When I was a young boy, about ten years old or so, my grandparents gave me a portable AM/FM radio. I was fascinated. It was fun adjusting the dial to explore the available radio stations. The best time to find new stations was at night. At night the signal from radio stations on the AM band travel much farther than in the daytime. At night I could tune into basketball games from KSL 1160 in Salt Lake City, music and DJs from KOMA 1520 broadcasting at 50-thousand watts of power from Oklahoma City, or programming from other faraway places like KFI 640 in Los Angeles, or 680 KNBR in San Francisco. It was amazing to me that I could be in my bedroom in rural Idaho and listen to people and music broadcast from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
The AM radio technology that fascinated me in the 1970s is now very old school. Today anyone with a decent internet connection can read, listen to, or watch content from individuals, groups or organizations from just about anywhere else in the world.
Of course sending messages hasn’t always been so easy. In fact for thousands of years words were recorded on stone, metal plates, animal skins and scrolls. One could only send those written words as fast as a man or horse could run or at the speed of a sailing ship. For ages the only way to listen to music was to hear it performed live.
We live in a time that most people throughout the history of the world couldn’t have imagined. Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington, Don Pember created an interesting mass media timeline. He envisioned what all of mass media history would look like if it were condensed into one calendar year from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve.
According to his calendar from January first to December 26th there was absolutely nothing—no mass media. In fact, it is not until two days after Christmas that we get our first mass media invention—the printing press at about 1450 A.D. It is not until New Year’s Eve on this theoretical calendar that electronic media of radio, television and VCR’s show up. It is a good thing or we’d miss watching the lighted ball dropping in Times Square on TV! The time in which we live today, with smart phones and digital and social media is 11:59...one minute until midnight on New Year’s Eve.
All of the technological innovations that we have today are amazing. They are evidence that the Lord is hastening his work. Over the past few years we’ve heard many of our Church leaders talk about hastening the work of salvation. In a recent Education Week address at BYU in Provo, Elder David A. Bednar talked about the dispensation of the fullness of times and technology:
“We are blessed to live, learn, and serve in this most remarkable dispensation. An important aspect of the fulness that is available to us in this special season is a miraculous progression of innovations and inventions that have enabled and accelerated the work of salvation: from trains to telegraphs to radios to automobiles to airplanes to telephones to transistors to televisions to computers to satellite transmissions to the Internet—and to an almost endless list of technologies and tools that bless our lives. All of these advancements are part of the Lord hastening His work in the latter days.”
In that same address, Elder Bednar shared a quote from Brigham Young from 1862:
"Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind has been given by direct revelation from God, though but few acknowledge it. It has been given with a view to prepare the way for the ultimate triumph of truth, and the redemption of the earth from the power of sin and Satan. We should take advantage of all these great discoveries, the accumulated wisdom of ages, and give to our children the benefit of every branch of useful knowledge, to prepare them to step forward and efficiently do their part in the great work.”
To help us to understand where we are now, it is important to review where we’ve been. In a 2003 General Conference talk, President Thomas S. Monson shared pieces of a treasure map to guide us to eternal happiness: Learn from the past, Prepare for the future, Live in the present.
With that in mind my talk today will focus on the use of media and technology in hastening the work of salvation. With President Monson’s admonition to learn from the past, I went to familysearch.org to research some of my ancestors. I discovered that my great, great grandfather on my Father’s side was born in 1828. That was just eight years after Joseph Smith experienced the First Vision and saw the Father and the Son in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York. The First Vision wasn’t only the beginning of the restoration of Christ’s Church on the earth after a long period of apostasy, it was also the beginning of a resurgence in secular knowledge inspired by heaven.
At a BYU-Idaho devotional in 2007, Elder Merrill J. Bateman said:
“It is apparent that secular knowledge has flowered since the time of Joseph Smith, that the Lord has been flooding the earth with temporal knowledge as well as spiritual.”
Elder Bateman referred to a book titled, “The Birth of Plenty” by William Bernstein. In the book Bernstein wrote:
“Beginning around 1820, the pace of economic advance picked up noticeably, making the world a better place to live in. What happened? An explosion of technological innovation the likes of which had never before been seen.”
As I mentioned earlier, My great, great, grandfather William Riley Howard Senior was born in 1828 and lived until 1902.
During his lifetime new technologies and innovations emerged like the electro-magnetic motor, the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, and the incandescent light bulb.
Can you imagine growing up in a time when you and your ancestors before you had never seen electric lights and had never heard a recorded voice.
Imagine that the distance at which you could hold a conversation with another person was only as far as you could yell. How do you share the gospel? One way was to print copies of the Book of Mormon and send missionaries out on foot, horseback and boat. In 1803, all of sixteen new missionaries were sent out to proselyte in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
Although I couldn’t find how my great great grandfather came in contact with the Church, he did. He joined the church and moved West to Utah in 1850.
