Jesus, Whole30, and the New iPhone
No doubt you’ve heard - today, Apple Inc. showed off their latest creations, including three new iPhone models. I’m a tech guy by nature, what journalists call “an early adopter,” and sure, I’m a lifelong fan of the team at Apple. I think technology is a gift from God and through it, wonderful things can happen. I get to make art and communicate to people for the purpose of building Jesus’ kingdom through this technology, and I love it. But the thing about iPhones is- not only do I love them, but pretty much, everyone else does to.
Our smartphones are an essential part of modern life with no historical equivalent. It’s your alarm clock when you go to bed, likely the first object you touch when you wake up. Camera, telephone, texter, game console, internet browser, personal computer, calendar, GPS, iPod, notepad, fitness tracker - it is unmatched in its utility and getting more capable every year.
The data for this year, 2017, says that during the day, you’ll use your phone for a total of 3 hours- which is like spending 1 minute on your phone for every 5 minutes you’re awake. If you’re under 24 years old, you will probably use your phone for 4 hours today. If you’re like most of America, about half that time is spent on social media alone. For me, my phone is never more than a few feet away.
Sometimes, we need to ask some unpleasant but brutally honest questions. So I’d like to begin by pointing out that today, September 12, 2017, I will spend more time with my phone than with my wife. I will spend more time with my phone than in Scripture or in prayer combined. I am publicly confessing this. I will sit and stare at this glowing rectangle like it’s my job. And not just today, but almost every day. And I hardly noticed that I do this.
Did you catch that? I hardly even notice. But that low-battery-power alert at the end of the day confirms it - my best friend is my iPhone.
Take a guess where I'm going with this post. I’d like to stop here and ask you - are you afraid or suspicious that at the end of this blog post, I’ll ask you to drop your smartphone? If so, I understand your concern and relate to it - and maybe that’s the problem.
Nothing is inherently sinful about my iPhone. It’s an object, and as I said, I think it can be a gift from God when used correctly. But if I am being completely transparent, the ways in which I used my phone can be, and often are, absolutely sinful.
There’s an amazing book by writer Tony Reinke called, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. In it, he covers how most of us have developed smartphone habits that feed our sin, rather than fight it. I cannot recommend this book enough for the 21st century Christian. It has really helped me objectively see what I’m doing with my phone and consider why I’m doing it. Just to put you at ease, at the beginning of the book, he accurately states: “The question of this book is simple: What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life? To that end, my aim is to avoid both extremes: the utopian optimism of the technophiliac and the dystopian pessimistic of the technophobe.” He does just that and I am shamelessly telling you, you should read this book.
One of the twelve aspects that Reinke considers is our social media usage. I want to highlight this one. Remember, social media consumes about half our time on our phones, so if we’re spending 1-2 hours per day on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, we had better have a good reason, right? Of course, if community building and cultivating relationships is driving our social media use, then great! But almost certainly, the reality is more like Reinke’s following description:
“The sad truth is that many of us are addicted to our phones because we crave immediate approval and affirmation. The fear we feel in our hearts when we are engaged online is the impulse that drives our ‘highly selective self-representations.’ We want to be loved and accepted by others, so we wash away our scars and defects. When we put this scrubbed-down representation of ourselves online, we tabulate the human approval in a commodity index of likes and shares. We post an image, then watch the immediate response. We refresh. We watch the stats climb-or stall. We gauge the immediate responses from friends, family members, and strangers. Did what we posted gain the immediate approval of others? We know within minutes. Even the promise of religious approval and the affirmations of other Christians is a gravitational pull that draws us toward our phones.”
It’s the kind of brutal self reflection that asks: Why are you really posting this picture of your Bible study and coffee cup on Instagram?
Whether social media, our literacy, our insatiable desire for distraction, our view of God, how we interact with strangers in an elevator, and certainly any time spent in private browsing modes - smartphones have changed us. They are changing us. And we need to admit it.
Considering our Digital Diet
My wife, Jill, and I just finished our first Whole30 - a 30 day, no cheats, dietary challenge. Whole30 is completely devoid of processed foods and sugars, so pretty much cut 95% of a normal American diet. Basically, if anything happened to the food between the farm and your kitchen, you can’t eat it. We recently finished but Whole30 was tough, especially for Jill. In a physical way, your body is furious. You’re always hungry, you crave bread and cheese, your body aches, you’re tired, and you cannot stop thinking about food.
