Like a lot of my fellow Masons, there are times when I get really busy with work, family stuff, work, personal health care, work, projects around the house, and work. In the last few years, I have often missed lodge meetings because I’m working until 7 or 8 pm, or because I’ve needed to do something with the kids, or because some other matter has cropped up that I can’t take care of at any other time. I’m sure that this happens to other brothers, too.
That’s why I’m thrilled by Maso-Net, the new program that will be introduced by RW Simon LaPlace, the incoming Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, that will allow busy Masons to attend their lodge meetings virtually, at their own convenience. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, which he is expected to announce at his installation as Grand Master during next week’s Grand Lodge Annual Communication, so I’ll just mention some of the highlights of the program.
While there have been online Masonic communities of Masons since the before the internet was available to the general public, they have generally taken the form of text-based message boards. Maso-Net will be completely different in that it will allow lodge members to actually see, and in some cases, attend a lodge meeting in real time. To accomplish this, Mason-Net will have several components. One will be a Skype-like interface that will connect members directly to a lodge. Participating lodges will be outfitted with a large screen TV on the North wall of the lodge room, with a corresponding webcam positioned in the Northwest and Southwest corners. Maso-Net Members will sign in and be presented with a view of the lodge room that includes the Master’s chair, and the screen will allow the other members to see who has signed in. Maso-Net members, though their own webcams hooked up to their computers, be able to attend the meeting and follow along with the proceedings without missing any of the details. Amplified speakers near the TV screen will allow them to speak during meetings as if they were in attendance.
RW LaPlace initially conceived of this as a way to reach out to older brothers who were unable to attend because of health reasons, but the idea quickly gained ground among the Grand Lodge technorati who, accustomed to live webcam meetings, saw this as a way to keep existing brothers involved. As a Maso-Net member, a brother could work late, and take a dinner break to attend lodge. Users with smartphones (apps for iPhones and Android phones running ICS or better are already being developed) will even be able to attend while on the road, although they will probably need at least a good 3G data connection.
A real advantage to Maso-Net meetings is that a WM will no longer have to worry about a last-minute cancellation on a degree night. A brother assigned to a particular lecture will no longer have to cancel if he’s away on business; the Master of a lodge would even be able to open if he’s out of town. Imagine an older brother delivering the working tools lecture to his grandson from the comfort of his own home — in Florida! Or imagine a District Deputy being able to attend a different lodge meeting every night of the week, and not spending a fortune on gas and car expenses. This aspect of the program is certainly a way that the Craft can take advantage of new technologies.
Another interesting component to Maso-Net that RW LaPlace is expected to announce will be the ability to sit in on lodge meetings at any time of the day or night by the use of streaming technologies. Participating lodges will begin recording their meetings and using broadband connections, begin uploading those meetings to the cloud. Maso-Net members will then be able to find a lodge meeting and replay it. Members will be able to pause the recorded meeting for a break, or even better, skip through the boring parts.
Still unannounced is just where the video recordings will be stored. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut has its own servers, but as more lodges join the network the data storage itself would become unmanageable, to say nothing of the capacity for streaming a number of different meetings back to the members. Early reports have suggested Youtube, perhaps a dedicated channel as the perfect storage & replay solution. Obviously, the concern was raised that anybody could view a lodge meeting on Youtube, however, the counterpoint was raised that any non-Mason who viewed one lodge meeting was unlikely to make it a habit of viewing many more. I suspect that talks are underway with Google about the possibility of a private Youtube channel. Another advantage of this would be the ability to upload sections of various degree ceremonies in order for lodges to watch them for the purposes if ritual instruction.
There are other aspects of Maso-Net that will be made public after RW LaPlace takes office. About a dozen lodges will be part of the initial phase, and RW LaPlace will probably announce which ones have been selected after his installation, with more participating every month. Brothers interested in signing up to be a Maso-Net member are encouraged to talk to their District Deputy, who should have the contact information.
As a busy Mason who has been having a hard time getting to lodge meetings lately, I’m happy to see that Connecticut is on the forefront of bringing Freemasonry into the 21st century. Kudos to soon-to-be MW Simon LaPlace, and best wishes for an exciting year in office.