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Calling Steve Jobs: “I can’t figure out this smartphone”

July 19, 2017 | by Ronald Keener

On first blush, it isn’t clear that a book entitled 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Crossway, 2017) belongs on a list of Christian books. You have to admit that the smartphone you carry everywhere affects mind and body as well as moral and ethical considerations of us all.

Wait 10 years and your iPhone won’t be a phone anymore, Christopher Mims writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Siri will be the conductor of a suite of devices, all tracking your interactions and anticipating your next moves,” says the subhead of the Journal article.

Mims writes “It’s 2027, and you’re walking down the street, confident you’ll arrive at your destination [maybe a church] even though you don’t know where it is. You may not even remember why your device is telling you to go there. There’s a voice in your ear giving you turn-by-turn directions and, in between, prepping you for this meeting.”

Amazing, absolutely amazing—in a mere 10 years. Tony Reinke, who published the 12 Ways book this year, is likely taking notes for an update six or eight years from now. The moral and personal imperatives will be even more intense when your phone might merely rest on your ears like a pair of eyeglasses.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Tony Reinke has written an important little book for the here and now—2017 and the few years ahead.

Jackie Hill Perry, a writer and poet, notes that smartphones have become a part of our lives, “but Tony explores the devastation to the human mind and soul due to devotion to technology. He calls us to examine not merely the use of our smartphones but the motives that inspire it.

“This is a necessary book for our generation,” she says, “to remind us that our phone habits will either amplify or get in the way of our most important longing of all: the soul-satisfying glory of our Savior.”

Some of what is touching our lives is covered in Reinke’s chapters: addiction to distraction, craving immediate approval, loss of literacy, our loneliness, being comfortable in secret vices, and our willingness of “becoming harsh to one another.”

Of course, technology has its good side as well as its bad side in the process of changing us. Says his publisher: “Reinke calls us to cultivate wise thinking and healthy habits in the digital age, encouraging us to maximize the many blessings, avoid the various pitfalls, and wisely wield the most powerful gadget of human connection ever unleashed.”

Scholar George M. Marsden, a reviewer of the book, says, “Tony Reinke’s reflections on the smartphone offer helpful advice as to how people today need to be vigilant regarding the impact of their favorite new technologies.” Let’s face it, most of us won’t spend much time with these warnings, and therapists and psychologists will find a whole new category of professional needs in our use and misuse of technology.

For myself, in my seventh decade, I have a smartphone I seldom use, still pay the $45 monthly fee for those few occasions I need my Samsung, and find that my life goes on quite well without calling relatives and friends every other day about, well, absolutely nothing important or vital to a satisfying life.

So there, Steve Jobs, have you yet found an improvement on that harp you’re playing “up there”?

Ronald Keener

Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa. His church interests lie with congregational transformation, church health movement, church strengthening and revitalization and reporting on churches that have not just survived but thrived. 


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