By Tony Reinke
For now, in this season of ministry, I will own a smartphone. But like never before, I can see how unnecessary the phone is to most of my life.
I’m challenged to be far more disciplined than I ever imagined I would be. The writing of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You marks a new era in my relationship with digital technology.
Perhaps the clearest revelation of this project is simple: to benefit from my phone, I must not use all of the features all of the time. This is true because my phone is an open platform for developers to fill with shiny apps that promise me productivity or amusement.
Francis Schaeffer said, “Christians have two boundary conditions: (1) what men can do and (2) what men should do. Modern man does not have the latter boundary.”
Contrary to Schaeffer’s wisdom, we buy our phones with the unquestioned assumption that anything our devices can do they should do. Or, to say this more personally, we tend to fill our devices with a lot of nonessential apps.
If this sounds weird, it is, because we have been conditioned to never ask the minimalist question: What is truly essential for my phone to accomplish?
We do ask this of other technology. Imagine me driving in my minivan. Based on the dashboard readout, my van can travel at 140 miles per hour (unconfirmed).
So I could race the van every weekend on a local racetrack for fun. But that’s not what the van is for. It’s not intended to win races or to exceed speed limits. It exists to provide safe transportation for my family. To draw out the full benefit of my van, there is no need for me to use all the features at maximum capacity.
If, in fact, my van can reach 140 mph (which I doubt!), that’s so it can travel at 70 mph legally, safely, and comfortably. There are unsaid limits to what I ask the van to do. Certain features serve my family—others don’t.
The key to balancing ourselves in the smartphone age is awareness. Digital technology is most useful to us when we limit its reach into our lives. The world will always expect technology to save humanity from its darkest fears, and to that end, it will submit more and more of itself to breaking innovations.
But by avoiding the overreach of these misdirected longings for techno-redemption, we can simply embrace technology for what it is—an often helpful and functional tool to serve a legitimate need in our lives.
Every technology requires limits, and the smartphone is no exception. If you find the smartphone is absolutely necessary for your life and calling, put clear regulators in place. Consider these twelve boundaries:
1. Turn off all nonessential push notifications.
2. Delete expired, nonessential, and time-wasting apps.
3. At night, keep your phone out of the bedroom.
4. Use a real alarm clock, not your phone alarm, to keep the phone out of your hands in the morning.
5. Guard your morning disciplines and evening sleep patterns by using phone settings to mute notifications between one hour before bedtime to a time when you can reasonably expect to be finished with personal disciplines in the morning (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. for me).
6. Use self-restricting apps to help limit your smartphone functions and the amount of time you invest in various platforms.
7. Recognize that much of what you respond to quickly can wait. Respond at a later, more convenient time.
8. Even if you need to read emails on your smartphone, use strategic points during the day to respond to emails at a computer (thirty minutes each at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for me).
9. Invite your spouse, your friends, and your family members to offer feedback on your phone habits (more than 70 percent of Christians in my survey said nobody else knew how much time they spent online).
10. When eating with your family members or friends, leave your phone out of sight.
11. When spending time with family members or friends, or when you are at church, leave your phone in a drawer or in your car, or simply power it off.
12. At strategic moments in life, digitally detox your life and recalibrate your ultimate priorities. Step away from social media for frequent strategic stoppages (each morning), digital Sabbaths (one day offline each week), and digital sabbaticals (two two-week stoppages each year).
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