12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You - Part 2
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
by Tony Reinke
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything…”All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23) Reinke’s epigraph is no throwaway coin of wisdom, it comes from the Apostle Paul, and it’s the lens through which Christians ought to examine their smartphone use.
In Two Places At The Same Time
"Hey phone girl, real life’s happening.” I feel sand kick up into my hands, but I’m deep in screen-world. “Yes I know that!” I snap. Sitting on the beach, my fingers are gliding with speed across the screen of my phone. “I'm writing my article.” I plead. Inside I feel cranky - I wouldn’t cop this flak if I were writing in a notebook. Does nobody understand how the creative process works? I’m getting my idea down. I’m still on the beach! - But really, on my screen I’m miles away, and the five minutes I need to scribble my idea down could quickly balloon if I choose to click off to other places. My husband looks sorry for me. "Ok,” I say, “I'll put my phone down.” The salty air is making the screen go sticky anyway. I enjoy the coldness of the beach and look up.
What’s Better Than Doing One Thing At A Time?
Reinke includes an advertisement from a telecommunications giant where a moderator asks some children, “What’s better? Doing two things at once or just one thing at once?” Of course, the children yell out the obvious answer: “Two”. (p.56) What is so disturbing about reading this ad is that I know I’ve bought into this new common sense. I love the feeling of accomplishing something while I’m with my family, splicing a work moment with a holiday moment. I’m losing my taste for awkward social interactions (as many of us are) and would much rather retreat into the solace of my screen at times. Socialising while having my phone at the ready means I can blur out the bits I don’t want to be a part of. Doing two things at a time feels completely necessary. But of course it comes at a cost and Reinke spends a whole chapter breaking that down. Multitasking has a detrimental effect on our relationships with the most horrendous example being texting while driving. What’s better than doing one thing at a time? Maybe we should take our wisdom from the Bible and acknowledge our creatureliness, accepting our God-given limitations for the sake of loving our neighbours.
Our Moment In Time Is Small - How Do You Want To Use It?
“Set your phone down for a moment, hold out your right hand, palm out and fingers to the sky, and imagine the timeline of history reaching a mile to your left and an eternity to your right. You time on earth intersects roughly the width of your hand. Nothing puts social media and smartphone habits into context like the blunt reality of our mortality.” (p.47) How are we using our moment in time? And I don’t mean, “Are you getting enough done?”, I mean, “Are you paying attention?”. This is real after all, we’ll face God soon - have you met Jesus? Do you know him? (If you want to think more about your moment in time check out this two minute video by Francis Chan - it’s brilliant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMbbVR88kd0)
A Christian friend of mine recently made the radical decision to stop playing games on his phone. “Why?” I asked him. “I thought, this is just distracting yourself to death, literally. I play the game when I don’t want to think. It was taking up any unpleasant thoughts or time to think about things, time to be bored. I was just filling it all in with digital fluff - I’d play it just before going to bed and then I’d wake up and play the game again.”
My friend helpfully identified that his phone game was taking him nowhere fast. In the light of eternity it was time to call it quits on the game.
Do Our Phones Help Us Read the Bible?
I found the strongest material in the book on the limitations of digital text and the surpassing endeavour of sustained Bible reading. We have to ask if this little tool, great as it is, helps us to do the activity that our faith depends on? After reading chapter four on the ways our phone is creating a loss of literacy I felt torn. I’ve read so much on my phone, discussed whole books of the Bible even with others in whatsapp groups on my phone. But the quality of the reading is different. Studies backup what we know anecdotally, that retention is greatly reduced when we read digital text verses printed text. Part of it is to do with scrolling and another part of it is to do with convergence on our smartphones. Reinke writes, “Have you ever tried to read in the middle of a party? And what about a party that never ends?” (p.82)
The kind of ‘crystallized intelligence’ that comes from sustained reading where you sift long arguments with your own life experience and make connections with other things you’ve read doesn’t happen on your phone. To ‘have time to lose yourself in another’s complex environment’ (David Brooks NYT “Building Attention Span”) comes through the slow graft of reading text on paper. The small screens of our phones and the speed at which we scroll make it perfect for bites. If there’s one thing to take away from this section it’s make sure you put your phone down and have meals. Read whole books. Nourish your literacy. I read an article as I prepared this review imagining the invention of paper after the phone - how wonderful we would think it was! “Perhaps, in this version of events, we would regard paper as the superior technology, and not just because of novelty. After all, paper loads instantly. It requires no software, no battery, no power source. It is remarkably lightweight, thin and made from abundant, recyclable materials. Its design is minimalist, understated, calm.” (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/29/american-reams-why-the-paperless-world-hasnt-happened David J Unger ) It’s certainly a novel thought.
Make the Place You Turn To For Your Daily Hit More Helpful
Reinke is not anti-smartphone. And I found that refreshing. He’s wanting to understand better this thing that helps and hinders him and bring a uniquely Christian perspective to our habits. I would have liked to hear more about the positive ways Reinke used his phone - he gestures toward that but doesn’t divulge. What parts of the internet were helpful to him I wonder? As a writer for desiringGod.org I can imagine he spends a lot of time on Christian content sites.
“If You check Facebook every day, you join more than one billion others with the same compulsive routine.” (p. 42) This is a bold statement, but I think Facebook has helped me grow as a Christian. Why? If we understand what the technology is doing - that it is a bubble that reinforces the things you like and tries to predict what you want to see more of. Then start with good ingredients and remove (as much as possible) the junk. For example, a friend of mine unfollowed a magazine that she likes because of the prolific amount of posts it made. “I figure I can still enjoy it in print, I don’t need to have a dose every day.” And instead started following more Christian organisations. She also follow galleries and libraries and musicians. “I try to have a variety of people on Facebook and a variety of interests because that is what my real life looks like.” For me personally three Christian organisations that I have found positively impact my Facebook newsfeed are: Matthias Media, The Gospel Coalition and Equip Women. I also deeply cherish the friends on Facebook who post honestly about their lives and give it raw. In a highly curated experience they manage to breakthrough and remind everyone that we’re only human.
My virtual life is also my real life and I am accountable for the way I spend my time there and the things I choose to neglect if I spend too much time there.
Making changes involves pushback. Others may not like it if we fail to respond instantly to texts or emails. Perhaps - as friends of mine have - you may decide to get off Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. Or simply have a break. Good for you! However others may not like it if we change the way we’ve always done things with our phones. But it’s worth resisting the pressure to figure out what is helpful for you as you run the race of your life, this Christian life. Not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything…”All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
Dear Lord, thank you for loving us and writing grace over our lives in Jesus. Please forgive us for the ways we’ve failed you and each other with our phones. You know the places we inhabit in private. Give us wisdom to make good choices with our smartphones and the discipline to stick with them. Thank you for the smartphone. Please help us to keep working at creative ways to share our faith with our friends and family through pictures, words, music and videos. Help us to immerse ourselves in Christian content and especially to pursue that great faith task of knowing and living out the pages of the Bible. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Meet Katie Stringer Katie is a lover of books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. She also teaches the Bible at two local High schools and is enjoying getting to know her students better and being stretched by their questions.