The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been out for a few weeks now and I have to confess that I have iPhonenvy (it’s not a word, but should be). I wanted one. Still do. Apple has a way of producing “want.” What I mean can best be explained in a Steve Jobs quote, “… it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I think we SO anticipate the next thing from Apple because we know that, whatever they produce, we will want it. And we’ll not just want it, we’ll WANT it. We’ll stand in line for hours—heck, we’ll camp out to save a place in line. Others will pay people to camp out in line for them like wealthy men in the 1860s who would pay others to take their place in the army draft.
Craig Detweiler a Professor of Communication and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University recently wrote an essay entitled Let Go of Your Phone in Relevant magazine:
I have a confession to make: I love my iPhone.
We are constant companions, attached at the hip, from morning to night. Even as I try to power down after a hectic day, it is close by, within easy reach for an update. I sleep with one eye on it, wondering what I might be missing.
I may be too attached to my iPhone. When we love an object a little too much, we are veering toward idolatry, which is never a good thing. How quickly the ancient Israelites bowed down to foreign idols, shifting allegiance toward the latest innovations introduced by conquerors and kings. Images of lines outside the Apple store awaiting the latest iPhone dance through my mind. Idols are things we become so attached to, we can’t imagine living without them.
So how do we incorporate the best of technology without becoming ruled by it? How do we keep a tool intended to serve us from becoming an idol setting the agenda where we respond to its every beep?
For the past couple of years, I’ve been researching the creators and companies that have ushered in the digital revolution. People like Steve Jobs of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have become billionaires by solving our problems of abundance. How do we find the info we want? We Google it. How do we find what we want to buy (and get it delivered overnight)? Amazon. How do we keep up with our friends? Facebook.
We are training ourselves to look down rather than up, to respond to what’s urgent rather than eternal.
The tools these tech superstars have created are remarkable in their simplicity, ease and design. They have made us more efficient and better connected. They reflect the intentions of God, the original technologist, to organize, to harness, to comfort.
God separated light from darkness, land from sea, giving form to chaos. We’ve been charged with taking similar care of the earth, restraining the forces which threaten to overwhelm us (like floods). Technology at its best turns things that could potentially destroy us (like a raging river), into a source of power.
Technology has always helped us navigate a cruel world. When Adam and Eve chose independence outside the comfort of God’s garden, they were given tools to till the earth and clothes to cover their bodies as a consolation. Technological breakthroughs like the wheel made life much easier. Innovations like eyeglasses, hearing aids and artificial hips equip us to live more fully.
People of faith have been at the forefront of technological revolutions like stained glass, winemaking and the printing press. Monks perfected the mechanical clock in order to figure out when to work and when to pray. Clocks called the community to pause, rest and focus their attention more clearly upon the divine.
So what do our ringtones and text tones call us toward? We are training ourselves to look down rather than up, to respond to what’s urgent rather than eternal. We no longer start and end the day in prayer but in updates, checking in or checking out one last time to see if anybody has messaged us.
I am not planning to get rid of my iPhone, but I am striving to put it in the proper place and perspective. If it is not making me more loving, patient and kind, then perhaps I need to back off a bit. If it is keeping me from loving my friends or family in a face-to-face, intentional way, then perhaps I need a digital break. Even some of the most committed technologists have been rediscovering the power of an electronic Sabbath. Maybe the goal in life is not be more efficient, but more engaged. Maybe we need to power down in order to power up.
I’m a creature of habit and over the years I’ve developed the habit of going to coffee shops to read, research, to basically recharge. I do some of my best thinking in coffee shops or bookstores. More than a few years ago, I bought my first MacBook. Another MacBook, an iPad and several iPhones later I’ve discovered this to be true: my reading, study, devotional times, etc. are better when I stay off the electronics. This isn’t always easy to do and the lure of iGadgets is great indeed.
So, what are we to do? Go Amish? Unplug from the grid? I don’t think that’s the solution. Unfortunately, for this is not my strong suit, I think the solution is good ole self-discipline. Nothing magical about that. So, nowadays when I go to coffee shops or bookstores, I try to have the self-discipline to read or have my time with God before I boot up anything electronic. I’m not always successful, but when I am it’s worth it. I have found it helpful to remember this: iDevices are there to serve us, not the other way around. I lived before I had any of these devices, I can live (at least for a time) without them too. It kind of boils down to who is in control? Me or the iDevice. If we ever allow iDevices to wrest control from us, we will be in sad shape for sure—I fear that, for some, that has already happened.