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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You" (Tony Reinke)

TITLE: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
AUTHOR: Tony Reinke
PUBLISHER: Wheaton IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

If there is any one icon of our modern age, it would be the ubiquitous cell-phone. Not too long ago, we have credit card companies like American Express whose catchy advertisement says: "Don't leave home without it." Now, we cannot leave our homes without our phones with us. Some people would even drive all the way back from work when they realize they had left their phones at home. It has become our scheduler, daytimer, our work device, our home appliance, our online radio, our social media outlet, our camera, our notebook, our key way of communications, and many more. Yet, there are risks with regard to its use. This book demonstrates to us that there are at least 12 ways that we are being changed by this little device. Like a small rudder that turns a large ship, the little cell-phone can turn even the toughest human being. In the foreword to this book, John Piper declared that "smartphones are dangerous" simply because it can become an idol. The famous media critic, Marshall McLuhan asserts that technology, which includes smartphones are essentially extensions of oneself. Jacques Ellul warns us about the unpredictability of these new innovations while Oliver O'Donavan reminds us to be aware of the more important things BEFORE the proliferation of the smartphone. While some medical professionals may focus on the dangerous effects of radiation from the phone, Reinke looks from a lifestyle angle. Spurred by critical analyses from Oliver O'Donavan, Jacques Ellul, and Marshall McLuhan, the author approaches smartphones from a measured angle, not taking extreme views of either good or bad. Specifically, he asks: "What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?" He calls readers to re-examine the ways they are using the phone. He maintains that he is also writing for himself. That is true because the smartphones have affected most people on this planet. It is rare to ever find anyone without a cellphone these days.

Reinke brings in nine key realities from the Bible. Technology is a principality that modifies creation. It can improve life but it does not eradicate the brokenness of the world due to sin. It can be used for good as well as for evil. It empowers us and it can also be used to subvert others. Most importantly, technology shapes our theology. In order to ensure that we control technology before it controls us, we need to be aware of the 12 insidious ways the phone can change us.
  1. Distraction: Reinke gives us ten ways to diagnose our condition.
  2. Ignoring Our Conscience: How we are becoming disembodied in our everyday behaviours, and overestimating our own capabilities.
  3. Instant Gratification: Beware the temptations of self-glorification and constantly seeking approval from others.
  4. Lower Literacy: How smartphone usage has affected our reading habits
  5. Consumerism: The age of the mediated self where we point, shoot, and forget.
  6. Becoming what we 'liked': we fall in love with ourselves and our actions prove it.
  7. Loneliness: Inability to preserve our solitude leads to isolation.
  8. Secrecy: How we hide ourselves behind anonymity. 
  9. Meaninglessness: Need to rise above the oceans of passivity and egoism, to look at the eternal values of God.
  10. Fear of Missing Out: Inability to deal with being left out.
  11. Online Harshness: How personal information can be manipulated and abused; how a pessimistic culture can find reasons to dampen people's others.
  12. Losing Our Place in Time: addiction to breaking news, and how we unwittingly allow social media to define us.
In each of the chapters, Reinke gives us diagnostic questions, critical statements, and reminders from the Bible that we are more than what the cellphone tells us. Toward the end of the book, he provides readers with concise summaries and possible antidotes against the negative effects of the smartphone use on us. He raises some thoughts about spirituality which really hits home. For instance, Reinke notes: "In our love of mechanisms, techniques, and power, we lose our way - and we lose our worship and our prayer, because God has grown secondary to our technology." This describes concisely what the uncritical use of the smartphone could do to our spiritual lives. Are we using the device or is the device using us? We need to ask ourselves about what the phone is doing to us? Technology has a lot of good we can use. There are also downsides. Some would even praise the phone so much that they become blind to any negative comments about the phone. It has become an addiction that many cannot part with. Denzel Washington in an interview with BBC has also warned us about it. What is the phone doing to us?

With this book, Reinke helps us to cover a lot of angles. Many of the warnings stem from a spiritual perspective, about how the use of the smartphone has driven us away from God in some way. Anything that does not push us closer to God is a form of idolatry. Uncritical use could lead us to be numb to the ordinary things of God. We prefer to take selfies or phone pictures instead of letting our eyes admire and enjoy the creation of God. When this happens, we lose an opportunity to appreciate God's creation for itself, choosing to be content with storing the magnificent scenes in some temporal digital image. Moreover, digital images do get corrupted or lost for various reasons. In our world of photoshop and image editing tools, it is so easy to make something authentic into a false image. Perhaps, this is a metaphor for how we treat God. By preferring the things of man instead of God Himself, we have chosen to worship the created instead of the Creator. We have opted for the gifts instead of the Giver. We have chosen foolishly, exchanging God for the images of the world. If there is one reason to read this book, it is to be rudely awakened to the dangers of uncritical smartphone usage. It would be impossible to abandon the phone altogether. The next best thing is to develop a strategy to rein in the tentacles of influence and to discipline ourselves to limit our use of the smartphone and to do so wisely. We need to move from wander to wonder; from browse to read; from addiction to restriction; and many more counter-smartphone moves. The more we find ourselves unable to part with our devices, the more this book is for us. 

Tony Reinke is senior writer for Desiring God.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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