Happy Birthday IPhone! A Gift or a Shackle?

Related image Bernie Diaz, July 11, 2017

Ten years ago last week, a new technological device was born and I don’t know what I’d do without it today. That’s a scary thought and quite a bold statement to make isn’t it?

Of course, I must be referring to the smartphone, which for all intents and purposes as the very mobile computer that it is in our hands – thanks to its creators (Apple), is a ubiquitous device that has become so ingrained into western civilization and culture, that any adult that doesn’t possess and constantly use one is thought to be slow if not dim-whited or stuck in an ancient world of long, long ago.

If you don’t own and use a smartphone you must have been cryogenically frozen like Captain American, from an age where ‘mobile’ phone calls were restricted to phone booths on street corners, music was played in the car on 8 track and cassette tapes and computers were the size of studio apartments containing data on punch cards and reel to reel tapes.

That could’ve been me. I’m 56 years old, and therefore old enough to remember a simpler time and place without today’s beloved technology and gadgets. Yes, I had to once write down appointments by hand in a book with paper- imagine that, and hours would go by in a day without my having to search for and respond to information and contacts and reactions day and night.

However, I must admit I enjoy and take advantage of the convenience and accessibility of this device. If I have a question or felt-need to be met, a click or touch of my phone through Google, Wikipedia or any one of several hundred applications can seemingly solve every dilemma or question I have.

So, what does my IPhone use say about me? If everything I do and say is to reflect or glorify God as a Christian, and if God gives me good gifts from above that we are to enjoy but not idolize, how am I to view my smartphone?

The smartphone can be delightful and dutiful, but dangerous in some ways by virtue of what it is and can do and it can do virtually everything and everywhere. Truth be told, such a device can be a gift or a shackle – that which can hold us in bondage to an electronic master.  A 14-year old Texas teen died this past Sunday morning while using her cellphone in a bathtub, according to news reports.

Relatives told a local TV station that the accident was caused either when this Middle-school graduate plugged in her phone while in the bathtub or grabbing the phone as it was being charged. Is there any lesson to be learned from that tragedy?

As Tony Reinke writes in his new gook, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You:

We now check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. Since I got my first iPhone, a smartphone has been within my reach 24/7: to wake me in the morning, to deejay my music library, to entertain me with videos, movies, and live television, to capture my life in digital pictures and video, to allow me to play the latest video game, to guide me down foreign streets, to broadcast my social media, and to reassure me every night that it will wake me again (as long as I feed it electricity).

In addition, I know I use my phone to keep my ever-changing work and family schedules in real-time sync, calculate numbers and use it to research and write emails and texts. Ironically, the thing I do the least with this phone, is actually make or take phone calls. I am now largely free from having to actually listen to the voice of another human being and relate to them in conversation, because I can control the intake and outtake of communication and content in texting.

This thing goes with me wherever I go, from bedroom to bathroom and every place in between, and as a result I have seen my young adult children as well as my peer adults and myself go into panic mode at the thought of having misplaced this device somewhere. Can you relate?

What are the repercussions or consequences of our relationship if not our possible addiction to, the smartphone- Apple or Android?  What price do we pay? What are the supposed “dangers” that some sociologists and Christian leaders fear?

Reinke list 12 such dangers or repercussions in his book from our phones:

  1. We Are Addicted to Distraction
  2. We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood
  3. We Crave Immediate Approval
  4. We Lose Our Literacy
  5. We Feed on the Produced
  6. We Become Like What We “Like”
  7. We Get Lonely
  8. We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
  9. We Lose Meaning
  10. We Fear Missing Out
  11. We Become Harsh to One Another
  12. We Lose Our Place in Time

I can’t argue with any or even all of those risks or repercussions from our phone use. Anyone of us can say we have paid a price of having fallen victim to at least half if not many more of these consequences, none more so than the impact and influence it has had on a generation of children from the earliest pre-teen age, to adolescents and adults in their 20s and 30s.

For instance, I am grateful for my IPhone’s contribution to the edification of my soul, through the listening of sermons during my bike rides and dog walks, scriptural readings and reflections on the road via my You Version Bible app, and ability to share and partake of texts and Facebook messages of encouragement and exhortation.

On the other hand, I am often concerned about my time spent holding onto and looking at this device, as if it were an extra appendage to my body. I fear its hold on my attention to the point of distraction and dependence- particularly with regard to finding and compiling information.

I miss the peace of a lifestyle that is absent of constant notifications and a pace in which one can slow down and ‘be still and know God.’ How much better would my prayer and biblical mediation time in daily devotions be, if I weren’t so aware of this device and my ‘to do list’ found on it, that awaits me with every little peek.

There is little doubt that the smartphone and its digital father, the internet, can bring both the blessing of efficiency in technology as well as the danger of entertainment- both constant and illicit, no better illustrated than by the explosion of pornography use and abuse over the worldwide web, facilitated by its accessibility and connectability on our PCs, pads and phones.

The apostle Paul wrote to Christians who struggled with their liberty or freedom to partake of or reject societal activities in the world that could include our smartphone use with these wise words:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any .. All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23)

My IPhone has helped and hindered me in some ways. My smartphone has built me up and brought me down in some other ways. I like my phone and attempt to use it in the most profitable and God-glorifying ways I can and yet, still yearn for the time when they weren’t around.

My final reflection on the IPhone and its decade old anniversary of becoming one of the most influential technological advances of the digital age, is bittersweet and the struggle with it can be best summarized I think in the form of the question I pose to use all from Tony Reinke, “Do you control your phone- or does your phone control you?” God’s word has much to say to us there as we look to the conviction of our conscience.

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