Queue is a funny word. It comes from a latin-based French word that basically means “tail.” Somewhere in the 1800s, it came to be used when referring to a line of people. Basically, it is just a fancy word for “line.” We love to use fancy words for boring stuff.

I almost didn’t write about the queue system at General Conference because it has been the topic of much controversy. This year, General Conference tried a new approach to the way people ask to speak on the floor. In previous years, delegates held up different colored cards to get the attention of the Presiding Bishop when they wished to speak. This year, a new electronic queueing system was introduced. Instead of raising cards, delegates type their delegate ID into a tablet at their table and get placed in a queue that is visible to the Presiding Bishop.

A tablet computer displaying the electronic queue portal for delegates
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS Delegates will use tablet computers to ask to speak during the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore.

Apparently this was a little bumpy at first. It was bumpy enough that there was some debate regarding amending the rules so that the conference would go back to the card system. Due to some apparent technical glitches, the conference did revert to cards for a time. Eventually, the new rules were passed and the queueing system was adopted. You can read more about the issue here:

ʽDigital divide’ concern arises with African delegates


I am not a delegate and I am not even in Portland so I can’t really offer an opinion on the queueing system. However, I do have some thoughts to consider and I think they relate them to takeaways for the church.

First of all, introducing something new, whether technological or otherwise is usually bumpy.

Humans are biologically change-averse. No matter how good something is, there will be some amount of resistance to it. When introducing something new, we just need to expect and plan for that. Whether it is projection screens in the sanctuary, online giving, a new website or a new queueing system, we need to give people some time and space to adjust.

Second, new technology rarely works how you expect it to.

It doesn’t matter how many times you test something, when you start using it, it is nearly guaranteed to behave in a way you don’t expect. This is especially true when you can’t test it in a true, real-world, setting. I am sure those tablets and the system were tested multiple times. However, given the circumstances, there was no opportunity for a real-world test, in that room full of delegates, all with cell phones and tablets and computers fighting for WiFi and 4G and with the possibility of every last tablet being used at the same time. Frankly, even if there was, in my experience, there was still a decent chance for something to go wrong.

Third, sometimes the change is worth the growing pains.

General Conference Plenary Space

Time will tell whether the new  queue system will be a permanent addition to how the General Conference does business. However, I think it is important to note that the decision to use the new system wasn’t just an attempt to try out some flashy new technology. It was an attempt to leverage technology to make the business of the conference more effective. General Conference 2016 is being held in the Oregon Convention Center. To accommodate all of the delegates at round tables, they are using exhibit halls C&D for the plenary sessions. That is a space of 130,000 square feet. That is larger than two football fields. Not all of that space is for delegates. Some is used for the staging and there is seating in the back for visitors. However, we are still talking about a really large space. Given that the presiding bishop sits up front, mostly blinded by the lights that make the video feed look good, it becomes pretty hard to see people waving colored cards. That is not, in and of itself, and insurmountable problem. We could give the bishop a visor to wear. However, you are still faced with trying to see and keep track of people holding up cards in a huge room.

Fourth, frustration over process gets converted into frustration over technology.

Using Robert’s Rules of Order in a gathering of around 800 people while discussing critical issues can sometimes feel like a disenfranchising experience. When a motion comes to the floor and the rules allow three speeches for and three against, rarely does everyone who wants to get to speak. Sometimes during the course of proceedings, someone with a critical point of order can’t get heard until after the conference has moved on to another issue. This happens whether people are raising hands, standing in an actual line, or using an electronic system. I remember people being frustrated in Tampa because they had been holding their card in their air and never got called on. The same thing is happening in Portland, it is just that the blame falls to the tablets.

As I said in the beginning, I am not there. People smarter than me will have to decide about the future of how queues will work.

Fifth, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all using technology that was once new to someone.

A lightbulb and a mousePaper, pens, lights, roads, cars, phones, printed bibles, sound systems… things many of take for granted while others still lack. There was a time when each of these things that most American churchgoers consider to be a normal part of daily life were revolutionary technology. They also faced boundaries to adoption. We should also remember that sitting on drawing boards, in patent offices, and lost to history are far more that didn’t make it. Adopting or not adopting new technology has just become part of our human condition.

My guess is that the electronic queue system will stick around. It will get better as we learn how to better train and prepare people to use it. Then we will get comfortable with it. And then something new will come along.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: