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How Is Your Phone Changing You?

Posted by James Carroll on

Technology is a part of life, and it always has been. Tony Reinke, senior writer for Desiring God and author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, defines technology as the reordering of raw materials for human purposes. Over the centuries it has come in the form of wheels, levers, pulleys, irrigation trenches, medicines, music, alphabets, light bulbs, indoor plumbing, and on and on. This reordering makes great contributions to our lives and, in spiritual terms, can be understood as an attempt to push back the effects of sin. Technology is not the big bad wolf; rather, it’s an aspect of life in a fallen world.

But technology can also be dangerous, like a knife. Wielded responsibly, a sharp edge allows a doctor to perform life-saving surgery and the average person to prepare dinner. Wielded irresponsibly, the same sharp edge can damage property and even take a life. The knife is neutral, but the holder of it may use it to push back the effects of sin or use it to sin himself. And so it is with every form of technology. They do not make us sin, but they can open the door and often even entice to come on in.

Smartphone technology is no different. While our handheld gadgets bring new versions of temptation, they don’t bring new temptations. They merely repackage manifestations of the temptation to rebel against God we first saw in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. However, not all technology has an equal effect. Some technologies, like smartphones, have extraordinary influence because they can do so many things and are so pervasive in our culture. Our phones play a variety of roles in our lives. They serve as a communication device, a calendar, an alarm clock, the connection to memories of the past, a financial planner, a Bible, a navigational tool, a news source, a toy, a video player, a library, and even a fitness pal. And as of June 2017, 77% of adult Americans have one.

So that device in your hand, your pocket, or on the table beside you has the potential for great good or ill in your life. In his book, Reinke warns about 12 dangers smartphone users face and offers gospel-centered wisdom for owning one, without being owned by it. In the interest of space, I’ll share 6 of them.

1.  We are addicted to distraction.
From social media to mindless games to the need to check our phone every time it buzzes. The phone can pull us away from more important things like family, work, and even spiritual growth.

2.  We ignore our flesh and blood.
How many of us have seen a family in a restaurant all looking at their phones and seemingly oblivious to one another?

3.  We crave immediate approval.
All of us are tempted to seek approval from others, but a smartphone can amplify the opportunity and desire for it.

4.  We lose our literacy.
We can still recognize words, but it erodes attention spans and our ability to digest written communication. 

5.  We become like what we “like.”
This biblical principle, straight from Psalm 115, reminds us that the object I want most will shape my heart and life.

6.  We get comfortable in secret vices.
It’s easier to continue in sinful habits when I think no one will see or know about it. Smartphones can give the illusion of secrecy.

If you checked your phone more than once while thumbing through this post or if you have children who have a smartphone, I encourage you to grab a copy of Reinke’s book. I’ll leave you with a powerful statement from the book to ponder. “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it?”