Monday, June 5, 2017

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Tony Reinke

I was excited to spot this book in the week I was giving a seminar on digital technology. It’s a helpful addition to a growing number of books on the topic (such as Challies, Alter, Heitner and the Boswells). I loved Reinke’s last book, Lit! and so quickly devoured this offering.

Reinke asks the question “Why is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?”, asserting he is not looking to guilt people, and that the book succeeds if you love Christ more, and fails if you hate yourself more.

He rightly asserts that our phones divulge what our hearts really want:
“The glowing screen on my phone projects into my eyes the desires and loves that live in the most abstract corners of my heart and soul, finding visible expression in pixels of images, video, and text for me to see and consume and type and share. This means that whatever happens on my smartphone, especially under the guise of anonymity, is the true expose of my heart, reflected in full colour pixels back into my eyes.” (p27)
He then moves into his 12 ways phones are changing us which include: addiction to distraction, ignoring people around us, craving approval, lost literacy, loneliness of people, becoming comfortable with secret vices, and fearing missing out. Each of these was a valid helpful point. I did struggle to see the logic of the order that he chose, and some seemed quite similar. In the conclusion, the order was explained further as a chiastic structure, which seemed an odd choice and one which would have been worth explaining up front (and would have met some of his own suggestions in Lit!, enabling the reader to see a clear structure as they dived in).

Some of his insightful comments included the reality that our technology is actually weeding out diversity:
“Our phones buffer us from diversity… [from] not only our elders, but also the impoverished, the cognitively disabled, children, the less educated, the less literate, the less cosmopolitan, and non-Westerners. In effect, our online communities render invisible the majority of the human race.” (p71)
Our desire to be affirmed:
“The sad truth is that many of us are addicted to our phones because we crave immediate approval and affirmation. The fear we feel in our hearts when we are engaged online is the impulse that drives our “highly selective self-representation.” We want to be loved and accepted by others, so we wash away our scars and defects.” (p75)
Our misled view of time and the waste of it:
“Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct impression in Scripture that the answer is no. I am not my own. I am owned by the Lord. I have been bought with a price, which means I must glorify Christ with my thumbs, my ears, my eyes and my time. And that leads me to my point: I do not have “time to kill” – I have time to redeem.” (p179-80)
I appreciated his warning about putting good works online for others to see, noting that “you have already received your reward in full” (“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1). It’s an interesting question to consider – do we show our good works online for others to approve (eg. changing our profile picture, posting a photo of the good deed); or do we just get on and do the actual service or give actual money to the cause?

Reinke has done a lot of research in this area and quotes other authors quite extensively. As such, I was surprised to find no references to Challies’ book, as many of their points are similar. I think I prefer Challies’ treatment, it is broader and his order appeals to me more. Yet, Reinke has many valuable observations and it’s a book worth reading for anyone in possession of a smartphone. He finishes with some helpful suggestions for wise smartphone usage, and the encouragement to keep thinking about the issues critically.

Which is something we should all be doing - thinking clearly, honestly and biblically about our smartphone usage, what it is doing to us and what it is doing to society at large.

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