But that’s actually the point.
After weeks of nothing but lots of vegetables, fruits, meats, and nuts - things not only returned to normal, things got noticeably better. Better in ways we didn’t even know were possible before.
In other words, for almost three decades, by giving my body the food it wanted, I was depriving my body of the food it needed.
I wonder if our relationship with our phones is similar.
We know our phones have the capacity to improve our lives and we like them a lot. But like the food we choose to eat, what if what we think we want is actually hurting us? I love Makers Donuts and I can make the argument that those glazed donuts topped with chocolate are gifts from God as well. But if I ate at Makers for every meal, every day, I would be far less healthy - I would be very sick. And it wouldn't be the donut's fault - it would be mine.
Are we making ourselves spiritually, mentally, and socially sick in how we use our phones? Because that's really the question here - how are we using our phones?
Study after study after study, secular and Christian, show undeniably that our phones are changing us, often for the worse, physically and mentally. There is no lack of literature here - the problem is, we just aren’t reading it. Like an episode of Black Mirror, the tech gets more advanced and capable every year - but for most of us, our understanding of healthy behaviors in using it have not kept the same pace.
Like a hungry 10 year old who is dropped off at a huge, buffet style restaurant- without maturity or adult supervision, they're probably headed right for the dessert bar.
"Totally Agree, but I don't have a problem."
If you don’t think I’m talking to you, theologian Alastair Roberts has a helpful set of diagnostic questions on Desiring God. Ask yourself these questions honestly (and forgive his vocabulary, he’s a professor):
Is my smartphone making it difficult for me to give the activities and persons in my life the full and undivided attention and self-presence that they require and deserve?
Do I habitually use my smartphone as an easy escape and distraction from the difficult task of wrestling through boredom and solitude?
Is my smartphone use squeezing out my inner life, encroaching upon time that would otherwise be given to private contemplation, reflection, and meditation? Do I use it as a way to distract myself from unsettling truths and realities that can slowly come into focus in moments of silence and solitude?
Am I using hyper-connectedness to substitute a self unthinkingly immersed in a shallow and amniotic communal consciousness and its emotions, for the difficult task of developing my own judgment, character, disciplines, resolve, and identity?
Are my uses of my smartphone arresting and hampering my processes of deliberation and reflection, encouraging reactive judgments and premature decisions?
Is my use of my smartphone mediating my relationship with and understanding of myself in unhealthy ways?
Is my smartphone a tool that I use, or has it fettered my attention and time to other persons and activities that are wasteful and overly demanding of them?
Are my uses of my smartphone preventing me from developing and maintaining healthy patterns and routines in my life,disrupting my sleeping patterns, interrupting my concentration upon my work, habituating me to the fragmentation of my time and attention?
Is my smartphone usage consuming time that I used to or could potentially devote to worthier activities? Do I use my smartphone to “kill time” that I could otherwise fill with prayer, reading, writing, edifying conversation, face-to-face interactions, and more?
Are my uses of my smartphone conducive to the faithfulness and freedom of others? Am I using my smartphone in ways that create unhealthy demands and pressures upon them?
A Call to Better
So here we are, at the end of this soap box blog post, and you were right - I’m going to ask you to do something. But I’m not asking you to give up your smartphone. I’m just asking you to seriously consider, over the next few days, how you use it and why you use it. Grab that book I mentioned, find some other smart guys (pastors and scientists alike) and learn about what signs indicate unhealthy habits, and pray about it.
Maybe you need a digital Whole30 (not a real thing, but you get it). Maybe you need to use a dumb phone and/or a tablet. Maybe you can set healthy barriers and ask friends and family to help you watch for unhealthy habits. Maybe this new iPhone is the model you skip. Maybe you delete nonessential apps or social media accounts. Maybe you leave the phone in the car or away from the dinner table. Maybe God is calling you to live your life in reality and offline.
All I’m saying - if there’s a chance I’m living in disobedience or fueling sinful habits through my phone, I need to do something about it. If there's a chance I am hampering my relationships with my wife, family, and church, I want to know, repent, and change those habits.
The new iPhones look amazing and perhaps one day, I'll own one. But as long as I'm in possession of a smartphone, I'm now committed to ask tough and honest questions about how I use it.
And since Apple’s new iPhone will be sold to 100,000,000+ people, I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to ask these questions.
Jared Belcher serves as our full time creative director here at Arrowhead and leads our communication efforts, particularly through digital communication.