It is interesting to note that the Church produced a number of print publications in the early years of the Church including the Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo and the Millennial Star in England. In June of 1850 the Deseret News was published in Salt Lake City and is still published today. Two other noteworthy events are the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and the emergence of miles and miles of telegraph lines across the United States in the same general time period. It was getting easier to send messages and share the gospel.
My great grandfather was William Riley Howard Junior.
He was born in 1854 in Pleasant Grove, Utah. In 1885, William Riley was with a group that travelled to Wilford, Idaho to homestead some land. Wilford is a small community north of Rexburg. That trip of about 300 miles would take about four hours travelling by car today. Back in 1885 it was a two-week trip with horses and wagons.
William Riley Howard Junior lived until 1916. In his lifetime there were many new inventions including the Kodak camera, the gasoline-powered car, the airplane, and the Model T automobile.
Church membership increased from about 52,000 in 1850 to 400,000 in 1910, which incidentally was the year that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did a recording for the Columbia Phonograph Company.
William Junior and his wife Elizabeth Jane Davis had eight children—five of which lived to adulthood. One of those five was my grandfather William Carloss Howard.
He was born in 1884 in Hooper, Utah. In 1919 he was called to serve a mission to the Southern States Mission. He was set apart by James E. Talmage.
During my grandfather’s lifetime there were amazing technological innovations, especially in the area of mass communication.
The first licensed radio station, KDKA, went on the air in 1920. In 1922 the Deseret News was licensed to operate a radio station KZN which later became KSL. By 1923 portions of General Conference were broadcast and by 1929 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began weekly radio broadcasts. The program would become the longest continuously running broadcast network program in America.
While radio was taking off, Philo Farnsworth, a Mormon boy from Utah and Idaho invented electronic television in 1927.
By 1930 Church membership was up to 670,000.
William Carloss Howard passed away in 1964, three years before I was born. His oldest son, my dad, was born in 1926 in Chester, Idaho.
He was a pretty smart guy. When he was in the seventh grade, a teacher asked him if he’d like to move on to high school because my dad had scored so well on the mid-year achievement tests. So he became a twelve-year-old freshman in high school.
In his journal he recalled his senior year in high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor:
“It was a Sunday when we were having stake conference . . .After conference we came home and listened to the news on the radio. There was no television, but the radio provided good news coverage from around the world. We had a little black radio that sat on a small shelf by the window in the living room of the little old log house.”
My dad used the GI Bill to help him with his education. As a young father with two small children, he took the Greyhound bus from Chester to Rexburg each day to attend Ricks College. He received his four-year diploma in 1954 from the hands of President David O. McKay.
During my Dad’s lifetime the rate of technological advances increased dramatically. We landed on the moon in 1969. The video game Pong was created. Bill Gates formed a little company called Microsoft and in the early 1980s the personal computer made its debut. It is interesting to think that my great grandfather was around for the debut of automobiles and in my dad’s lifetime we were able to land a man on the moon.
During my Dad’s lifetime the Church’s use of media increased markedly—KSL TV went on the air, Music and the Spoken Word began to be broadcast on TV as well as General Conference. In 1964 “Man’s Search for Happiness”, the church’s first film written for a non-LDS audience premiered at the World’s Fair in New York and was seen by five million people. The use of media and the growth of the Church was accelerating.
I was born in St. Anthony, Idaho in 1967. No surprise, my middle name is Riley. Media and technology has changed a lot in my lifetime. When I tell my children stories about when I was young, they sometimes look at me as if I’m either really old or perhaps a bit crazy.
As the youngest of ten children, one of my jobs was to change the TV channel. There was no remote control, so my job was to sit next to the TV and turn the knob. Of course we only had three channels to choose from so it wasn’t very tough. I have boxes with eight track tapes, cassettes, vinyl records, and even reel-to-reel tape that are gathering dust as a testament to advances in media technology.
In the early seventies, Church membership grew to around three million members. In an address to Regional Representatives 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“. . . when we have used the satellite and related discoveries to their greatest potential and all of the media—the papers, magazines, television, radio—all in their greatest power. . . then and not until then, shall we approach the insistence of our Lord and Master to go into all of the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Through the eighties and nineties the Church’s use of media increased. Mr. Krueger’s Christmas appeared on network television, satellite dishes popped up at stake centers around the world, President Hinckley did numerous media interviews including an appearance on 60 Minutes, the Church launched its website LDS.org in 1997.
There are many, many more innovations that I haven’t mentioned that we don’t have time to list in this setting. Many of the dates and events I’ve mentioned today come from “Mormon Media History Timeline: 1827-2007” prepared by Dr. Sherry Baker from Brigham Young University. It represents years of research and you can refer to it for a detailed list of major media events related to the Church.
