The Catholic Church just launched a wearable.
Yes, you read that right.
The Vatican launched an e-rosary with an accompanying app called Click to Pray that is activated by doing the sign of the cross.
What the actual fuck.
I dug around the internet sure this was some prank, or misinformation at least, but it’s neither. It’s true. One of the oldest institutions in the world, one that is not really known for being forward thinking, launched a piece of technology - including software and hardware.
Here what it looks like:
(It actually looks quite sleek. Go to Amazon to get yours)
Earlier this year, the Pope and his priest mates shut down the Sistine Chapel for a week-long hackathon and came out with a working prototype that was then sent over to a congregation of Christian developers in Palo Alto to be fully developed.
Ha, no. This last part isn’t true - the technology was outsourced and there was even a security flaw in the app - but I couldn’t happen but imagine the chapel hackathon scene.
Anyways, I obviously had to download the app (if you want to find me there, I’m Holy Nicole) and it’s just insane. There’s so much in there - it got me in a rabbit hole.
To get started is pretty straightforward - you log in, you can pair your ‘smart beads’ or skip this step, and start praying your rosary. You can choose which ambient sound you want while you pray, and when you finish that prayer, move to the next bead, so you get your streak. (Holy fuck - the Church is using gamification?!)
Oh, but that’s not all.
Not all Rosary types are available for all. Only those with the e-Rosary beads can unlock all the options. Yep, it’s a freemium-ish business model.
Oh, and there’s more.
If you’re an avid prayer and the full rosary prayer isn’t enough, you can explore further in the ‘Click to Pray’ tab that has Daily Prayers (there are three today: With Jesus in the morning, during the day and in the night) plus hundreds of Pope’s Prayer Intentions.
But if you’re a young catholic who is into technology (if you are, please reach out to me, I’d love to know how you came across this blog), you’ll know the Click to Pray isn’t anything new - it’s actually a stand alone app that has even more functionalities, part of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network.
Of course I downloaded that one too.
The Click to Pray app is slow and buggy. There’s a tutorial, but that’s also buggy and the app is not as intuitive as the newer, shiny-smart-beads-connected version.
But the intention is surely there, and this one has something that intrigued me, called Pray with the Network. It is basically a social network for (catholic) prayers. There, the faithful can add their own prayers and others can click to pray with them. Basically, you can either add your own or you can search for a prayer by language (Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish), and then ‘click to pray’ to show that person you prayed with them. There’s even a number that tells everyone how many people done the same.
Other 4 people and I have now clicked to pray, in Spanish, for Argentinean Lucas’s prayer for his little dog’s paw to get cured.
I don’t know why this surprised me so much.
But I’m glad it did.
Working as strategist, great part of the job is trying to break down our own preconceptions.
(That should also be part of the requirements of being a human too, by the way)
True, it was less about being an app or social network for praying.
It wasn’t that I thought the catholic population wouldn’t be interested in an app.
My mum is a devout Catholic. She’s part of WhatsApp group in which a priest sends the daily Gospel. Because of her, I’ve seen first hand the intersection between technology and faith.
It wasn’t the user behaviour.
Finding a tribe you identify with is one the most basic human behaviours, and technology surely makes it more accessible. Tapping to express an emotion or a behavior is now quite pervasive. Clicking to show you’ve prayed is not that different from selecting an emoji to show you’ve laughed or double tapping a picture to show you’ve liked it.
What really surprised me was the fact that such an old-fashioned institution was behind it.
And actually doing a pretty decent job (security flaw now fixed).
In all fairness, this goes in line with what Pope Francis has been been doing as a leader - bringing an old, dusty brand into the modern era, by adjusting and adapting to the times, reaching out the new audiences, cleaning up the house, bringing in new ideas and shaking off some old ones, and now even adding technology. And he’s doing all of that without losing the essence of the business.
Honestly, there are lot of so-called innovative brands out there that could learn from the Church, and many leaders who could study the Pope’s moves.
And then there’s something else in the wearable app that got my attention.
The smart beads Rosary tracks your activities.
Yes, that’s right. The Church wants to know what you’re up to.
There are so many red flags here, but let’s just ask this: Why would the Church want to track people’s activity?
I mean, doesn’t the Lord already know it all?
(New scenario: angels, in robes with fluffy white wings and shiny gold halos, sitting in front of old PC’s analysing the data.)
(Thank you, Internet, for giving me this image)
I imagine the reality will be way less holy than that, though.
The T&Cs don’t say much… Data won’t be shared with third parties, and will only be used to maintain app functionalities… bla bla bla. But it doesn’t go in detail or specify the tracking part.
But… do people really care?
We’re constantly giving our data way.
Even as we’re becoming post-Cambridge-Analytica-slash-data-privacy-scandal-woke.
We’re too goddamn lazy and used to the technology to actually do something or give it up.
Yes, there are some #deleteFacebook people out there, but, mate, if you’re keeping your mainstream smartphone, you’re still fucked. If you’re using Google, you’re fucked. If you’re online using a web browser, you’re fucked.
That’s the price to pay for the convenience.
Truth is we’re happy with the illusion of privacy.
Truth is blind faith isn’t just for the faithful.
I love technology, I love culture, I love progress & improvement and I love this - the intersection of it all. Maybe it’s not always pretty, but neither is humanity, our history or our evolution.