Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until August 28, 2017, through our partnership with Crossway.
Do you remember your first cell phone? I remember mine; it was from the late 90s. You know, one of those Nokia models. In my case, it had no texting, no voicemail, and no caller ID. It was just a phone in the barest sense.
Twenty years later, it’s the same phone number, but my phone has come a long way. Now, I barely even use my phone as a phone (because introvert). The glowing rectangles we carry everywhere we go have seemingly inexhaustible capabilities. The thought that my phone has changed is hardly controversial. The thought that my phone is changing me deserves my attention. Tony Reinke thought so too and spent the past three years gathering his research into a new book from Crossway, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You.Reinke presents the research detailing the pitfalls of smartphone use, but also suggests a practical way forward that isn’t gospel—nor is it impractical abstention.
The book is organized into a chiasm. This means the first and last chapters are thematically paired, the second and second to last, and so on. The central chapters are 6 and 7. There, Reinke explains how “our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7)” (189). However, in those same chapters, Reinke argues that we should “treasure Christ to be molded into his image (6) and seek to serve the legitimate needs of our neighbors (7)” (190) to offset these potential pitfalls.
At this point, you may be curious about the whole list of ways your phone is changing you. I think Reinke would be comfortable acknowledging the list he compiled is neither exhaustive nor applicable to everyone. As such, it may be helpful to consider the following 12 ways as 12 “potential” ways that your phone habits may be changing you—and in ways you might not want:
- We Are Addicted to Distraction
- We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood
- We Crave Immediate Approval
- We Lose Our Literacy
- We Feed on the Produced
- We Become Like What We “Like”
- We Get Lonely
- We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
- We Lose Meaning
- We Fear Missing Out
- We Become Harsh to One Another
- We Lose Our Place in Time
One thing I appreciated about Reinke’s work in defending this list is that he relied heavily on sources outside the Christian theological world. In other words, these are problems that even non-Christians recognize when it comes to our relationship with smartphones in particular. I think he also navigated well the line between practical suggestion and necessary mandate. In other words, Reinke presents the research detailing the pitfalls of smartphone use, but also suggests a practical way forward that isn’t gospel—nor is it impractical abstention.
Another distinctive of Reinke’s work is that he conducted numerous interviews with thoughtful theologians. While many books pull material from other published works, Reinke relied on his connections in order to directly interview guys like Kevin Vanhoozer, David Wells, and Oliver O’Donovan. He was then able to ask them specific questions about the interface of theology and technology. This gives the book a fresh feel, and it also means that you receive insights from authors that are only available in this work.
My main takeaway from reading the book is that it starts a conversation we should all be having. I know that my life has changed radically since I purchased my first iPhone in 2009. Whether for advances in productivity (thanks to apps like Things and Evernote) or the pull of imminent distraction (thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter being accessible at all times), my daily life is no longer the same. Rather than treating technological advances as givens, we ought to think about the good as well as the potential bad they bring.
While Reinke’s book isn’t a final word, it is a work worth wrestling with, especially in community. Because of the central core of the book focusing on how our phones contribute to loneliness and can inhibit love of neighbor, one could argue the best way forward to work through a book like this with close friends and family. Rather than trying to sort out the issues on your own, why not read this book with some close friends and hash out the implications? Whether that’s done in person or in a place like our member’s forum probably doesn’t matter, so much as that we have an honest conversation about how our phones can best contribute to human flourishing and not detract from it.
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