We’ve looked to the past and we can clearly see the increasing pace of innovation in technology and media. We are now in the digital age, the age of social media. I teach a course called mass media and society here at BYU-Idaho. Over the past few semesters I have been giving a short quiz at the beginning of the semester.
I show the students a list of media-related products and services such as Facebook, Twitter, the iPhone and iPad, Google Plus, Snapchat and so on.
The quiz is to determine the year in which each of the products or services was first introduced. They usually get a few right on, however, getting the exact date isn’t the point of the quiz.
When I reveal the dates, I point out to the students that all of these products and services that many of us use every day were launched in their lifetimes.
The Church has done an amazing job of producing media to share the gospel message. That list includes books, newspapers, pamphlets, videos, music, movies etc. In this new age of social media something has changed. All of the Church-produced media was wonderful, but in years past it wasn’t easy to share. Now it is. In an address given in May of 2011, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
“Sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before. . . . Perhaps the Lord’s encouragement to ‘open [your] mouths’ might today include ‘use your hands’ to blog and text message the gospel to all the world! . . .
“With the blessings of modern technology, we can express gratitude and joy about God’s great plan for His children in a way that can be heard . . . around the world. Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity.”
In April of 2015 the Church released an Easter-themed video, “He Lives” on the Mormon Channel on YouTube.
Members were encouraged to share the video with others through any of their social media services and the use of the hashtag #BecauseHeLives. The video has received over five million views. This is just one of many examples where faithful church members have helped share the gospel through new media resources.
Many of us may be unsure about sharing the gospel through social media. You’ll find a list of the Church’s official social media sites and well as tips and ideas on LDS.org under “Sharing via Social Media”.
Another great resource is a book called 101 Ways to Hasten the Work Online by Larry Richman.
Brother Richman is an online marketing professional and the Director of Product Awareness and Evaluation for the Church. Some of his 101 ideas are as simple as following and repining images from the Church on Pinterest. Others are a little more involved like beginning a blog about something that interests you.
Brother Richman has taken his own advice and runs the blog LDS Media Talk which I follow.
On his blog he writes that the purpose of LDS Media talk is for him to, “share ideas with LDS parents and youth about how to use materials published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others. The blog also shares ideas on using technology to strengthen families and share the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Although Brother Richman works for the Church, he makes it clear on his blog that it is not an official Church publication and the views expressed their don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Church. That is following the counsel from Elder M. Russell Ballard offered in a commencement address here at BYU-Idaho in 2008. He said:
“Remember that while you as an individual Latter-day Saint in some ways represent the Church, be careful not to represent yourself as speaking officially for the Church.”
While the advent of social media makes it easier than ever to share the gospel. Some of us may still be reluctant to share our beliefs openly through social media because we are afraid of negative responses from others. In a 2014 CES Devotional, Elder Ballard called for us to stand up and be courageous. He said:
“The Lord invites you to get involved and use the social media platforms you prefer to share the gospel and stand as modern sons and daughters of Helaman in the great battles of the last days. He wants you to become the modern stripling warriors who stand strong and united to defend the truth. He wants you to be courageous and stalwart in the face of the enemy’s advances. We know that in the end the Lord will win the day and Satan will be defeated.
Through various social media platforms, you can have gospel conversations with family, friends, and, for you returned missionaries, even with former investigators and new members. You can stand as witnesses to the truth and defend the kingdom.”
What really caught my attention from Elder Ballard’s statement is that the Lord is inviting us to get involved in sharing the gospel through social media. However, as you and I know, it is very easy to spend hours with social media in what we might call, “less productive” activities. It is easy to scroll through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat for hours reading posts, liking pictures, and watching videos. Earlier I referred to President Monson’s council to learn from the past, prepare for the future and live in the present. I’m not sure if when he talked about living in the present he was referring to how we interact with social media, but I think it would be good advice. At the beginning of the classes I teach, I frequently remind students to “be present” and turn off their smart phones and tablets. Elder Ballard put it this way:
“Too often, young people find themselves in the same room with family or friends but are too busy communicating with someone not present, thereby missing an opportunity to visit with those nearby. When this happens, maybe you need to leave the room and send a text message back to them to get their attention.”
One of my favorite projects I have students in my mass media classes work on each semester is keeping a media journal. I ask them to try their best to track all of their media consumption, music, social media, movies, books, etc. for about three days. It is a difficult task because the media is everywhere!
The idea for this project came, in part, through an experience I had with some friends in college. A young married couple we knew was trying to better manage their finances, so they met with a financial advisor. The advisor told them that before he could really help them, they needed to track every penny they spent over a period of a month or so. It was a tedious task, but in the end they had some interesting results. One finding was that the wife had a serious liking for bubble gum. They discovered that she was spending approximately ten to twenty dollars on bubble gum a month.
