When you watch a movie or a television show from past decades, what seems to be most dated is how everyone in the scene smokes a cigarette. Modern shows depicting the era make this central. Just watch a few scenes of “Mad Men” and you can’t miss the abundance of smoke in the room.
As we look back on this time now, we can’t believe no one saw the dangers of cigarettes. Why did the culture swallow the lies of cigarette companies and allow big money to pave over the risks inherent in smoking? It seems crazy to us now.
I believe future generations will look back on our modern-era addiction to our smartphones in much the same way.
With the distance of time, they will be able to see how smartphones changed our lives in ways I believe will be seen as extremely detrimental. These computers in our pockets are changing our society and us in fundamental ways.
In the September 2017 issue of The Atlantic, Jean M. Twenge has an article titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” about the mental and emotional effects on what she calls iGen, the generation of kids born between 1995 and 2012. This is the first generation raised with smartphones always around and with social media as their public square.
She makes a compelling case of the destruction this constant connectivity has wrought, with rates of teen depression and suicide sharply rising since 2011. It is not a pretty picture.
Reading this article made me ask: If anxiety and depression are on the rise, and there is compelling evidence to link this with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, what are our smartphones doing to us spiritually? What is the danger of constant connectivity to information and social media to our spiritual lives?
We could be here all day if we listed every danger so I will mention two.
The loss of real community
The irony of social media and constant connectivity through our phones is that we have actually lost true community.
Twenge shows how iGen children, who have grown up with smartphones in their hands, lack many social skills older generations learned from face-to-face interactions and building relationships with friends by spending time physically with one another instead of behind a screen.
Technology is extremely helpful for churches disseminating information, but it is also stunting our ability to interact physically with those around us. The church is the community of faith, the body of Christ, and she is most effective in the life of the believer in the physical presence of her members.
A hug, a pat on the back, a conversation with eye contact and vocal inflections emphasizing love are all a part of the ministry of the body of Christ—not to mention the spiritual importance of the physical acts of singing, praying, taking communion and all the other aspects of our corporate worship we only receive in the physical community of faith.
True community is not found behind a screen. There is something important lost when our only communication is by text and our only encouragement is in the form of an emoji.
Our dwindling attention span
The devotional life of the believer requires our attention to be focused for extended periods of time. There is no doubt our smartphones are changing our attention spans. Take note of how often you pick up your phone throughout the day when there is a lull at work or quiet at home.
I have noticed it in my life. I read for a few minutes and then I reach for my phone. I try to be quiet before the Lord and pray, and it is not long until I am making sure no one has texted me or liked my tweet. I am concerned what our smartphones are doing to our prayer lives because I am concerned about what my smartphone is doing to mine.
Our constant connectivity is rapidly changing our ability to focus, and this will have an unbelievably corrosive impact on the devotional life of the church. We must train our hearts and minds to focus on Bible reading and prayer disconnected from our smartphones.
I know there are apps and helps many find useful, and if you can use these without wandering over to social media or checking your latest text, then, by all means, use them for the glory of God. I am weak and therefore I must go into my closet and pray without the lure of my phone.
Jesus tells us we cannot serve two masters.
If we step back, look at our lives and take a look at those all around us, it is undeniable the master we have chosen to serve. Sadly, as for me and my house, we serve our phones.
We all live at the whim of the screens in front of us. Maybe, it is time to ask what our addiction is doing to our spiritual lives.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.