The changes in technology over the past 15 years are striking. Tops among those innovations is the smart phone. Its prevalence in our culture is reaching a saturation point - and Christians need to think seriously and deeply about what it’s doing to us. Here are a few observations.
1. Our phones nurture our innate narcissism
You are a narcissist.
And so am I.
Ever since Eden, we attempt daily to impose our gravitational pull on the world, our neighborhoods, our families, and our churches and our phones are fantastic at aiding and abetting this coup.
As a nineteen year old Australian model, Essena O’Neil once accumulated 500,000 Instagram followers and was poised to make a career from online endorsement deals. In 2015 she quit. Why? She grew tired of molding, self-editing, and self-promoting herself into someone who could garner the numbers. She says, “Basically, my self worth relied on social approval.”
Our phones provide a conduit through which we can garner “infinite attention” and “infinite regard” to use Olivia Laing’s terms. The truth of the matter is simple: our phones provide us with the drug of immediate approval and attention. And many of us are addicted to it.
I can hear the serpent’s conniving voice: “Take. Post. And as the ‘Likes' come in, you will become like God.”
2. Our phones reduce our attention spans
“I once was a scuba diver in the sea of words,” writes Nicholas Carr. “Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.” Tripp Lee describes it this way: “The more time I spend reading ten second tweets and skimming random articles online, the more it affects my attention span, weakening the muscles I need to read Scripture for long distances.”
Here’s the big problem with this: if you’re going to internalize Scripture, God’s inerrant, infallible truth, you’re going to have to linger over it. This perfectly aligned extension of God himself, the Bible, requires sustained attention. Our phone habits are debasing our capacity to do this.
3. Our phones feed our loneliness
The late Dutch psychiatrist J.H. van den Berg famously said, “Loneliness is the nucleus of psychiatry…If loneliness didn’t exist, we could reasonably assume psychiatric illnesses would not occur either.”
Giles Slade’s book, The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness does a superb job of tracing the relationship between technological advancement and increased loneliness. What’s the “X Factor”? Isolation.
Think about it. Street vendors gave way to vending machines; personal bankers to ATM’s. Many workers no longer share an office. They work from home…in isolation.
We think social media was supposed to fix our loneliness, but it’s done the opposite by discouraging embodied presence. Feeding yourself on a diet of “digital presence” is like trying to sustain your body on a diet of Peeps. At some point, a lack of true nourishment is going to catch up with you.
4. Our phones make us critical beasts
If you have a smart phone you can publish dirt on anyone. Spreading antagonistic messages online with the intent of provoking hostility is what the world calls “trolling.” In the New Testament, it’s called “slander.” Our phones turn us into snipers. We can pick people off one at a time from the comfortable perch of our living rooms.
Pastor Ray Ortlund Jr. advises us well: “With social media, we can now harm and embarrass and stigmatize people with greater force than ever before in human history…Self-restraint has never been more important.”
So here’s an idea: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” On social media. Sound good? I think so. Not surprising. That’s Romans 12:10.
So where do we go from here? I’m not saying pitch your phone. But I do think you should critically evaluate whether or not you truly need one. If you do, let me suggest three action items.
1. Moderate your time on your phone
This is a New Year’s resolution for me. I’m sick of my phone. I’m sick of what it does to me. I want it to accumulate some dust in 2018. It will be ignored much more in the year to come.
2. Post positively
Avoid dirt. Avoid slander. Avoid gossip. Not just posting dirt, slander, and gossip, but consuming it as well. Let your words be encouraging and nourishing to those who read it. “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
3. Post to do others spiritual good
David Platt put it this way, “The people you text and tweet are going to spend the next quadrillion years in heaven or hell.” Your words have the power to push people in one direction or another. Don’t waste your words on banality!
I am indebted to Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, for prompting these reflections and wholeheartedly recommend reading this helpful contribution.