Putting Faith in Technology


The unconventional use of a familiar digital service stirs upthoughts about its reliability-and its possibilities.

Olivia LaBarreI WAS ZONING OUT, STUCK IN TRAFFIC during my drive to the office, when afamiliar term-VoIP-brought my attention back to the radio. After listeningfor a few moments, I realized the reporter wasn't discussing voice over IP, buta relatively new phenomenon called pray over IP. My commute suddenlybecame interesting.

I was surprised to learn that since 2006, PoIP, an Israeli start-up, has given "unlimited access to holiness" to those who just can't afford the money or time for a trip to the Holy Land. Instead, their recorded prayers can travel alongside data over the internet and into the heavens. That's right, folks, you can forgo all the fuss of a spiritual pilgrimage and still have your prayers heard in your choice of several holy hot spots in Israel, from the Western Wall in Jerusalem to the Zadikim Cave in Safed.

Since both VoIP and just-in-time web services are steadily gaining popularity, I guess I shouldn't have been caught off guard. The company's website boasts immediate, 24-hour access to prayer: "Pray now-don't miss a moment!" After all, why would you undertake a long journey when you have access to eternal salvation at your fingertips?

I picture a child gasping as his grandfather tells him, "You kids are lucky you have that PoIP. I remember the days when I traveled more than 7,000 miles in a stuffy plane-in coach-to pray for salvation in Jerusalem!"

Maybe what PoIP is trying to get across is that it doesn't matter how your prayers arrive in the Holy Land, as long as they get there somehow. But wait-will your words resound throughout these lands and up to the heavens as you intend?

Probably not every time. I imagine that the IT people at PoIP face the same struggles that schools face with big VoIP projects. I don't know what kind of network PoIP is using for prayer transmissions, but with so much riding on the message getting through, I wouldn't be comfortable with the possibility of insufficient bandwidth or poor routing equipment disrupting my shot at eternal bliss.

As I drove on, I imagined a new set of VoIP spin-offs: Maybe people will someday use CoIP (confession over IP) to transmit their wrongdoings to the Pope. Or what if kids could use SoIP (Santa over IP) to send their requests for Webkinz or Guitar Hero to the North Pole? And just imagine letting go of your frustrations about a tough day by dumping them into the Grand Canyon through vent over IP. The possibilities are plentiful, so I'll be sure to stay tuned in for the next VoIP development.

-Olivia LaBarre, Managing Editor

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.