How Emerging Technologies will Affect Watchtower Growth
Written December 2008, latest update January 2013
Think back to the early 1980's. One of the most important events in Watchtower history was the release of Crisis of Conscience by former Governing Body member Raymond Franz. Slow distribution of this "apostate" book lead to minor affect on members. Main stream acceptance of the World Wide Web began in 1996 and mass distribution of the same information via the Internet assisted in the rapid and significant drop of growth of Jehovah's Witness from 7% in the 1980's, to around 2% per annum.
To further lend support that the internet is affecting Watchtower growth, there is a correlationship between countries with the lowest rates of Watchtower growth having the highest penetration of Internet access.
Click here for the data used for the graph.
The affect is particularly pronounced when looking at the percentage of Bible studies that progress to baptism.
The Internet is growing at an astonishing rate, with the number of users growing by 291% between 2000 and March 2008, from 360 million users to 1.4 billion users. This represents 21% of the world population. (internetworldstats.com/stats.htm July 26 2008)
Since 2002, the Internet has developed from a place to share documents to a means of interaction through social networking websites. Web 2.0 is used to represent the ability to display rich media and interactive information sharing, such as through wikis, RSS feeds, mash ups and blogs. This allows for rapid dissemination of information and discussion of alternate points of view.
Recent technologies give a glimpse into what will be possible in the future:
- Internet connection speed increases from dial-up to broadband to fibre optic cable and 4G for almost instantaneous response times
- YouTube providing the ability to post personal and educational videos
- Google Maps Street View allowing 3D video imaging of any location
- Smartphones making constant internet access mainstream
- Twitter for instant updates on events and people
- Social Media such as Facebook for tracking friends around the world
Combine these technologies and soon the Internet will morph from static verbal information pages to virtual reality. What will be the result?
The Watchtower presents what most people recognise as an illogical and inaccurate message. People fall for the message through slow, insidious indoctrination techniques. First are several months of pleasant study of a book containing high level doctrine. Next is meeting attendance and "love bombing". By the time an interested person becomes aware of deeper and more offensive practices and doctrines that are primed and somewhat immune to the rhetorical fallacy.
A reason the internet affect Watchtower growth is that prior to effective indoctrination a Bible Study can learn other sides of the story. Imagine how it will be over the next decade. After receiving the first Watchtower and before their first study the householder will use the Internet to access information on the history of the Watchtower Society and doctrinal flaws. But more, soon they will be able to use Google maps to visually travel by street view to the closest kingdom hall. There they will be able to click on a video of a recorded meeting. It will be noticeable whilst watching an elder present a talk how much discussion concentrates on describing "worldly people" as evil and worthy of destruction. A Watchtower study will present Witnesses answering mundane questions by rote. Without the emotion of human interaction a Bible Study will see these meetings for what they are, indoctrination sessions. The chance of converting a Return Visit to a Bible Study will be remote, progression to publisher even less likely.
The term Web 3.0 is used to hypothesis about the future of the internet, with particular emphasis on artificial intelligence - computers dynamically researching and presenting information. This will allow for rapid evaluation of historic Watchtower doctrinal contradictions, errors and changes. Each Watchtower article released will see simultaneous dissection and distribution of information over the internet highlighting misquotes, scientific error, doctrinal changes and logical fallacies.
A significant reason for membership with religious organizations is the social aspect. This is magnified with cults that offer a "family". Social networking sites will erode into this benefit as it allows people to connect easily to like minded people locally and globally. As youths in particular find how easy the internet makes the development of friendships, there will be less fear and in trepidation from leaving a cult into what is no longer the great unknown.
I was speaking to a twenty-four year old who sells internet software and he was lamenting that he is too old to be of the internet generation. The next generation were born into and live the internet, always connected. This is the generation the Governing Body do not understand and have no idea how to control. Whether born a Jehovah's Witness or met in the territory, it will be impossible to prevent current students and future generations educating themselves and learning both sides of the story. Education is the greatest threat that exists for any cult. Where static information pages have assisted in educating the studious, live interactive visual presentations will prevent even the simplest, most gullible person falling for Watchtower lies.
Out of touch Governing Body members seem to avoid confronting the affect future Internet developments will have on Watchtower growth and to be ill prepared to counteract. Their position has been one of defence, rather than taking the offensive. Even with the upgrade of jw.org in 2013, the Watchtower is using the internet solely for information delivery, and avoiding its potential for growth through social media and interaction such as allowing comments on their website. This appears to be due to a fear of alternative points of view. They are caught between their need for information control, and an ever increasing free market for information.
The result is likely one of two conclusions. If the Watchtower does not change, those leaving will start to outnumber baptisms. Alternatively, there may be a push to become mainstream. The transparency the internet provides regarding this organization may force it to discard bigoted, cult-like teachings and practices. This would include doing away with disfellowshipping and shunning and the teaching that only Jehovah's Witnesses will survive Armageddon. Whether the internet leads to a reduction in Witnesses or improvement of Watchtower doctrine, either outcome is welcome.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2013