Andrew Sherwood is a personal friend whom I asked to write a reflection about why he ditched his smartphone. I hope his words serve you as you pursue “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
“You want a phone that doesn’t get the internet? You mean you have an iPhone but want to go back to a flip-phone? Can I ask why?” You could tell the wireless salesman thought I was pranking him.
“I’m addicted to my iPhone,” I replied.
I pitched my iPhone for a basic no-internet flip phone a few months ago. First, let me say plainly: I believe getting rid of my iPhone is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.
That’s not because I believe it is wrong, sinful, or always unwise to have a smartphone, but because I discovered I was too immature and too undisciplined to use it well.
Perhaps you’re wrestling with some vague sense of dissatisfaction from a technology addiction and hopefully the below is helpful to you as you think about what to do next. Personally, I overestimated what my iPhone would give to me and I underestimated what it would take from me.
Here is some of fruit I’ve seen since pitching it:
“Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned” (Proverbs 6:27). Praise God if you don’t struggle with sensual temptations on your smartphone. But if you do, why carry constant temptations around with you 16 hours a day? For years, I made lame and unwise excuses about keeping my phone rather than pitching it. But the flame from these things is real and the burns run deep. You can lose your soul to an iPhone. Your soul. For a phone. Deepak Reju’s article on this aspect of temptation is fantastic.
Increased Focus on Things that Matter
Do you ever get a nagging sense of conviction when you’re supposed to be paying attention to your wife, kids, discipleship companion, pastor, sermon, etc. and you ever-so- quietly click on the power button to check your phone? I did. Thousands of times, actually. My daughter would happily run over from the playground and find me nose down, buried in some sports equivalent to People magazine. Truthfully, I’m sickened over the memories I should have made with my family that were instead empty moments spent with my iPhone.
In Psalm 90:12, Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully, so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” The sands of time are sinking – and I will give an account on That Day of the grains of sand wrongly given to frivolity instead of stewarding the good gifts God has graciously provided me through the people in my life.
I used to check my iPhone at stoplights, carpool lines, walking someplace — anywhere I had even a moment’s downtime. Without my smartphone, there are new opportunities to pray throughout the day. The ant principle seems to apply here (Proverbs 6:6) – over time, the small windows to pray pile up into storehouses full of brief prayers to my heavenly Father.
Living Without the Low-Pitched Hum of Anticipation
Being plugged in to a broader world of Twitter, e-mail, and instant news made for a precarious idol in my life. Even when physically putting my phone away for a few hours during family time, my heart was often going through the motions when eating a family meal, putting my kids to bed, or talking to my wife. It wasn’t just distraction I was dealing with: it was a problem of dissatisfaction that nothing but “plugging back in” would satisfy.
After getting the kids down to bed, I would sit down on the couch and immediately light up my phone, checking emails and social media. I was getting my fix (though my desires were never satiated). My wife might interject a kind comment like “Hey, how was your day?” and my immediate emotional response was one of annoyance or worse, anger. I noticed that I was frantic for updates when being without my phone for even a few hours. Have I ever honestly yearned for God’s Word or His presence as much as my phone? Just check my phone log of time spent on Twitter vs. my time in God’s Word and you’ll see what I really cared about. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Reading More (Actual) Books
I underestimated the time I would spend reading junk on my phone. Every night in bed, every morning when I woke up and the countless slivers of stolen time in between. There has been such refreshment in keeping my Bible and a few library books near me to read whenever I have free time. I’m sure there’s some way to usually read really good stuff on your smartphone that feeds and waters the mind and soul but I’m far from disciplined enough to do that.
“This is the greatest gift you’ve ever given me”
“When you had your smartphone, you were a walking vending machine of whatever you’d ingested that day. It was difficult to talk about deeper things that mattered because you were constantly distracted by internet litter. You’re now able to focus and give necessary attention to deeper issues. More of what we talk about comes from your heart rather than your Twitter feed.” – My Wife
Healthy Connection to My Humanness
I’m not anti-technology (I’m writing this post on a computer). I’m a graduate student and use technology for a lot of what I work on—and I’m thankful for it. But I also feel like I’m sort of an idiot. If Google Maps doesn’t tell me how to get somewhere, I’m lost even if I’ve driven to the place ten times before. And remembering something? Forget it—I have to put it into my phone.
There’s something about that neuro-rewiring that leaves me puzzled (read “The Shallows” for more on this) and unsure about what it’s ultimately doing to my ability to think. These days, I’m actually looking around at the streets I drive on, figuring out how to get places and forcing myself to remember things people tell me. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about these changes but there is a palpable sense of freedom when I do them.
I was taking a walk with my daughter a few weeks ago when she looked up and said “Daddy, I like having conversations with you. You’re good to talk to.” The irony. Sad thing is, I’m not that great to talk to. I’ve trained myself to zone out and to communicate to others “My phone and whatever it has on it is more important than you.” I don’t want that to be true another second of my life.
The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson once wrote “Sin hangs weights upon us so that we move but slowly to Heaven.” Those weights are often placed upon us slowly, over time, so that we get used to the pressure of them before sin adds more. And then the slower …and slower………and slower we move.
Is your phone a weight slowing your path to Heaven? A coal you’re heaping in your lap? A thief you paid $500 to steal things that matter?
Prayerfully ask God and those around you.
What is your phone for you?