I recently attended a conference with several hundred in attendance and a variety of plenary sessions over one and a half days. It was a synod or annual meeting of a major religious denomination in Canada and the attendees were both clergy professionals and lay delegates. It is effectively the policy making body for a large part of the province of Ontario.

When we signed in, we were given clickers in order to vote. My first experience of using gizmos like these was in South Africa more than 10 years ago – and I had one, even though I was a speaker at that conference rather than a voting delegate. Then as now, we were warned to return them or pay a penalty. This time we were also told that every clicker had a number attached to our name. On another occasion in the past year we used clickers to vote in an election. That certainly speeded up the process in a field of eleven candidates – more in fact than the clickers would allow for. So the first ballot had a manual count that took almost an hour to process.

But at the more recent conference there were no motions that could in any way be construed as controversial. A show of hands would have been sufficient on any of them. The results told the story. No motion had less than 90% in favour. We were even told that some negative votes were being cast on purpose just to check that the system was working properly – which did seem to contradict the very notion of accuracy. I challenged a younger delegate about the need for clickers at all. “But there might be a coup”. he replied. Were you planning one? I said.

Technology has immense usefulness – but sometimes I wonder – have we introduced it into situations where we don’t need it at all? Is pushing buttons so normal that we can’t imagine any situation without it?

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