It looked to me like the brother on the row over from me was preparing to make a call on his smart phone.  He was punching buttons with his thumbs and scrolling up and down with swiping motions of his fingers, both being gestures that are hallmarks of our digital age.  This is going to be interesting, I thought.  Will he really have the gall to make a phone call in sacrament meeting?  People do so in restaurants and other public gatherings all the time, but surely there must be limits.

But before I could find out what he was going to do, I was distracted by the bluish glow reflected on the face of the brother down the row from me.  He had his iPad propped up on his knee, thumbs thrumming, fingers flicking, and icons sliding across the screen.  Eventually lines of text appeared on the screen, and their owner intently concentrated on them for several minutes before returning his attention to the speaker.

And thus we enter the electronic digital world, or rather it has invaded our world to include even our sacred places.

I have been scratching my head lately to figure out whether or not this is a problem.  As it turned out, neither of the aforementioned brethren was doing anything amiss. They were using their electronic devices to look up the scriptures the speaker was citing.  We have all done this in the past with our regular, hardcopy versions of the scriptures.  In fact, sometimes the speakers encourage us to do so.  “Would you please turn to Alma, chapter 32, and let us examine the role of faith in our lives.”  In the softcopy world of electronic devices, we “flick” our way to the citations instead.

Truth be told, the electronic world has some advantages.  Not only can the scriptures be loaded on our smart phones, tablets and e-readers, but you can also load them up with conference talks (stretching back for many years), Ensign articles (ever since there were Ensign articles), church books, hymns, manuals and much, much more.  In Sunday school class or Priesthood/Relief Society meeting, if you want to know what President Monson said in the October 2000 conference, it is readily available.

It would seem that this new capability would serve only to enhance scriptural study and help us learn Gospel principles more thoroughly and expeditiously.  Still there is something unsettling about class members reaching out digitally for all the supplemental material instead of focusing on what the instructor or speaker is presenting.

And it is not obvious that the softcopy students really have a leg up on those dealing with the old-fashioned hardcopy scriptures.  In the High Priests group that I teach of 30 or so brethren, it is divided almost equally between those who use electronic devices for their scriptures and those who use hardcopy.  When I ask them to look up scriptures, the hardcopy brethren usually get there first.  They put their thumb at the approximate place in the book being referenced, flop their book open, and then refine their search with a few flicks of a wetted finger.   Their softcopy brethren scroll and scroll before reaching the right page.

Unfortunately, like many other things in today’s digital world, it seems there is plenty of room for mischief with iPads and like devices in sacrament meeting.  While using them for storing scriptures can be useful, if equipped with 3G they are capable of reaching out beyond the chapel walls to pull in a wide variety of information from the Internet—not all of it good.  Who knows what the brother on the back row is reading with his face looking down and his eyes glued to the screen.  Solitaire, maybe, or worse.

One has to sympathize with the poor sacrament-meeting speaker who is looking out over the congregation and assessing who is listening.  It is one thing to see most of the faces looking up in return with the remainder looking down to follow along in their triple combinations, but quite another to see all the faces looking down and being illuminated by the screens of their iPads.

This trend toward using electronic devices for gospel study is unlikely to change.  Quite to the contrary—the Church would seem to encourage it by developing apps for a variety of electronic platforms to look up scriptures, search an expanding gospel library, or finding addresses and phone numbers of everyone in the stake.  Indeed, the Church has placed itself at the forefront of the digital revolution.  This does not mean, however, that the Church encourages their use in sacrament meeting or classroom situations.  It does seem that there should be some protocols developed to encourage the polite use of these devices before they follow the dubious trail of the cell phone.

We have always hoped that common sense would have dictated proper cell phone etiquette, but we have all found ourselves standing in a grocery store while a person nearby is carrying on a loud cell phone conversation, or we are watching a movie in a darkened theater only to be distracted by the person in front of us turning on his or her cell phone to view (or answer) a text message.

As with many things in life, iPads in sacrament meeting can be used for good or ill.  What’s your opinion?  Do they have a role in church or not, and what etiquette should be observed if they do?