Let Dr Joe Read It!

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke
By Dr. Joe Mulvihill
I have no interest here in giving you Reinke’s 12 ways – we will discuss two and hopefully, that will be enough for you to decide if this book deserves a full read.

First, before we dive into two of the twelve warnings, I feel compelled to remark that the forward by John Piper is typical Piper excellence. The retired pastor tells the reader that despite the myriad issues with smartphones that he nonetheless still believes they are a gifts from God. He sagaciously warns of how this tech makes it easier than ever to avoid contemplating your own mortality and the all important eternities. He tells why he wrote the forward, not only because he underwrites the subsequent content and believes the call to warning but also because he has the twin advantage of himself being near death and living through the entire computer revolution – start to present day.
Reinke blasts out the gate with this Dickensian undulation;

This blasted smartphone! Pesk of productivity. Tenfold plague of
beeps and buzzing. Soulless gadget with unquenchable power
hunger. Conjuror of digital tricks. Surveillance bracelet. Money pit.
Inescapable tether to work. Dictator, distractor, foe!
Yet it is also my untiring personal assistant, my irreplaceable travel
companion, and my lightning-fast connection to friends and family.

VR screen. Gaming device. Ballast for daily life. My intelligent friend, my
alert wingman, and my ever-ready collaborator. This blessed
smartphone! My phone is a window into the worthless and the worthy, the artificial
and the authentic. Some days I feel as if my phone is a digital
vampire, sucking away my time and my life. Other days, I feel like a
cybernetic centaur—part human, part digital—as my phone and I
blend seamlessly into a complex tandem of rhythms and routines.
At the beginning of the book Reinke also writes,
While some writers claim our phones are making us cognitively
sharper and relationally deeper, others warn that our phones are
making us shallow, dumb, and less competent in the real world.
To that end, my aim is to avoid both extremes: the utopian
optimism of the technophiliac and the dystopian pessimism of
the technophobe. The question of this book is simple: What is
the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?
Let me (Dr. Joe), go on record and say that the latter of the two claims about ubiquitous smartphone addiction is not only better evidenced but is also anecdotally undeniable in my educational and ministerial experience. I kind of like the sound of “dystopian pessimism of the technophobe”- guilty.

After a great teachable, preach-able section on theology and technology which sounds more boring than it should, Reinke turns to “way” number one our phones are changing us; we get more and more addicted to distraction.

Entire books have been written on this phenomenon of distraction and tech/social media. We are lured by distraction because we don’t see immediate or significant consequences and we need something to keep people away. But the most pressing reason distraction is addictive is that it takes our attention away from eternity and our approaching exit of this life.
So Reinke again engages the topic of distractions;

The Bible makes clear that those distractions fall on a spectrum. We face
sanctified distractions and unsanctified distractions. We face soul-filling
distractions and soul-deadening distractions. We face necessary
interruptions and worldly interruptions. We face unavoidable distractions
of godly marriage and avoidable distractions of consumer
culture…Distraction management is a critical skill for spiritual
health, and no less in the digital age.

But if we merely exorcise one digital distraction from
our lives without replacing it with a newer and healthier
habit, seven more digital distractions will take its place…. I would not be
the first to suggest that owning a smartphone is similar to dating a
high-maintenance, attention-starved partner. The smartphone is
loaded with prompts, beeps, and allurements. Many of these stimuli
are not sinful, but they are pervasive.
A prominent pastor is quoted in this section, was once asked online: Why do you think young Christian adults struggle most deeply with God as a personal reality in their lives? The pastor replied: “Noise and distraction. It is easier to tweet/post than to pray!”

Reinke ends the chapter with the crucial Christian practice of excess identification (confession to ourselves and God) and suggests 10 diagnostic questions which include;
1. Do my smartphone habits expose an underlying addiction to untimely amusements?
2. Do my smartphone habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?
3. Do my smartphone habits distract me from genuine communion with God?
4. Do my smartphone habits provide an easy escape from sobered thinking about my death, the return of Christ, and eternal realities?
5. Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with the pursuit of worldly
Reinke’s second warning is Reinke’s second warning is that "our personal technologies (smartphones) encourage us to ignore flesh and blood human image bearers."

He comes out the gate in this chapter with the most blaringly obvious tragic example of foolishness indexed to this new digital reality;

Texting and driving is such a commonplace habit, the stats are
now canonical. Talking on the phone while driving a vehicle makes
you four times more likely to get into an accident, but texting
while driving makes your chance of a crash twenty-three times
more likely. Assuming a driver never looks up in the average
time it takes to send a text (4.6 seconds), at fifty-five miles per
hour, he drives blindly the length of a football field. Texting and
driving is so idiotic, forty-six of fifty states have banned it. But
even these frequently cited facts haven’t brought a stop to this
drastically reckless distraction. They’ve hardly made a dent.
Reinke then recounts another clear issue in digital reality is the pull toward disembodied mockery, bravado and bombast because of the anonymity and lack of traditional consequence for such misbehavior. “Our typing thumbs lack empathy without living faces in front of us. It
is much easier to slander an online avatar than a real-life brother.”

Reinke rightly points out that the Bible puts a premium on face-to-face personal interactions. Yes, much of the New Testament is made up of letters but the content in those letters suggest, command and assume an embodied gathering of Christ followers. Reinke closes the chapter
highlighting the traditional communion and baptisms as irreducibly personal, embodied events.
These are practices which carried over from the fulfillment of Judaism and its Old Testament covenant activities and are the New Testament “leads” in the new covenant
sacraments. As such, they can tell us much about how God wants us to commonly interact.

Though Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook platform are endeavoring to move life over into the digital world with his “Minority Report” inspired Metaverse project, the history of Christianity and the Word of God itself seems to stand against this totalizing attempt to digitize all of life including weekly church life (some churches have capitulated to what are being referred to as “metaverse baptisms & communion.” (or “digital baptisms” or “online communion” with non-physical “components”) Thankfully, these are still presumed to be sad parodies of the genuine activity at this point.

Reinke’s book is another remarkable resource that just work its way into common ministry deployments. It is a quick read with outstanding relevant information for what is now our collective addiction in first world settings.

1 Comment

Holly Buonpastore - December 26th, 2022 at 4:59pm

I like the “Dickensian undulation” in the beginning of this post because it shows BOTH sides of the issue in a really humorous way. As an older person,

parent and former high school teacher , I’ve seen face to face social interaction dwindle almost into non-existence in young people and it is certainly worrisome but it’s not the whole story. The underlying lack of focus on the important issues of life, eg. life purpose, Christian behavior, death, eternity, etc, is the REAL problem. This book seems to go deeper into this than the usual “technology is bad” genre.

I also enjoyed the little diagnostic technology test because I can feel smug that I don’t qualify as tech dependent-at least not yet!