She had no idea her sweet tooth was costing them that much. She enjoyed bubble gum and would pick up a pack what she thought was just every once-in-a-while. Now armed with this new information the couple could make some decisions. The wife enjoyed bubble gum so they could continue spending a good portion of their starving-college-student income on gum. Another option could be to set a limit on the amount of gum she purchased every month. They could even choose to cut it out all together and spend the savings on more extravagant college meals like mac and cheese or ramen noodles.
Similarly, if we never really take a personal inventory of our media consumption, like with the class project of keeping a media journal, we may never really know where we are spending our media time. Is it possible that there is some “bubble gum” in the time we spend with social and other media sources? A little bubble gum may be okay, but a steady diet may have negative consequences even if it is just taking us away from time spent doing other things. Although the media journal project is not meant to be an “intervention”, some students are very surprised and sometimes embarrassed at what they discover when they take a serious look at their media use. I would invite all of us to examine our media consumption. Take the time to review how much time we are spending on our smart phones and other devices and for what purpose.
I thoroughly enjoy teaching at BYU-Idaho, and one of the things I like best is working directly with students. With the help of some hard-working and creative students a few years back, we came up with an idea to produce a TV program that we hoped would air on BYUTV. One of my colleagues in the Communication Department, Ron Weekes, came up with the title, “Latter-day Profiles.” The idea was to do thirty-minute interviews with faithful church members who are involved in business, public service, entertainment, and a host of other worthwhile and noteworthy causes.
The hope was that we could share often untold stories to inspire and encourage others, especially fellow church members. It has been a lot of work but it has also been a lot of fun. We’ve produced around two hundred episodes. “Latter-day Profiles” currently airs every Sunday afternoon on BYUTV and is available on our website latterdayprofiles.org. I host the program and have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of people. One of my favorite people to interview was then President Kim B. Clark when he was serving as president here at BYU-Idaho. The last time I interviewed him was just a month before his tenure ended as president in March of this year. We talked at length about the Pathway program. If you are not familiar with the program, here is a brief summary from the Pathway website:
“Pathway is a low-cost educational opportunity that combines online courses with local gatherings. Students earn college credit that is eligible for transfer to BYU-Idaho and other universities. The program takes three semesters, or one year, to complete and can lead to professional certificates and degrees.”
President Clark spoke of how the program had grown from about six hundred students to ten thousand in just a few years. I asked him if he felt the Pathway program was part of hastening the work of Salvation. Here is his response:
“Oh there is no question, there is no question. The things that we see at the university are absolutely apart of that. Pathway for example, we made a decision early on not require students to be in endorsed, so to participate in Pathway you do not have to get a bishops endorsement or a stake president’s endorsement which means we can go out and reach out to people who need to be rescued. Whose lives may not be in order or who have wandered from the path and invite them back.
So we have seen a lot a lot of less active people come back into the church and embrace the gospel and embrace the Lord that have not, that would not have had that opportunity come to them without somebody reaching out to them and say, you know, “why don’t you come?” Because here’s an opportunity to really improve your life and then the first thing you study is the Book of Mormon.
And you take Book of Mormon for a semester and do a course we call Pathway Life Skills which is a great course and they feel the spirit, you know, they meet with other Latter-day Saints, they start to feel some hope in their lives and they come back. It’s a really sweet, sweet experience.
The Pathway program is one of many inspired innovations that have been made possible by the technological advances that are a result of heavenly inspiration. In a conference address in October of 1926, Joseph Fielding Smith spoke of new technologies and the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times:
“I maintain that had there been no restoration of the gospel, and no organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there would have been no radio; there would have been no airplane, and there would not have been the wonderful discoveries in medicine, chemistry, electricity, and the many other things wherein the world has been benefited by such discoveries. Under such conditions these blessings would have been withheld, for they belong to the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times of which the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church constitute the central point, from which radiates the Spirit of the Lord throughout the world. The inspiration of the Lord has gone out and takes hold of the minds of men, though they know it not, and they are directed by the Lord. In this manner he brings them into his service that his purposes and his righteousness, in due time, may be supreme on the earth.”
Brothers and Sisters. As President Monson counseled us, let us learn from the past. As we look back, we can clearly see the hand of the Lord in preparing the way for the gospel to be spread to all the earth. Let us prepare for the future. We must invest time and effort to learn and adapt to new technologies and methods of sharing the gospel so we can be part of Elder Bednar’s call to “sweep the earth as with a flood.” Lastly, let us live in the present. Be present! Don’t let the easy distraction of social media and smart phone technology keep you from personal relationships with family, friends and most importantly, with Heavenly Father.
It is my testimony that we do live in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. The Lord is hasting his work. May we do all that we can to do our part in sharing the gospel and moving the work forward is my hope and prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.