Wearables for Christ: Vatican Launches New ‘Click to Pray eRosary’

The Vatican has announced a new initiative to launch a unique wearable into the secular world: the eRosary. The Click To Pray eRosary (that’s the actual name) is described as “an interactive, smart and app-driven wearable device that serves as a tool for learning how to pray the rosary for peace in the world.”

Having been raised a Protestant, I had to do a little digging on this point. I’m aware of what a rosary is — a string of prayer beads for reciting prayers — but not so much what its specific meaning is in the Catholic faith. The beads of the rosary (technically the Holy Rosary) are used to count the component prayers as one recites them. According to the Vatican, the eRosary is activated by making the sign of the cross. Once you’ve completed the “swipe to pray” step (that’s our framing, not the Pope’s), you can choose which kind of rosary you want to perform. There’s a standard rosary, a “contemplative rosary,” and various “thematic rosaries” that will be updated throughout the year. Initial themes include the Laudato Si, migrants and refugees, vocations, and young people. The app contains audio guides and information on how to pray the rosary and tracks the user’s progress.

According to the Vatican, the eRosary is just the latest device in the “Click to Pray” family, described as “the official prayer app of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (where Pope Francis has his own personal profile) that connects thousands of people around the globe to pray every day.” This does appear to be the first time the Vatican has released a wearable, however.

The device is described as consisting of ten black agate and hematite rosary beads, as well as a “smart cross” which stores all technical data and houses the SoC. The app, however, appears to handle all of the actual user-interaction — the “smart cross,” (their phrase, not mine) does not appear to interact directly with the user. Engadget claims that the device also tracks health-related information, but I can’t find any information on what kind of health data it can record.

One can imagine a lot of crossover potential for a Smart Cross with health tracking. You’d think CrossFit would positively leap for a brand association like this. And on that note:

The device is manufactured by Taiwanese manufacturer GadgTek and is sold on Acer’s website for €99, or roughly $109.

The Internet of Holy Shit?

At ExtremeTech, we sometimes write up gadgets like this with an eye towards just how ridiculous they are. Smart condoms, smart locks, smart toasters, and shoes with bad firmware have all come under the hammer before. Also, Juicero. I don’t care if Juicero wasn’t actually an IoT company — anyone who builds a $700 juice-squeezer with integrated DRM and brings it to market with drink packs that expire 5-7 days after purchase deserves a robust mocking.

I am not Catholic and do not participate in Catholic religious practices, but I view the eRosary as different from the products I’ve been known to take a hammer to on ExtremeTech. Billions of people around the world are religious in various ways. One of the most fascinating questions about the rise of the internet and modern technology has been how various faith traditions would respond. The question of how to use modern smartphone apps to create a meaningful sense of connection with others has salience far outside any question of religious practice.

With that said, this device absolutely should be held to the same standard as any other wearable or IoT product: Health data should be well-analyzed according to best practices and safeguarded if stored. The device and associated app need to be free of any predatory advertising or agreements that allow the Vatican to share data with “trusted partners.” It deserves to be reviewed on its own merits to decide whether it’s worth a ~$110 asking price, and as someone who doesn’t share the faith, I’m obviously not going to be able to offer much opinion on the pros or cons.

I may not be Catholic, but I’ll admit I’m curious to find out if an application and a smart cross turn out to be a smash hit for the Catholic church. As for the subhed above, I confess. I found “The Internet of Holy Shit” too good a play on words to pass up, particularly given that long-established nickname for the more ignominious of IoT devices. Even journalists have our indulgences, wordplay chief among them.

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