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The Christian Commons - Ending the Spiritual Famine of the Global Church

The Christian Commons - Ending the Spiritual Famine of the Global Church

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08/16/2013

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Transportation has been a problem looking for a solution for as
long as man has walked the earth. Modes and means have changed
through the centuries, but the problem is still essentially the same:
How do I get from one point to another efficiently and inexpen-
sively? With the invention of the automobile, efficiency of trans-
portation increased greatly. But for people who travel long dis-
tances frequently, it can also be a costly means of transportation.

Making the most of
these opportunities
depends on
open-licensed Bible
translations.

The Word of God, Restricted179

One solution to the problem of expensive travel is the carpool. By
sharing the same vehicle among several people, the cost for each
person making the trip goes down significantly. But carpooling has
been hindered by an information problem. How do you find out
who has a car, is going where you need to go, and is willing to give
you a ride for a price on which you both agree?
It used to be that this was a difficult problem to solve, because
manually coordinating drivers and riders was tedious and time-
consuming. So carpooling tended to work on a small scale—people
from the same company and living in the same neighborhoods, for
instance. In order for carpooling to work on a large scale, there did
not need to be more cars and carpoolers. There needed to be better
information about the cars and carpoolers already in existence.
PickupPal was invented to meet this need. The PickupPal web ser-
vice helped coordinate drivers and carpoolers by sharing enough
information about each to make the carpooling system work. A
driver could advertise a route they drive and people looking for a
ride could search for a route that would work for them. Prices were
negotiated via the website and an agreed-upon ride was coordi-
nated when there was a match that was acceptable to both parties.
PickupPal used the Internet to enable the participants in the
process to coordinate themselves, thus removing the inconve-
nience of organizing a carpool by providing better information
about the cars and carpoolers already in existence. It was a fast and
efficient solution to an age-old problem, so it is no surprise that
many people began to use the service to coordinate rides.
But not everyone was thrilled about the service provided by Pick-
upPal. Bus companies, in particular, were not impressed that peo-
ple could now negotiate long-distance rides between cities using
private parties instead of riding the bus. In May 2008, a bus com-
pany called Trentway-Wagar in Ontario did something about it.
They reported PickupPal to the Ontario Highway Transport Board,
claiming it provided an illegal transportation service. They cited
Section 11 of the Ontario Public Vehicles Act that defined the pa-

180The Christian Commons

rameters for legal carpooling, and claimed that PickupPal was in vi-
olation of them.
In the hearings that followed, it quickly became apparent that the
changes and new opportunities brought on by the Internet were
not yet understood by the Highway Transportation Board.

At one point in the proceedings, Mr. Dewhirst [the founder
of PickupPal] had to explain to the board that an online fo-
rum is an Internet site where people can go to discuss a par-
ticular topic. In another instance, members of the board
were flabbergasted when they suggested a change be made
to PickupPal and Mr. Dewhirst offered to make the update
on his computer right there in the room… “The government
has been blindsided by the technology, and the world has
changed around them,” he said.2
The Ontario Highway Transport Board upheld Trentway-Wagar’s
complaint, fined PickupPal for infractions of the Public Vehicles
Act and ordered them to stop operations in Ontario. It did not mat-
ter that PickupPal provided a convenient service at a lower cost to
the general public. It did not matter that they were able to leverage
new technology that had not even been invented when the original
laws were written. They were in violation of the law that upheld
the way things had always been done and, according to those still
doing things the way they had always been done, PickupPal needed
to be closed down.
This story illustrates an important point. The bus companies were
established to solve a specific problem: the problem of transporta-
tion. Arranging for transportation was inconvenient, and informa-
tion that could establish a more convenient solution on a large
scale, like carpooling, was unavailable. Bus companies were an in-

2

Matt Hartley, “Bus company no friend to PickupPal,” nov 2008,
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/article722574.ece

The Word of God, Restricted181

novative solution to the problem, largely because other solutions
were not yet technologically possible.
When the technology was invented to remove the same inconve-
nience and enable a new means of solving the same problem—one
that bypassed the bus companies—this was seen as a threat to the
existence of the companies that had been founded to solve the
problem. Bus companies solved the problem of transportation in
the most affordable and efficient means possible, given the tech-
nology of the time. But when new technology was invented that
provided a vastly more affordable and efficient solution, the need
for the bus companies as the exclusive means of solving the prob-
lem was diminished. The bus industry felt the threat acutely, and
understandably so. Clay Shirky explains:

Trentway-Wagar was arguing that because carpooling used
to be inconvenient, it should always be inconvenient, and if
that inconvenience disappeared, then it should be rein-
serted by legal fiat. Curiously, an organization that commits
to helping society manage a problem also commits itself to
the preservation of that same problem, as its institutional
existence hinges on society’s continued need for its manage-
ment. Bus companies provide a critical service—public
transportation—but they also commit themselves, as Trent-
way-Wagar did, to fending off competition from alternative
ways of moving people from one place to another.3
It is not just bus companies that can inadvertently become commit-
ted to the preservation of the problem they exist to solve, in order
to ensure their own continued existence. The world is changing
rapidly and many other sectors of society—including publishing,
entertainment, and education (among many others)—are undergo-
ing massive changes, whether or not they want to.

3

Shirky, Cognitive Surplus, 41.

182The Christian Commons

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s
sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know
—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old
system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume
it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time
they understand that the world has actually changed,
they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.4
Ministries that translate the Bible and help create discipleship re-
sources are also finding themselves in a similar situation.

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