Things will not simply revert to the old ways post-pandemic.
Editor’s Note: With this article, Sound & Communications welcomes longtime industry technologist and consultant Michael Goldman to the rotating lineup of “IoT” columnists. He, just as the other authors are, is a board member of the Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA).
Many of our “IoT” columns this year (and many analyses of the AV industry, as well as other industries), will forever be broken up into two categories of experiences: those before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and those after it. We all have come to understand that, during the pandemic, things have had to change to keep us safe. But as we come out of it, it’s fair to examine how “temporary” experiences might have permanently changed our expectations in a postCOVID-19 world. And nowhere might those expectations have changed more dramatically than as it relates to how we connect through technology.
Before the pandemic, videoconferencing was something most people experienced in a room. Typically, it involved displays showing tiny faces across a long table, and the systems operated via balky, overcomplicated touchpanels. Fast forward to the pandemic, during which time everyone was working from home, and—voila! videoconferencing became as simple as clicking a link on your computer or mobile device, having the correct application open and seeing the speakers as a full screen. You even had the ability to change the layout easily. So, it won’t be too surprising if, after the pandemic is over, people dislike the idea of going back to the cumbersome methods that were used before. (Never mind the fact that they might actually have to touch what other people have touched….)
Houses of worship will not be immune to post-pandemic expectation realignments. During the pandemic, when it wasn’t safe to gather in large crowds, many worshippers watched online services. Many congregants and family members who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend in-person events could join them from their home. Can’t be at Carol’s communion, or Jerry’s bar mitzvah, or Amy and Ted’s wedding? Well then, here’s the link to watch it live!
Once it’s safe to go back to our houses of worship—something that many people are craving and sorely missing—technology will continue to play a vital role in the experience. Technology will grow and strengthen the community, and it will enhance the in-person experience just as it has the remote experience.
When congregants watch services and/or events streamed to their screens at home, they typically can see participants’ faces, expressions, gestures, etc. When they go back to the sanctuary and sit in the 73rd row of pews, however, they won’t be able to see those faces and gestures anymore. After having experienced something better, they will likely feel that returning to the old way is inadequate.
In terms of technology, houses of worship will need to up their game significantly to meet new expectations. Video production, lighting and voice-lift capabilities will have to be built in—both for remote attendees and for in-person attendees. The latter will want something more like a tasteful image-magnification (IMAG) experience, featuring video and experiential elements that weren’t there before. Interactivity is also key. If an ill or immobile relative is watching the event from home, there is increasingly an expectation that he or she should also be able to participate in it.
All this sounds plausible, right? Sure. But, without the guidance of a skilled professional, my mind reels at how difficult it could be to create this IMAG and remote experience successfully and tastefully (not to mention technically). In lieu of rushing to add a drop-down projection screen or flatpanel display, you should strive to strike the right balance between technology, architecture and performance.
Houses of worship will face a list of challenges in the post-pandemic world. Those challenges include the dwindling supply of wireless-audio frequencies, the need for smarter production equipment that is less expensive and that minimizes the need for operators, and the challenge of finding integrators and equipment that won’t result in organizations overspending to try to meet their needs.
Yet, regardless of the array of challenges, the obvious point here is that the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. Some sort of happy medium, which incorporates the right technologies to support in-person and remote-participant worship experiences, is a pretty certain forecast as we look to a post-pandemic worship landscape. I hope that those in charge of houses of worship will embrace this new doctrine as quickly as possible, and that they’ll seek ways to create satisfying and rewarding experiences for all.
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