006