Faith & Life

Smartphones: A Love-Hate Relationship

I have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone. On the one hand, my phone gives me unprecedented access to tools and information that allow me to be more productive, and tap into great resources and podcasts on the go. But I also know that my smartphone is a great source of distraction, allowing me to trawl mindlessly through Facebook when I know there are richer things I’d rather be doing with my life.

This Summer I picked up a great book called 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, by Tony Reinke, which helped me reflect on my smartphone usage habits and the impact they have on my life.

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12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You draws on a wide range of research to show some of the detrimental impacts of smartphones: reduced literacy rates, shorter attention spans, increasing loneliness and isolation, and the list goes on.

It also addresses the impact of smartphones from a distinctly Christian perspective, looking at how constant connectivity and access to social media feed into deeper heart idolatries and sinful patterns of life.

But Tony Reinke is no technophobe, and this book is not all doom and gloom.

He’s quick to point out that smartphones can actually be used for wonderful things, if we use them well. He gives a quick and helpful ‘theology of technology’, and shows how all technology (from the invention of fire to the smartphone) can either be used for good or ill.

So the call of this book is not to ditch our smartphones, but to be more thoughtful and wise about our use of them, so that we can avoid that (many) dangers of the technology while availing ourselves of the (many) good things that smartphones can give us.

 

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A Few Recommendations

I found the book extremely helpful, and as I head into 2019, it helped me to think about some smartphone habits that I want to change. So here’s a couple of quick recommendations:

  1. If you have the time, get the book and read it. It’s an easy read, and if you put into practice some of the habits it suggests, it could pay dividends in your life for months and years to come. (You can buy it here or download a PDF for free here).
  2. If you don’t have the time to read a whole book on the topic, check out this article by Tony Reinke on DesiringGod called Know When To Walk Away: A 12-Step Digital Detox. It obviously misses out on a lot of the great stuff from the book, but it’s a good thought-provoking article.
  3. Even if you don’t read those resources, set aside ten minutes right now (if you can) to reflect on your own smartphone habits and the impact they have on your life. How much time do you spend on particular apps? How do you use your phone in the first hour after waking up? What smartphone habits are life-giving and give you greater joy in Christ? What habits are holding you back from loving God and loving others? (These are just a few questions to get you started!)

 

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Concrete Steps

Smartphones are great tools that allow us to connect with others, tap into great Bible-teaching resources, and so many other good things. But if we’re not wise with the way we use our phones, they can also be a great source of distraction and harm, constantly tempting us to waste our lives away.

So if we’re going to make sure our phones are helping rather than hurting us, we need to be proactive. We need to carve time out to reflect on our habits, and take concrete steps to change.

And even small, simple changes could make a world of difference.

Friends of mine have designated their bedroom a ‘no-phone zone’, and actually went out and bought a physical alarm clock (old-school!) so they won’t be tempted to jump on their phones last thing before bed or first thing when they wake up.

A family I know takes a weekly ‘Sabbath’ from Friday night to Saturday midday where no one in the house can even look at their smartphone, giving themselves a period of decreased online connectivity that greatly improves their interpersonal connectivity.

I don’t know what might work for you.

And to be honest, I still haven’t figured out what works best for me and my family. But January is always a great time to take stock and think ahead, and given my love-hate relationship with my phone, I know it’s worth taking the time to work at it.

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