When I was growing up in the 90’s my Dad got a cell phone. He also got a car phone. Pretty sweet I know. Don’t get jealous. When I was in high school I saw people walking around with those indestructible Nokia phones. I personally didn’t get a cell phone until I was a junior in college. I held off from getting a smartphone until
just a few years ago. I think it was an iPhone 4. Since then I have developed a love/hate relationship with my phone. While extremely useful and convenient, I found myself spending too much time on it doing things which were not worthwhile. My wife struggled alongside me as she saw what my phone habits were doing to my concentration, my presence during family time, etc. After seeing an advertisement for 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke she suggested we read it together. I knew something was off with my phone habits but didn’t want to admit it. I agreed that it would be good to read the book together and I ordered the paperback. It just so happened that this book was also the free download of the month from www.christianaudio.com as well so I snagged that version too. And with that, we jumped into the book. (You can get it here: Amazon, Crossway, ChristianAudio)
Thankfully, the book is not a screed against technology. Tony confesses that he is a technophile, but he also wants to think carefully about technology and its effects upon his life. The introduction does an excellent job placing technology within the realm of theology and the genuine benefits technology provides as a tool within God’s providence and blessing. Tony then goes on to write about the twelve ways our phones are changing our lives.
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
Chapter 1 We Are Addicted to Distraction
Chapter 2 We ignore our Flesh and Blood
Chapter 3 We Crave Immediate Approval
Chapter 4 We lose Our Literacy
Chapter 5 We Feed on the Produced
Chapter 6 We Become Like What We “Like”
Chapter 7 We Get Lonely
Chapter 8 We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
Chapter 9 We Lose Meaning
Chapter 10 We Fear Missing Out
Chapter 11 We Become Harsh to One Another
Chapter 12 We Lose Our Place in Time
Here are the five chapters that I benefitted the most from:
Chapter 1 about knocked me off my feet. It was like looking in a mirror and I did not like what I saw. I realized just how distracted I was and how much I was using my phone to distract myself from stress which in turn caused more stress because I ended up procrastinating the important things I needed to do! I knew my habits needed to change and began to take steps.
Chapter 2 addressed my tendency to be on the phone when I needed to mentally present with my family. Walking around putting my kids to bed while at the same time trying to listen or watch something on my phone obviously prevented me from being actually with my kids. I work away from home during the week so the few hours a day I get with my kids need to be fully attended by me physically and mentally. This isn’t to meet some arbitrary cultural or church standard. I just want to enjoy my kids and they want me to be there with them. As a bonus, I have found that when I am not on my phone I get far less annoyed by their behavior!
Chapter 5 addressed the fact that I was listening to too many podcasts and not embracing the silence or working on other things. I was just constantly taking in, but not processing or producing. I still like podcasts, but I don’t want to be a thoughtless consumer ever listening, but never understanding or growing.
Chapter 10 was a good one because it addressed that sense of anxiety I would have when I hadn’t checked Facebook or Twitter for an hour. I realized I was trying to maintain two lives, analog and digital, and it was exhausting. At some point, we have to draw the line as to how much of ourselves we are going to give to internet activity. This doesn’t even address the anxiety or frustration which would arise when seeing people say terrible/wrong things on the internet.
Chapter 12 surprised me the most. A good portion of my work is creative. I write two sermons a week at a minimum. This requires prayer, research, outlining, writing and practice. This also requires me to spend time diving deep into these studies. But I found that I never had the sense I was accomplishing anything. This produced anxiety and guilt along with a fear of being found out to be a fraud. What I realized was that while I was producing what I needed in any given week, constantly checking my phone, social media, playing podcasts while I worked was actually robbing me of any sense of time and accomplishment.
Since reading the book I do not claim that I am some super-disciplined smartphone user, but I have seen real improvement in these areas. I have also seen myself revert back to some old habits in times of stress. It is challenging to retrain yourself to use something that is actually designed to get you hooked on it. Like anything else, if we are going to make a change we need to be clear on why we want to do it and be consistent.
Probably my favorite thing about this book is that it isn’t a guilt trip. It isn’t fear-mongering. Smartphones aren’t the devil. Instead, this book makes me want to use technology in a way that doesn’t make me a slave of it. It also helped me think about what I really want my life to be defined by and that is certainly not a glowing screen!
The Bottom Line
Both the paperback and audio versions of this book are solid. This has become one of those books I recommend to everyone. I have referred back to it several times since I read it and I will probably read it again this winter. Tony has put together an excellent resource for any thoughtful Christian who wants to engage with technology in a way that honors God. I honestly think everyone who has a smartphone should read this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.
(Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I paid my own cold hard digital cash for my paperback!)