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Going the way of the Ditto machine?

This piece will also appear in The Pacific, the oldest, continuously-published newspaper in California, December-January edition. <> As a child, there were two smells that defined church for me: coffee percolating and the slightly sweet alcoholic smell of a ditto machine as the pastor cranked out the bulletin as we arrived for Sunday school. Chances are that if you were born after 1975, you have never seen the bright purple letters and characteristic scent of a bulletin created on a ditto machine.

The ditto, also known as a spirit duplicator (don’t you love that name!), was an inexpensive version of the mimeograph invented in 1923 by A.B. Dick who had licensed the technology from patents assigned to Thomas A. Edison. It held sway as the cheapest way to create short run copies until the late 1960’s when the photocopier was invented by the Xerox corporation. Churches and schools, however, continued to use the ditto well into the late ‘70’s before succumbing to copy machines, though at least one pastor I know in Southern California still uses his spirit duplicator!

Dittos and mimeographs are also used extensively in the developing world because the hand crank models are not reliant upon electricity and the machine itself is portable and inexpensive to operate. Will the next revolution be reliant upon one of the developed world’s cast-off ditto machines?

The Pacific was originally produced with handset type and was painstakingly printed for over 100 years on commercial presses. It is a part of the newspaper’s proud history that the editors managed to print an edition the day after the 1906 earthquake by using a press in Oakland. That edition was the first San Francisco-based paper to go to print after the earthquake. The Pacific had a good run on the ditto machine too and then was photocopied for awhile until the newspaper joined UC News and went back to a commercial press.

The Pacific is generated using digital photography, high-end graphics software and many, many emails. It is also, perhaps, the end of an era too. Time will tell whether physical newspapers are about to go the way of the ditto.

More and more of our communication technology has moved onto the world-wide web. The new has made church news immediate and interactive. Read a story you find interesting and you can immediately leave a comment. You can also see what other folks who read the story wrote and respond to their responses. If you like (or dislike) this story, you might send an email or call me on the phone, but your response will not start an immediate conversation that could be global in scope.

Many, many, many of the materials now being created are available on the UCC family of websites including: <>, <> and <>, the only website that attempts to create “virtual” church that is sponsored by a church considered to be part of the old “mainline” denominations. This is not just a cost-savings move, it also allows for materials to go beyond the church office and into the hands of every member, friend or just curious person.

This move to the web creates various advantages, problems and opportunities. Chief among the problems is that many of our members do not have the resources or skill to access the material. It is really crucial for those of us on the upside of the digital divide to keep finding ways to bridge that problem.

The advantages are akin to those of the ditto machine: it’s cheaper and more immediate. Better than the ditto because it is more interactive and uses less time, labor and paper resources. No postage is necessary and there is no worry about recycling all that paper.

The digital revolution has reached beyond news and into all the rest of our interactions. Many of our NCNC churches now produce newsletters for email distribution and print copies only upon request. Committee work is often done via email, too. Various NCNC folk are now regular bloggers and I plan to post this particular article on my own blog: <> I hope you will stop by my site and let’s start a conversation there about changing technologies and the church.

Some congregations such as Congregational UCC, Campbell and First Congregational UCC, Redwood City use web-based programs such as Constant Contact to manage their e-lists and to send weekly news to members, friends and potential new members alike. This inexpensive and relatively easy-to-use program is a perfect entry-point for expanding local church communication. For churches bumping up their evangelism, such regular contact is essential to growth. Local churches are also revamping and improving their websites because research shows that someone considering attending a particular church is likely to access the congregation’s website three times before entering the sanctuary. The conference is also in the midst of creating a new website that will be more interactive, easy to maintain and more responsive. Even now, the conference website <> is the perfect place to get current information, register for Annual Meeting or camp and to see back issues of The Pacific.

As the acting editor of The Pacific, I subscribe to many lists and publications by our churches via email. The UCC Youth Leaders list has held virtual meetings that I was able to watch over the course of a week. Though this group also meets face-to-face, an occasional virtual meeting takes less time, does not require anyone to drive a long distance and an instant record (minutes) of the meeting is created. It also allowed me to simply observe and learn.

Our youth and young adults use many new technologies to stay connected including social networking sites such MySpace, Facebook and the business networking site LinkedIn. Text messaging is now more common than passing notes in class. No youth leader can afford to not be digitally-connected.

With the Committee on Ministry, we are now attempting to do much of our organizing work using free services available on the web such as those at We have a shared calendar that allows the scheduler to post appointments, staff to view the appointments to prepare related materials and the chairs to shape the agenda for our meetings. We post documents that can be shared and edited by the group. Automatic emails allow committee members to be notified immediately when a new document is posted or their input is needed. While we have struggled some with varying levels of skill and access to this technology, it has saved paper and time for the committee.

I still miss the intoxicating smell of a freshly-dittoed spelling test and I can’t imagine getting all my news onscreen or worse yet on my iPod. I know I’m not ready to give up books and newspapers, but I am ready to find new ways to grow our churches and ministry.

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