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AC packets going digital

By Jessica Connor

A dozen years into the 21st century — amid the boom of smartphones, iPads, thumb drives and other electronic advancements — the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church is taking steps to be paper-free.

For the first time, the conference is offering digitized versions of its Annual Conference materials along with paper copies to those members attending the gathering. The pre-conference packet, mailed out the end of April, contains a video disc with all pre-conference materials in individual pdfs, along with training videos to explain significant items up for decision at Annual Conference. And the registration packet that is handed out when people arrive at Annual Conference will also contain a disc of digitized materials along with paper versions, e.g., updated reports, flyers and legislation.

Conference Communications Director Matt Brodie said the digitized versions are an attempt to get people accustomed to the idea of going paper-free. Next year, the conference plans to offer people the option of receiving print or digital materials.

It really does three things,  Brodie said. It embraces technology we already have, it is environmentally friendly and it is ultimately more practical. 

It is also significantly more cost effective. Brodie said it costs less than $1 to produce all of the information on a single disc, versus about $7 per packet to produce the printed materials.

Next year, people will have the option of either/or, but eventually, we hope to have the vast majority all-digital,  he said.

The Rev. Willie Teague, conference Connectional Ministries director, said he thinks the shift to digitized materials is a great idea.

A lot of conferences don t print anything,  Teague said. It s the next step. ¦ We can digitize information for less than $2,200, but to print costs thousands and thousands more. 

Conference Secretary the Rev. Tim Rogers said the S.C. Conference will be certain to accommodate everyone. While we are clearly moving away from printed materials and toward digital information in almost every area of our culture, some of our conference members still prefer paper while others are ready for digital information,  Rogers said. We are doing our best to provide information in the format that is most helpful to each individual. 

Right now, some members of Annual Conference do not have laptops or even cellular phones. But as the generations age and society becomes more inundated with personal electronic devices, people s needs and wants change. For instance, many younger people do not want to carry around a stack of papers they can lose or spill coffee on, Brodie said. They want their information on a disc or thumb drive they can easily load into their phone, iPad or laptop, which they can share with their church members back home or modify for amended legislation.

Even a disc is already old technology, Brodie said, even though it is better than paper.

In three years, I m wondering how many computers will have a CD drive,  Brodie said. As technology changes, we may do thumb drives or email or even Cloud via a device. 

Jim Crews, director of information technology for the conference, said the conference is right to make this change.

It s no longer ˜the future, it s the present,  Crews said. It s just a changing of the vessel of information, and it s the way we need to be. 

While he appreciates the cost-effectiveness of an all-digital packet, Crews said the biggest benefit is that the packet is no longer a static visual. With a digitized version, people have the ability to easily reproduce it and make changes midstream.

In addition to the discs, people are able to find pre-conference and other materials on the conference website, www.umcsc.org . Click on the Annual Conference 2012  box near the top of the homepage.

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