If you’re reading this, you’re probably old enough to remember life before cell phones.
Think back to that time for a moment . . .
Remember how quieter things were, how less distracted everyone was, how intentional you had to be to stay in touch with friends or family. Remember the hand-written notes in your mailbox, the hours of visiting quietly on the porch, the curiosity about other’s life-events, and the satisfying hard work of searching for answers by making actual conversation with people in front you.
Do we romanticize those pre-cell-phone days? Sure, to some extent. But there were aspects of life that we can never go back to, so in a way — it’s worth romanticizing a little.
My generation was the last one to grow up without cell phones.
We were the last group of kids to make it all the way through high school without being tied to social media approval, over-sharing, documenting every moment, instant access to friends, and an overwhelming number of notifications.
Like many of my generational peers, I got my first cell phone in college, a prepaid variety that I mostly used for playing the occasional game of Snake. My parents bought it for me when I was heading off for a 2-month missions trip, only to find out that cell phones weren’t allowed. The phone went to my brother for a while, and then came back to me about a year later as I was beginning my junior year. I think I only used it a handful of times — such as when my dorm room phone was in use and I just had to talk to my parents, because the guy I’d eventually marry had finally asked me to be his girlfriend. 😉
But it was still a pay-as-you-go phone that didn’t get used very much. I didn’t upgrade to a contract phone until after college, when my soon-to-be fiance signed up for a family plan and got us both new cell phones. We were in a long-distance relationship for a time, so those phones came in pretty handy. But they still weren’t smartphones.
I can’t remember when I finally upgraded to a smartphone, but whenever it happened it seemed like the “smart” thing to do (no pun intended!), especially considering the option for getting directions on-the-go and having access to Google Docs and other important accounts while traveling. Plus, who could resist the full pull-out keyboards?! My thumbs loved that feature! 🙂
Now almost everyone has a smartphone, with Google Maps and Google Docs and a whole host of other apps. In fact, I have over 100 apps installed on my phone — and I use most of them on a regular basis. It’s nice to have quick access to directions, shared shopping lists, multiple versions of the Bible, fitness tools, personal documents, digital photo albums, digital libraries, shopping or coupons apps, mobile banking, health trackers, games, and — of course — a host of social media channels. Some of those things boost productivity, help save money, and keep us safe (here’s looking at you, AAA app!). Others feed curiosity, provide entertainment, or encourage spiritual learning.
Many apps, however, contribute to distraction.
Even the most beneficial apps come pre-packaged with notifications that interrupt us at all hours of the day (or night). Many of them encourage us to spend money, distract friends with invitations, or simply spend hours of the days lost exploring their latest features.
But is this good? Is it beneficial? All things are lawful — but are all things expedient?
Do we . . .
- jump on our phones as soon as we wake up in the morning, to the neglect of family or God?
- zone out with virtual communication, to the neglect of the flesh-and-blood right in front of us?
- lazily scroll through our newsfeeds, to the neglect of intentionally reaching out in person?
- allow games to consume us, to the neglect of more profitable tasks that earn eternal rewards?
- focus on building up the “artificial” us, to the neglect of our souls and authentic inner self?
- soak up the likes and comments on social media, to the neglect of seeking God’s approval?
- peek at (or full-out engage with) forbidden fruits, to the neglect of staying pure before a holy God?
Our smartphones, like anything else in this world, are a tool.
They are a resource, just like money or time. But how often do we let them control us, when it should be the other way around? Why do we let them dictate our lifestyles and direct our priorities?
Tony Reinke’s newest book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, discusses the fallout from our brave new world of cell phones.
As the title says, he considers 12 ways that life has universally changed as a result of the ubiquity of cell phones, smart or otherwise. Some of those ways include: distraction, ignoring flesh and blood, immediate approval, losing literacy, loneliness, secret vices, lack of meaning, and fear of missing out.
His goal is not to convince anyone that smartphones are evil, or even persuade anyone to revert to a “dumb” phone (unless God so convicts you), but rather to make us aware of how much our phones control us and lead us to careful consideration of how these universal changes are exhibited in our own lives.
Although smartphone technology is rather recent (in the grand scheme of things), these problems are not.
Humans have always been too easily distracted from what truly matters, too easily swayed by public opinion or the approval of others, and too easily tempted to be lazy or rude–no matter what age they lived in.
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You starts off with a short theology of technology, which was helpful in setting the stage, although it was very brief; I’d recommend reading From the Garden to the City for a more detailed study of the topic. But it was enough to establish the tone of the book, and direct the reader’s attention to the particular goals we should be pursuing as kingdom-minded believers.
From there, one chapter is devoted to each of the twelve major ways smartphones have changed us as a society. The text is rich with both spiritual and practical applications for every individual, no matter what level of phone usage you practice — or even if you just use a computer to go online, play games, read the news, or stay connected.
But it’s not all negative: along with each warning is a particularly associated discipline that we can practice to help us thrive spiritually, with or without a smartphone. It also includes several lists of very practical questions to evaluate your own usage of smartphones (or simply the internet), questions which are convicting as well as thought-provoking, as well as a few lists of tips for using them wisely and biblically.
After all, if smartphones are a resource, then we can control them — rather then letting them control us. We can use them as tools to pursue holiness, spread the gospel, show love to others, and be wise stewards of other resources — rather than letting them box us into nothingness, neomania, and noise.
“. . . smartphone habits expose the heart, which means that the solution to unhealthy smartphone habits is not found merely in the embrace of the predigital utopia of typewriters and vinyl records.”
I highly recommend 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You to anyone who uses a smartphone, or goes online with any frequency. It gave me much food for thought, and I actually found myself doing some “spring cleaning” on my own smartphone after I finished the book, deleting a few distracting-but-unnecessary apps, and moving some distracting-but-necessary ones to a less obvious place.
Our phones should be tools to help us live more effectively and more evangelistically, not distractions or temptations or avenues to a less compassionate existence.
How have smartphones changed you? What safeguards have you put into place to prevent them from changing you further?
PS – Find more of Tony Reinke’s articles and research here.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Also, I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for providing an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are completely my own.