Back to School: How to Use Your Cell Phone

ADD refers to a psychological ailment known as attention deficit disorder. It refers to an inability to focus, think deeply, and stay on task. In Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke argues that our cell phones are contributing to “spiritual ADD.”

Spiritual ADD

He explains that our phones are a constant distraction that allows us to push work, people, and God away. Our phones amplify our addiction to distractions by causing us to value ourselves based on how many likes we get on social media or how many points we score on the latest .99 cent game. I recently read a stat that the average millennial spends over 7 hours a day engaged with the digital content of one type or another. Ironically, only 1 in 5 of Christian millennials regularly read their Bible. With their plethora of badges, alerts, and notifications our phones constantly divert our attention away from the Lord, from the needs of others, and onto ourselves.

In light of our digital crisis, I want to mention three ways your phone may be doing you harm. I want to qualify that I use my phone every single day, think it is an invaluable tool, and I encourage everyone who does not have a smartphone to get one. But, a smartphone is a dangerous tool that must be wielded with caution, accountability, and wisdom.

Your phone can distract you from knowing God and growing spiritually

Tony Reinke interviewed 8000 believers. A full 3000 indicated that they read fewer books now because they use their smartphone more (79-82). New York Times columnist David Brooks likens conversation on social media to an endless cocktail party. You move in-and-out of a dozen different conversations yet find it impossible to engage in any lengthy and meaningful conversation. Brooks goes on to compare the digital cocktail party to slow reading, which he says requires “crystallized intelligence” (82). In other words, it requires you to think through a sustained metaphor or analogy, to fit multiple pieces of data together, and to make conclusions. Brooks is describing classic linear thinking and argues that the constant distraction of a phone disrupts this thinking.

How does this affect spiritual growth? Constant disruption trains us to need the high of the interruption and weakens our skills at focused reading and thought. In other words, phones are making many Christians unskilled at reading their Bible. Yet, the Bible calls for daily reading that is meditative. Further, the Lord expects us to have a lifelong engagement with the Word. Without the Word of God to enlarge our hearts to the commands of God, we cannot grow spiritually. As believers, we must put our phones down, turn off the television, and focus on reading carefully.

Your phone can distract you from serving others

“From the opening narrative of God becoming flesh, the New Testament is thick with the idea of embodiment. Keep reading, and Scripture describes the nature of God’s people: we are individual members of the church, and our unity amid diversity finds expression in metaphors of the multi-sensory and multifunctional nature of the human body. Keep reading, and Paul encourages holy kisses (awkward!). He also warns us not to neglect our gathering together, and focuses on two common church celebrations: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both statements are essential to our gatherings and contain multiple layers of compound embodiments. We cannot be baptized or feast at the Lord’s table on our phones” (61).

When we consider that our phones only allow for cocktail party depth in relationships, one can understand how difficult it can be to live in the reality described by Reinke above. When we are at church, we are called to lean into worship, to preaching, to relationships, and to serving others. Every single one of these things requires the participation of other people. Worse, when we are at church but scrolling away through our phone, we are implicitly telling others, “I’m busy right now. Some may take that as, “I don’t want to talk to you.” My pastor regularly exhorts us to “keep our eyes open” when we are at church. His point is that we are to intentionally look for others in need and seek ways to meet that need.

Further, our phones offer us immediate approval and allow us to glory in our selves. While using social media is not wrong in itself, it can cause us to retreat from relationships and into ourselves. I recently read another statistic that the three youngest generations in America have higher rates of loneliness, suicide, and depression than the generations before them. Is it any wonder considering that these young people are taught to value multiple, shallow digital connections over singular, physical, face-to-face connections. Hebrews 10:24 calls us to “stir one another up to love and good works.” This requires real, physical relationship. I faithfully read a Christian blog that frequently stirs me up to good works. I saw the writer of this blog at a Christian conference this summer and thought about approaching them, and then thought: “I bet hundreds of people approach them. I’m going to just give them their space.” Would it have been wrong for me to approach them? Of course not! In fact, I guarantee that this person would have spent 3-5 minutes with me. But, here is someone who stirs me up to good works on a daily basis yet I felt awkward about having a conversation with them. Why? Because we don’t have a real relationship. The New Testament exhorts us to pray for, serve, love, and even bear with one another. How can we truly do any of this over a telephone? Our phones may be connecting us to more people, but they are making meaningful connections harder to find.

Your phone can take you into hidden sin

The internet is filled with dozens of portals into sinful relationships. Pornography is the sex trade digitized. If you partake in it, it is going to fill you with shame, draw you away from others, and make you think that sex is a commodity, which will ruin the real pleasure God intended it for you to have. Proverbs 5:5-6 reports that the forbidden woman will only lead to spiritual destruction: “5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; 6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” Pornography is ruining a generation and is likely one of the largest reasons why younger generations are leaving the church. Use your phone wisely and protect your soul at all costs.

Put down your phone and read your Bible

As you return back to school and away from camp, do you have a plan for reading the Bible? Have you made commitments to serving people? Let me encourage you to make a plan to read the Bible and make a weekly commitment of some type to serve others. Share this plan and this commitment with a friend. Then, do these things without your phone! Reinke argues that “The answer to our hyperkinetic digital world of diversions is the soul-calming sedative of Christ’s splendor, beheld with the mind and enjoyed by the soul” (50).