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Topics: Leadership, Manhood

Two Views of Smartphones

January 10, 2014


(This is post #2 in our new Manhood and Technology Series. You can read the introduction post here: Manhood and Technology || Introducing a New Series.)

By Andrew Spencer

Looking back at the many images and ideas from 2013, there were two videos that passed through my social media feed that presented competing images of the role of technology in life. In particular, these videos were competing over the role of the smartphone in social interaction.

The first video, written by Charlene deGuzman and Miles Crawford is entitled, “I Forgot My Phone.” Their video shows life among young adults where smart phones consume them. The video shows people more consumed with capturing the moment on their phones than actually enjoying the moment. The main character is left forlorn and disappointed as the only person not absorbed in her phone.

The second video is a commercial by Apple and seems to be a response to the meme created by deGuzman and Crawford. Apple shows a boy who appears to be enthralled by his iPhone as his family gathers for winter festivities, presumably Christmas. The video is designed to have the audience shaking their heads in disappointment but it ends by showing the memorable video that the young man has created with his smartphone. Apple called their TV Ad, “Misunderstood.”

These two videos present polar perspectives on technology. “I Forgot My Phone” reflects the disconnection caused by fascination with technology while “Misunderstood” shows the pregnant possibilities made possible through technology. Both have unmistakable messages, but we are left to sift between competing opinions.

How then should we view our smartphones? Are they a detriment to our families and friendships? Are the way that we can capture special moments and make them last forever? How shall we, as Christian men, view the smartphone?

I am a recent convert to the cell phone, much less the smart phone. I avoided owning a cell phone for two reasons. First, cell phones seemed to me something like an electronic leash, my job did not require me to be immediately available, and so I did not feel the need to be so. Second, I did not want to pay another monthly bill.

I finally got my first cell phone about a year ago because I got put into a rotation at my job that required me to be available for emergency calls. Later, when my wife discovered a low cost a la carte cell phone plan I purchased a used smartphone and haven’t looked back. It has been necessary, though, to ponder the role of my smartphone in relation to my role as a man.

These two videos are both constructed to tell us a story. One is trying to make an important point about the dangers of technology, the other is trying to sell us the technology and convince us we can’t live without it. Both videos present an exaggerated view of reality, but an authentic view of the possibilities of a smartphone.

What we need to keep in mind when we think about technology is that technology is a thing. It is something created by humans and it neither good nor evil in and of itself. In one sense, as shown in the video, “I, Smartphone,” created by The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, the smartphone is a wondrous example of the fulfillment of the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28). At the same time, the smartphone has the power to enslave and become a functional idol that dominates the center of men’s lives.

But things weren’t meant to enslave men, they were meant to serve them.

This is what we need to remember as Christian men. God gave us a task to establish and exercise dominion over creation; that includes the things that we humans have produced as much as it does the natural order of creation.

All of this sounds good in principle, but how do we keep from allowing our digital devices from absorbing our lives, weakening our relationships, and derailing our sanctification.

  1. Set realistic limits – Abstinence from technology isn’t always possible or even necessary. However, it is important to set limits on the use of our technology so that we aren’t checking e-mails or social media during meals, during the sermon (!), or while we are supposed to be watching our kids play a sport. Designate times that are set aside for the phone to be off or set out of the way. Consult your wife or friends about this and then stick to your plan. If you have a communication intensive job, it may be necessary to explain the limits you set to your supervisor and coworkers.
  2. Don’t be afraid to let electronic communications wait – The tyranny of instantaneous communication can undermine other relationships. Don’t be afraid to let an e-mail sit overnight or a social media post go uncommented on. Just because someone has sent you a message, it doesn’t mean that it requires your immediate attention. Even if your phone is on and you are monitoring your electronic communications, be careful not to allow your electronic relationships undermine your familial responsibilities or your devotional life. Even pleasant electronic communication can take away our enjoyment from personal interactions.
  3. Actively commit your technology to the Lord – Abraham Kuyper is often quoted as saying, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” This, of course, includes the technology created through human ingenuity. However, actively dedicating the technology that we use to God can help us to use and ignore our devices to God’s glory. Our phones should be used in God’s service and not be allowed to be our masters, dedicating them to God (daily if necessary) may help us to recognize the reality.
  4. Establish accountability – If we don’t take time to question ourselves or allow other people to question us, we can often slip into bad habits that can lead to sinful patterns in our lives. So, set an appointment on your calendar to periodically (monthly?) ask yourself how you are doing with your use of technology. Is it dominating your time? Are you getting into the Word daily? Have you allowed technology to interfere with your personal relationships? It may be helpful to ask someone that spends time around you. They may be more aware of your habits than you are.

Technology has many wonderful uses. Smartphones are amazing artifacts of human ingenuity. But technology is so pervasive in our lives that it leaves us open to distraction and can undermine all of our relationships. Are you the master of your technology, or has your technology mastered you?

Andrew J. Spencer is a PhD student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary studying Christian Ethics. My particular areas of interest are environmental ethics, ethics wealth and poverty, the doctrine of vocation, and political theology.

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