Social Reversal: The Influence of the Smartphone

Last week I reviewed Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. A great book that I would recommend to all believers (you can read the review of it here) it comes with some severe indictments against our society that need to be taken under advisement. One of those is Reinke’s conclusion that “The smartphone is causing a social reversal: the desire to be alone in public and never alone in seclusion.” We don’t need research to reveal the truth of that statement, but instead need action (specifically as Christians) to reverse the truth of that statement.
A Christian Impact
While we can easily discuss the ramifications this has upon cultures around the world, there is importance and necessity in discussing the Christian impact of that statement. As Christians, our lives are lived out in community and yet the smartphone is impacting that community. Just as people spend more time looking down at their phone instead of looking out toward the world they are engaged in, the same is occurs within our church body. We know more about the lives of those connected with us on Facebook than we do of those sitting next to us in the pew.
Why does this matter? Because the Lord’s commands for action require engagement in a relationship with others. Think about how the priority of the phone impacts our ability to do evangelism, discipleship, or even have fellowship. Each of these requires a relationship and interaction with others.
Certainly there are some who will argue that this can be done through technology, however, those arguments fail to capture the intimacy that face-to-face relationships create. There is a tendency to utilize our phones, computers, or whatever it may be, as barriers for genuine relationships. Whereas having a cup of coffee with someone creates an opportunity in which the time and attention are geared solely towards the relationship.
A Christian Response
As technology continues to increase and become more integrated into our lives, we must be more vigilant about the influences (positive and negative) that it may have. Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of being able to analyze the long-term impacts because the issues we are facing are relatively new. However, there is enough available information to warrant concern, and like anything that is combined with man’s sinfulness, there is a propensity for misuse. Therefore, prudence is a wise action and I would recommend the following:
  • Disengage: First is to disengage from technology. Not completely of course. Instead, implement some boundaries that help you to disengage from technology at necessary times.
  • Reengage: As we disengage from technology, we must then re-engage with people. Whether it be with family or friends, the point is to spend time with others devoid of technological interruption.
  • Engage: Finally, endeavor to find others who will do the same. Engage them in this same process by urging them to disengage with technology and re-engaging with people.
Because the advance of technology is replacing the advance of relationships, our commitment to disengage one requires the reengagement of the other.
In no way am I advocating the overthrow of all technology. A glimpse into my life would reveal just how much I use it on an everyday basis (and a need to heed my own advice). Many will suggest that technology helps areas such as evangelism or discipleship because it gives us new platforms and media to utilize, and gives us the potential to reach people outside of our normal purview. I don’t discount that. We live on another continent from our family and in a town where there are no other believers. I’m thankful for the technology we have that allows us to see our family or to have ongoing accountability. In the absence of other options, technology is a great blessing. However, it is not a good substitute. Therefore, while not advocating the overthrow of technology, I am advocating that we leverage our technology rightly, for the sake of our good and God’s glory.
Photo “Smartphone” courtesy of user Christian Hornick and Flickr.