Does your phone bless or curse those around you?

If you’ve ever been around people who drink alcohol, and you’re not drinking, you know how their increasing lack of sobriety looks and sounds. The person drinking thinks they are still in full possession of all their faculties, but to the sober observer on the sidelines, the story is completely the opposite. It’s a stark and un-pretty picture.

I used the drinking analogy to set up my main point. There are a lot of people who don’t drink, but it seems that there are few people who don’t have a cell phone anymore. I am one. I don’t have a cell phone, a smartphone, a mobile device, tablet, iPad, or portable technology of any kind. I am the one on the sidelines, watching the rest of the world get drunk on cell phone checking. It’s a stark and un-pretty picture.

Never was the rising cell phone addiction so prevalent than when I went into the fray last weekend to do some street photography. Athens, GA is a college town, and very liberal. As with most cities, there are fringe characters, weird dressers, buskers, hucksters, panhandlers and regular folks ambling along the bustling streets. I went into the city on a Friday afternoon after school and was there until about 5:30 or 6:00. I was observing and photographing long enough to watch the night city come alive. The buskers set up, and panhandlers claimed their spots, and the frat boys began roaming the bars in packs. Time to go.

I went home and began processing my pics. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. ALL my photos contained a plethora of people either looking at, dialing, or speaking on their phones. The ones who didn’t, had a phone in their hand. Period.

It was a warm and bright spring day. The trees and flowers were blooming. The skies were vivid azure and the sun was glowing with long shadows, making dappled leaf patterns on the sidewalks. The shops were open and the al fresco cafes were inviting. There was plenty to look at and notice, but one would think all that was invisible with a number of passersby who were enthralled with the tech world of their two-inch smartphone screens.

I’m old enough to have been an adult when cell phones came in. I remember walking down city streets all over the United States and the world, enjoying the day, people watching at the cafe. I’d enjoy the clouds, muse on people’s fashion choices, admire the architecture. Most of all, I’d talk to the person I was with, sharing these thoughts and observations and listening to theirs. We created common memories and enjoyed our shared experience.

Those says seem gone.

Author Tony Reinke expressed his concerns with the technological age epitomized by the smartphone in his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. In his book he writes of concerns wth technology creating the Age of Distraction, but he also tempers his concerns with ideas and strategies to steward our time well and use the technology instead of it using us.

He wrote,

We check our smartphones 81,500 times each year, or once every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives, which means you will be tempted to check your phones three times before you finish this chapter.

My time photographing the street activity in Athens seems to bear this out. I stood in one spot for about ten minutes and this was the scene.

Concerns are with any device that distracts us from engaging with God’s world and His people. In fairness, Reinke also said this about cameras, which I think can be applied to philosophies about any device-

If the cameras in our pockets mute our moments into 2-D memories, perhaps the richest memories in life are better “captured” by our full sensory awareness of the moment- the later written down in journal.

Smartphones are here to stay. That ship has sailed. What we’re left with is not that we use our phones but how we use our phones. A title (I think) Westminster Books used in reviewing Reinke’s book was, “Is your phone a blessing or a curse to those around you?” For me, they are a curse.

Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition writes that Reinke’s book blurb convicted him. Nate Claiborne at Christ + Pop Culture wrote

Whether for advances in productivity (thanks to apps like Things and Evernote) or the pull of imminent distraction (thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter being accessible at all times), my daily life is no longer the same. Rather than treating technological advances as givens, we ought to think about the good as well as the potential bad they bring.

You can find this Tony Reinke book at Westminster Books, and elsewhere.

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