Even the casual observer has to admit that the smartphone has transformed life in the 21st century. Never before have people enjoyed so much of the world at their fingertips. All day every day; at home, in the office, on vacation, people are only a text, a pic or a call away from anyone. That’s good news and that’s bad news.
It’s good news for a person saved by a timely 000 call, or a stranded motorist phoning a tow truck, or a lonely college kid cheered by a familiar voice from home. And yet the same device that saves so many lives and brings unimaginable convenience has also created problems. And herein lies the dilemma; in spite of its amazing usefulness, it has stealthily managed to dominate the senses of the average Antipodean—that’s the bad news.
Let’s start with the obvious physical dangers posed by smartphones. According to Alan S Hilibrand of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “ ‘Some data suggests that at any given moment on the streets . . . 60 per cent of pedestrians are distracted while walking, meaning either on the phone or doing something on their phone. . . . It’s a bit of a startling number.’ ”
Hilibrand, vice chairman of Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, has seen evidence of what he calls “digital deadwalkers” on centre-city streets.
“ ‘We’ve had people come into the emergency room who were hit by cars,’ he said. ‘They’re looking at their phone and not paying attention to the fact that a vehicle is making a turn’ ” (Ashley Halsey, The Washington Post).
Even more dangerous than texting while walking is texting while driving. The National Safety Council in the US estimates that this habit causes some 1.6 million accidents each year. And the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that distracted driving makes you 23 times more likely to crash. So, please, resist the urge to test the odds. They aren’t in your favour.
But beyond “deadwalkers” and distracted drivers, a more sinister toll is exacted by smartphones: they’re messing with our minds. That’s right, the electronic gadget designed to improve and enhance your life has the potential to subtly ramp up your anxieties and fears. There are three main kinds: low battery anxiety (LBA), the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the fear of living offline (FOLO).
A decade ago stressing out over battery life was rare because most phones could last a whole week. However, the rise of the picture-snapping power-hungry smartphone has sapped batteries and tinkered with psyches. Smartphone manufacturer LG found that 90 per cent of 2000 people surveyed experience low battery anxiety when their battery drops below 20 per cent. They also discovered the great lengths people went to in order to put power back into their phone. This ranged from asking total strangers to borrow their charger to skipping appointments returning home and recharging. In recent years shopping centres and airports have installed recharge lounges to counter the problem, but it’s more likely that LBA is in fact a byproduct of the other two phobias—FOMO and FOLO.
The fear of missing out is neither truly new nor solely social-media linked, though that’s where it’s mostly happening these days. From people who thrive on supermarket tabloids and entertainment biz TV shows to those who gossip with friends face-to-face or on the phone, to those who simply just have to hear/read/see the news each hour, it seems that some people have always had the “need” to be informed. And with the rise of social media like Facebook, they have a real time window on breaking news, celebrity shenanigans and their best friend’s lavish vacation!
And while it’s nice to keep in touch with friends on social media, especially to learn of their triumphs and support them in times of need, FOMO is the problematic result of such up-to-date friend feeds. It isn’t uncommon for people to waste hours scrolling through their social media feed, hoping to see something new, hoping to see something they “like.” But between all the inspirational quotes and silly posts are friends and associates doing amazing things, often in faraway exotic places. As the posts accumulate, friends reappear in the feed, creating the false impression that everyone is doing much better than you. This can create envy in some and lead to depression in others.
Posting, likes, affirmation, news, shopping and pictures—it all snowballs into steady dependence on a tiny handheld screen. Suddenly the phone controls your life, and you’re now a prime target for the ultimate fear, the ultimate tragedy.
The fear of living offline is about life with no internet access, which means no email; no text messages; no Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram or Snapchat; it means no news, live sports scores or weather forecasts; it means no YouTube videos or streaming music; no online banking, stock checks or Amazon shopping. In short, you’re out of touch.
And being out of touch fuels the deeper fear of losing the instant affirmation to which you’ve grown accustomed. After all, if you’re unable to post real-time updates, does it even matter whether you were there? Without “friends” as witnesses and their affirming posts, what’s the use? Soon your happiness devolves into a few dozen “likes.” And when the “likes” stop coming, sadness and depression creep in. “If someone experiences FOLO they’re more likely to be vulnerable and experience anxiety when they aren’t connected,” says Dr Yuliya Richard.
