When I graduated high school, I spent most of my graduation money on a brand-new Dell desktop computer. I was so proud of that flat-screened monitor and the heavy (and huge) hard drive I carried up the stairs to my dorm. Little did I know that within my four years of university, a transformation would happen in the technological world, and just as quickly as that desktop entered my life, it’d be outdated.
By the time I graduated college, I had traded my desktop in for a sleek Dell laptop and upgraded my Nokia phone to a RazR. And some of my more technologically savvy friends were starting to walk around with those fancy Blackberry and iPhone devices.
That was over a decade ago, and although our machines have gotten smaller, they’re now more powerful than ever. We have watches that track our activity, computers that are lighter and faster, and phones that take pictures and videos, and allow us to communicate with loved ones face to face despite the miles that are between us. We can shop from just about any electronic device we own, and our access to news and media is instant.
Technology is changing and growing rapidly, and we are the first generation who will have to grapple not only with how to use these devices wisely, but also the long-term impacts these devices have on society.
To be quite honest with you, I hadn’t given much thought to the topic until this past year. I used my phone regularly, and there were seasons when I noticed its pull on my life more than others, but it wasn’t until I read these two books that my relationship with technology started to change: The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch and 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke.
Crouch’s Tech-Wise Family is a short read that encourages the reader to put technology in its “proper place.” And Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, answers the question, “What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?” Between the two of them, I knew that two things had to take place. It was time for me to evaluate my relationship with technology and then work towards a healthier relationship with it.
Evaluating My Relationship with Technology
When I read that we check our smartphones approximately once every 4.3 minutes and that over 73% of Christians surveyed check their phones prior to practicing any of the spiritual disciplines (Reinke, p.41-42), I was simultaneously floored and convicted. At first, I thought that I wasn’t as bad as the statistics were stating, but after doing a quick personal inventory, I realized that although I might not check my phone every 4.3 minutes, I check it more often than I should. And I almost always check Twitter or Instagram before even thinking about God and the day ahead that He’s ordained.
I learned that my phone was my go-to during down time or moments of boredom. I would naturally pull out my phone while waiting at the doctor’s office or after I finally got my children down for a nap. I used my phone to play music in the car or for directions. And I even noticed that I was doing more of my reading on my phone and looking up recipes and using those to cook at night!
None of these are inherently bad things, except for the fact that I realized that there were few hours in the day when my phone wasn’t assisting me somehow. We were attached at the hip, quite literally. And as I started paying attention to my habits, I was surprised at how many times I would be using my phone for a specific purpose but then would somehow find myself wasting precious time on social media.
Technology had captured my gaze, and I knew a change needed to take place. At first, I was at a loss for what to do, but thankfully both of these books gave wonderful principles that were easily adaptable for my life. I didn’t get rid of my smartphone, but I have chosen to use it differently.
Working Towards a Healthier Relationship with Technology
Both The Tech-Wise Family and 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You have pivotal sections that stood out to me when trying to rebuild my relationship with technology.
If you read nothing else from Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, you must read his 10 Tech-Wise Commandments. I highly recommend reading the whole book as it will give context to these individual ideas, but these 10 Tech-Wise Commandments are a great starting point for the conversation.
His commandments were a guide for me, and although I didn’t strictly adopt every single one, I am in the process of implementing many of them. Specifically, my favorite one and the one I’m having the hardest time with is commandment #3: “We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.”
Some days, I’m great at abandoning my phone for an hour a day, other days it’s trying. But I’m working towards honoring the idea of work and rest, and making sure that technology is also given a rest in my life.
The concluding chapter of Reinke’s book was especially helpful to me in wrestling with what specific boundaries I should put in place. For example, I now have turned off all non-essential notifications from apps. I am only notified when I receive a text or a phone call due to one of his 12 tips for living “smartphone smart.” Also, Reinke listed three questions that helped me self-assess my relationship with my phone:
- “Do my smartphone behaviors move me towards God or away from him?”
- “Do my smartphone behaviors edify me and others, or do they build nothing of lasting value?”
- “Do my smartphone behaviors expose my freedom in Christ or my bondage to technique?”
These questions didn’t strictly regulate my behavior rather they helped me evaluate my heart which drives my actions.
Francis Schaeffer once said, “Christians have two boundary conditions: (1) What men can do, and (2) what men should do. Modern man does not have the latter” (The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, p. 369). Schaeffer was right; I had found the latter boundary condition lacking in my own life. I had never asked what I should be doing (and not doing) with technology until I opened up both Crouch’s and Reinke’s books. But we must ask that question in regard to modern technology because our decisions are shaping our churches, communities, and the greater culture around us. Thankfully, these two relatively new books help us wrestle with that question and are fantastic assets to the believer in this technologically savvy age.