I noticed something as I watched the MLB All-Star Game last week on TV from Dodger Stadium, where fans sit super-close behind home plate. On most pitches, about 80 percent of those front-row fans were not watching the game, but looking down at their phones.
I turned to Lauren to make my predictable, sanctimonious comment. Then I realized I had just checked my own phone and it was still in my hand.
Granted, the game was not all that interesting. But it did get me thinking about how much we’ve all changed. It’s only been 15 years since the first iPhone was sold (meaning that this fall’s college freshmen have no memory of life without a smartphone). The old question, “If your house was on fire, what would you run back inside to save?” doesn’t apply because most of us would never leave the house without our phones.
On average, Americans check their phones about once every four waking minutes. As author Tony Reinke writes in 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, we are addicted to distraction and we are losing the ability to follow long flows of thought. Like a book. Or (uh-oh) a sermon. Anytime, anywhere there’s a lull, even momentarily, the phones come out.
How about you?
Try this short quiz:
- What’s the farthest you have been from your phone in the past 24 hours?
- Do you routinely check your phone before you get out of bed in the morning?
- Have you ever checked your phone in a public restroom?
- Are you able to read a map that doesn’t feed you directions?
- Do you read daily updates from Facebook or Instagram friends whom you barely know in real life?
- Do you hesitate to actually call someone on the phone because it feels, you know, intrusive?
- Have you looked at anything on your phone in the past week that you would not want others to know about?
- Do you ever look quickly at the verse of the day on your Bible app but then not read another word of Scripture the rest of the day?
- If you’re a parent, at what age does your kid get a phone and what restrictions do you place on it?
- If your kid does have a phone, are you OK with them attending a school or church activity without it?
How did you do? Do any of those questions warrant a conversation with family or friends?
Do phones belong in church?
There’s no blanket answer. It’s a great way to always have my Bible with me. But does my phone bring me deeper into God’s Word, or does it turn my Bible into one of a hundred equal distractions?
For me, church is a no-phone zone. Sometimes I have it in a pocket, sometimes I leave it in the car. I just find it easier to focus on God and what he might be saying to me when I’ve eliminated my biggest distraction. That isn’t true for everyone, particularly digital natives. But it’s worth thinking about.
Should kids have cellphones?
Ask Kari Heckler about this one. During Summerama weeks, First Free’s Kids director requires that her summer staff members hand over their phones each morning. Kari collects them in a clear plastic box, and the box sounds like a mosquito invasion as the phones buzz non-stop all day.
But she can’t do the same for day campers, because many parents won’t have it. What if there’s an emergency? Well, what it there is, and umpteen kids are all on their phones rather than listening to directions from trained staff?
So, as any schoolteacher also will tell you, every day becomes a struggle to keep kids from their addiction of distraction … which they’ve learned from adults.
What’s the cost?
Fast Company magazine reported five years ago that the more we rely on our phones for information, the less we trust strangers. Americans “also reported feeling less trust in their neighbors, people from other religions, and people of other nationalities. Importantly, using phones for information had no bearing on how much people trusted their friends and family.”
Then there’s Reinke’s book, which poses tough questions to Christians. Here are two of the deepest:
- Do my smartphone habits build up Christians in my local church?
- Do my smartphone habits disengage me from the needs of the neighbors God has placed right in front of me?
That’s a conversation worth having as a life group, youth group, adult community or a church. From a kingdom perspective, what are our phones doing to us? And what do we do about that?