Some Days My iPhone Owns Me
I don’t say this flippantly. I don’t say this with the hope that others will secretly think I’m more “with it” or technologically savvy because I’ve let a small device that fits into my hand master me.
I say it out of a sense of deep regret that unfortunately hasn’t yet developed into the necessary level of repentance.
Too often, my smartphone is what I reach for first and let go of last during the day. Too often, I’ve missed unforgettable moments with my children because my face was buried in my phone. Too often, I’ve sold out my need for unrestrained focus for a few measly moments on Facebook.
It’s just not pretty.
And, if the statistics prove true, you probably can relate.
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You was written to us—anyone who may at times be too captivated by their mobile devices. I highlighted more than 20,000 words in the book. As I read, I knew I would review it, but I didn’t highlight that much so I’d have something to share with you. I highlighted so much because of what it was communicating to me.
I’m convinced that if the biblical prophet Amos were alive today, he probably wouldn’t write about empty religious ritual (though we have plenty of it in the church today).
Instead he’d write something similar to Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You.
Redeeming Your Smartphone
But don’t get me wrong. The book isn’t designed to bash mobile devices or those of us who use them as a regular part of our lives and our ministries. In fact, the book does quite the opposite. It reminds us how our smartphones can be a tool we use to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. Besides describing himself as an avid smartphone user, Reinke admits he researched, edited, and even wrote parts of the book from his smartphone:
“My phone is a window into the worthless and the worthy, the artificial and the authentic. Some days I feel as if my phone is a digital vampire, sucking away my time and my life. Other days, I feel like a cybernetic centaur—part human, part digital—as my phone and I blend seamlessly into a complex tandem of rhythms and routines.”
Reinke’s preface and introduction and John Piper’s foreword provide what may be the best introductory section to a nonfiction book I’ve read because of their unique ability to tie the strengths and weaknesses of mobile devices to the mission of God.
Piper writes it like this in the foreword: “But if you rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because your sins are forgiven through Jesus, then your smartphone becomes a kind of friendly pack mule on the way to heaven. Mules are not kept for their good looks. They just get the job done. The job is not to impress anybody. The job is to make much of Christ and love people. That is why we were created. So, don’t waste your life grooming your mule. Make him bear the weight of a thousand works of love. Make him tread the heights with you in the mountains of worship.”
Grace for Your Digital Failures
Reinke describes his goal for the book in the introduction as an invitation for readers to “commune with God,” where they will find grace for their “digital failures and their digital futures.” The author faithfully, even pastorally, fulfills this promise throughout the book. He writes:
“We need his grace as we evaluate the place of smartphones—the pros and the cons—in the trajectory of our eternal lives. If we fluff it, not only will we suffer now, but generations after us will pay the price.”
As the title implies, the book centers on 12 ways smartphones impact our lives in negative ways. He writes:
- We are addicted to distraction.
- We ignore our flesh and blood.
- We crave immediate approval.
- We lose our literacy.
- We feed on the produced.
- We become like what we “like.”
- We get lonely.
- We get comfortable in secret vices.
- We lose meaning.
- We fear missing out.
- We become harsh to one another.
- We lose our place in time.
Each chapter is thoroughly resourced with statistics, case studies, and testimonials that bolster Reinke’s assertions about how the smartphone is impacting our lives. But the author doesn’t leave us with just condemnation. On each point, he provides us with deeply theological handles to help us pull ourselves out of the smartphone muck and learn to master it rather than be mastered by it.
Reinke organizes the book with chapters six and seven as its theological center, focusing on the Great Commandments of loving God and loving others:
“Scripture makes life focus possible in the digital age, and it does so when Jesus boils down the purpose and aim of our lives into two goals: treasure God with your whole being, and then pour out your God-centered joy in love for others. On these two commands all other smartphone laws depend (Mat. 22:37–40).”
The book concludes by urging readers to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider their own mobile phone usage. He refuses to short-circuit our prayer and reflection by answering whether we should give up the smartphone or continue to struggle to domesticate it. Instead, the book guides us through a series of questions to help us figure it out on our own:
“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? That answer, as we have seen, can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.”
The church must begin grappling more thoroughly in the coming years with the spiritual issues connected to our growing use of smartphones. As we learn to apply the unchanging word of God to the mobile habits of those we serve, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You will provide us with an incredible tool to guide our prayer and scriptural discernment.