Recent posts on the Intersect blog have opened our eyes to the various ways technology has impacted daily human life. Notice the term human life is used here—not Christian life, or American life, or male life, or female life, or church life, or righteous life, or unrighteous life, or any other subset of life we could think of. Technology is an equal opportunity life-changer, and rains down on the just and the unjust alike, all around the globe. The smartphone is obviously the most common vehicle of this impact.
Some of the impact of the smartphone is good. For example, we are better equipped for emergencies and tragedies. Severe weather notifications and Amber Alerts can be sent to all phones at once, helping the public rally behind one another in hardship and even track down a kidnapper.
Also, smartphones allow us to document life-altering moments in real-time, whether that’s the birth of our child or a crime witnessed that can help in court cases. There’s even evidence suggesting that although the smartphone is changing the way our brain is wired, the transformation is a good one for humans. Instead of logging away random information, we log away something better: how to find information. The smartphone has changed the filing system in our brains, and many say that it’s a step forward in human thinking, not backward. In a world cluttered with more information than we know what to do with, this new filing system will save us where we would have otherwise drowned in the constant, lightening-speed, bombarding data this digital age throws at us.
On top of this, the person-to-person app industry (also known as the “sharing economy”) has finally put a lid on the big business trend of overcharging for certain services and enhanced human connection. For example, we stay in another person’s home when we travel (through Airbnb) instead of staying in an isolated, one-size-fits all hotel room, and we get in another person’s car to catch a ride somewhere (through Uber and Lyft) instead of grabbing a cab. We’re using each other’s goods and services instead of trusting a big corporation to do it for us, and as a result, it’s making big businesses more ethical in their pricing and experiential in their philosophy in order to keep up. These sharing-economy smartphone apps also help Americans trust each other in an age of outrage, skepticism, and distrust.
For Christians in particular, our smartphones can connect us to wonderful teaching from anointed and prophetic leaders by means of video-sermons or podcasts. For believers overseas who can’t meet in person due to safety reasons, technology offers them the ability to update other Christians nearby about their situation. There are even new pastors in persecuted areas right now who take online seminary courses to learn biblical exposition and good theology for their congregations.
Added to all this, of course, is the basic pragmatic help certain apps offer us. Moms in the neighborhood can coordinate play dates, parents of kids on the soccer team can communicate much more efficiently than they did 10 years ago, text-threads offer a work team the ability to collaborate quickly without clogging up their email, invitations can be sent out electronically to save on unnecessary event costs, and so on.
The effect of smartphones in our daily life is contingent upon the motivations of the hands that hold it.
We all know that some of the impact of that smartphones have on us, however, is also bad. For example, our smartphones usually further our addiction to distraction. They tempt us to the ignore flesh and blood around us for in favor of a glowing but lifeless screen. In other words, we miss really wonderful moments with those we love because we’d rather spend time clanking away at an aluminum box. Though technology promises to give us more time by making life more efficient, more often than not, it’s actually stealing a ton of our time.
Constant use of smartphones is also linked to high levels of depression, anxiety, anger and comparison in America and other countries. These symptoms are especially acute in teens. On top of this, research tells us that society is losing its literacy, social skills, creativity and empathy abilities due to the immediate, condensed and virtual communication style on our smartphones.
And then there’s the other obvious bad stuff technology offers us through the use of our phones: the sexual objectification and exploitation of human beings in the form of pornography. The dark web where criminals go to hatch plans that could destroy innocent lives and entire economies. The central role smartphones play in the sex-trafficking industry. The growing teen-suicide rates due to online bullying. The list could go on.
Given that our smartphones have the ability to bear either bad or good fruit in our daily lives, we must conclude that it’s simply a vessel or a tool. The effect of smartphones in our daily life is contingent upon the motivations of the hands that hold it. In other words, technology is just another thing humans should thoughtfully and prayerfully steward.
Research far and wide suggests that technology is best used, as in the case of almost everything else in life, in moderation. Overuse is usually the culprit of smartphone addiction, and is usually the dividing line between enjoying technology to being enslaved to it. In the next post in this series, I offer 6 ways to help us steward and moderate our screen time for good instead of bad.