During a holiday weekend this past spring I shepherded my three daughters to an inflatable party place for a special event. I peered up inflated ladders to make sure my kids weren’t being trampled as they maneuvered crowded slides, and I trailed after the girls as they tried each apparatus. I did this while stepping over and around other parents whose heads were down while fingers swiped across smartphones. Three parents were actively engaged with their kids; 30 other moms and dads were watching their phones.
Recently I walked into a convention’s general assembly late after having a difficult time uploading an article into the Review’s digital workflow. I hunkered down against a wall in the back with at least a score of other people—seats appeared to all be full. Glancing around, I was startled to see every person perched on the periphery fully engaged on smartphones or computer tablets. The session was not about electronic communication, nor did it require participants to be wired.
I’m not casting aspersion on the parents or convention attendees—I don’t know what they were doing, who they might have been communicating with, etc. What astonished me is the fact that these people appeared to be one with their portable electronic devices. And this is what I see in every public place I go where people are waiting. A play on American Express’s 38-year-old slogan has become sinisterly apt: “Can’t Leave Home Without It.”
I used to always check for my keys before stepping out the door for the day. And once I drove myself places, I added a driver’s license. My smartphone now ranks equally with my wallet and keys. Temporary panic takes hold if I’ve forgotten it at home.
Our recent cover feature “Social Media: You Are Not Alone” (July 18, 2013) includes definitions, cautions, tips, and personal experiences.1 It does not stress how much of a crutch and debilitating distraction smartphones and tablets can be.
We all like instant feedback, which Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat can supply. It’s gratifying to see how many likes we’re able to acquire on a photo or post or tweet. Or we can order stuff, pay for it, and have it shipped—all from the little rectangular box in our hands. Mobile banking and bill paying are convenient, especially when there’s free Wi-Fi. How about downloading a best-seller? Or reading a CNN news brief? And what about games such as Angry Birds, Words With Friends, or Candy Crush Saga? With these easily available on our extra appendage it is possible never to be bored again. Never to have a moment of quiet. of peace. of reflection.
Easy, quick, and efficient—these are good words. A person can accomplish a lot on a tablet or smartphone. For good, yes, but don’t think for a moment that Satan isn’t using easy, quick, and efficient for his own diabolical purposes. Some sins are loud and obvious. But sin is also quick, easy, accessible—discreet and personal. Our preoccupation with communicating through and interacting with these devices assuredly will lead to devastating, sinful consequences, both corporal and spiritual.2
Unless we keep our balance. Unless we unplug ourselves purposefully.3 We must be social on more than social media. We must take the time to enjoy the birds that fly and perch in trees, rather than the ones flung from a slingshot. We can read a paper Bible, or one from an app. But lines must be drawn.
Digital use is what we make it. God calls us to Him, and we can find Him on the Internet, in a text message, etc. But temptations abound.
Don’t embrace the tyranny of your smartphone or tablet. Pray that Christ gives you and me the wisdom to avoid its shackles.