“I have nostalgia about the letters, but I don’t have any concerns about the Internet,” he said. “I am very much an optimist, and believe when we give people tools that can be positive, they will use them in a positive way.”
* * *
If anything, it is the younger generation that is more concerned about Facebook and Internet access. “I think my jaw dropped for about 10 minutes after the announcement was made,” said Elder Drew Brown, 19, at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, where he was in language training before heading to serve in Taiwan. Brown worried that he was “going to spend more time inside a room rather than face to face” teaching people, like his father’s mission.
For many missionaries the difficult lifestyle comes drenched in virtue. Most come to the field with hopes of—in addition to preaching the gospel—improving their discipline, concentration, and obedience. Basically, traits the Internet is said to destroy.
“If someone wakes up in the middle of the night, and goes into the kitchen and wants to have a go at it, there is certainly nothing stopping them … you don’t have to sneak out, you can stay right there in the comfort of your home,” said Stephen Sorenson about his early concerns that the iPods would make pornography more easily available.
“I think it is going to be harder for the missionaries,” said B.W., a current missionary. “I mean, if I had Internet access I’d be on eBay looking for ammo deals,” he added.
Younger Mormons, particularly from test missions, are cautious. “Part of me was a little worried,” said Ben Caraway, “because I feel like a brand new missionary shouldn’t be able to use Facebook until he has been out for a little bit. If you are a brand new missionary, home is always on your mind, and it is easy to be tempted to look at home and see what people are doing and what friends are doing,” making it a particularly vulnerable time for Facebook.
“Netflix kills you,” B.W. said when asked how he felt about the addictive nature of technology, adding that visiting families in their homes as a missionary has made him rethink the role of technology in everyday life. “The kids are all watching a movie, playing with Grandma’s iPhone. I don’t want to let technology get in the way of my being a parent.”
As he spoke, his two companions nodded vigorously. “You see kids in member’s homes … turn off the TV and they didn’t know what to do,” one said. “I would play video games for hours, and I lived across the street from a park!” the companion continued, saying he feels more present on his mission than at home. For him, staring at screens “Kind of dims you from the world.”
But not all Mormons agree on the central purpose of a mission. Different Mormons have different emphases.
Sheldon Child was adamant that bringing others to the Gospel must be the principal goal of one serving a mission. “The main reason they go on mission is to invite people to come to Christ,” said Child, who oversaw missionaries both as an area president and as a mission president himself in the 1990s in New York City. “The self-transformation is a byproduct. If you had a missionary who went on mission to become a better person or be a better speaker he would be a less effective missionary,” he said. From this perspective, the only hesitations one would have about technology would be whether it would result in fewer converts.