Of course, many of those who use a mobile phone or post on social media are not plagued with these phobias, but it’s worth a quick look in the mirror. Do I control my phone or does it control me? Am I in need of a digital detox?
If all this has you rethinking your phone habits, don’t be dismayed, because every technological revolution has birthed spiritual pitfalls and opportunities. A smartphone isn’t intrinsically evil. It’s neither inherently good nor bad. It is simply a modern convenience, a tool to be used. Much like a television or a computer, it has tremendous power to accomplish good things in our world.
The spiritual dangers
But the deceiver takes every good thing in our lives and twists it into something that can destroy us. Since the beginning, that has been his modus operandi. The issue is not whether smartphones, tablets and computers improve your life. The concern is whether God improves your life. Gadgets can lead you away from Him or draw you close to Him. The choice is yours, and the pointed truth is this: anything that consumes you to the exclusion of time with God is not an improvement to your life.
In today’s world the first impulse for many is to reach for their ever present phone. It has become so central to existence that it’s difficult to imagine living without it. So maybe it’s time to leverage that urge to God’s glory and your own renewal.
Do you suffer from FOLO?
• Do you check social media before or as soon as you get out of bed in the morning?
• Do you check social media just before you go to bed in the evening?
• Have you posted more than one item online in the past 48 hours?
• You’re two minutes down the road when you realise that you forgot your phone. Do you go back?
• Do you need to charge your phone more than once a day?
• Do you look at social media in inappropriate places, such as during work hours, sitting in church, while using the bathroom or even illegally while driving?
Answering yes to more than three of these questions suggests that you do.
How to break free
Following are some strategic tips on arranging your day so God is priority one. If your iPhone habit has challenged you spiritually, then you’ll find the psalmist’s advice helpful.
1. Go to God to begin your day
Strategy one is to check in with God before you check messages, Facebook or email. “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;/ in the morning I lay my requests before you/ and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3). There’s nothing sweeter than taking a few minutes at the beginning of the day to open your heart to Jesus. Just a few verses from the Psalms can lift your spirits. A story from the gospels can remind you of God’s power to transform lives. Reach for your phone and let the Bible app bring you inspiration, peace and guidance.
2. Go to God when trouble strikes
Next up is turning to God rather than Google when troubles come. Everyday challenges represent opportunities to direct your heart and thoughts to God. “My eyes are ever on the Lord,/ for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25:15). Turning to God during the day can be as simple as subscribing to a daily email devotional or signing up for a Facebook feed that brings uplifting Bible verses and pictures to your news page. These easy reminders will help you keep your eyes on Jesus in every situation.
3. Go to God with the desires of your heart
Dream big. God wants you to be happy and successful. He wants you to trust Him with your hopes, your dreams and your desires. “Take delight in the Lord/ and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). This incredible promise is calling you to trust God with your future by delighting yourself in Him. Surely the God who created you is able to manage your peace and happiness. In the end, the smartphone dilemma is no problem for God. He’s not down on technology, and He’s not opposed to living a connected life. Just keep Him first, best and last, and you’ll find that He’s the only “like” that really matters.
Digital detox ideas
• Start with a day and build up to a week, or even a month, without checking on or posting to social media.
• For one whole day, use your phone for nothing other than voice calls and replying to incoming messages. Then try a weekend or even a whole week.
• Leave your phone in flight mode for a day or weekend to prove that you can disconnect.
• Limit yourself to when and how long you will allow yourself to use social media.
• Find a new pastime for those mini downtimes when you’d normally resort to scrolling social media, like studying the landscape or talking
to a stranger.
• Check your social notifications once a day only, or turn off the alerts altogether.
• Have a policy of no phones at the dinner table, in the bathroom, at church or in the car (both driver and passengers).
• Give your family permission to remind you to get offline when you do yield to one or more of these temptations.
• Carry a book with you when you’re riding on public transportation.