Tyrant in My Pocket

The three of us huddled in a dark corner of the Verizon Wireless store. “What shall we do?” my dad asked. Mom and I exchanged somber glances. The time had come.

Our perky Verizon representative, Robby, had just lowered the proverbial boom: “We don’t make these models anymore,” he said, casually handling my beloved dumbphone friend. “But we do have flip phones.” Flip phones, Robby? You expect me to text on a flip phone? I’d rather have a stone tablet and a chisel in my hand.

There was no way out. Our options were scarce. My five-year-old phone with the slide-out keyboard was failing, and Mom’s needed to be replaced too. We could get flip phones and tie ‘em up out back with the other old horses. Or we could get Lamborghinis.

Enter, iPhone

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” In a now-famous keynote speech on January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s newest product – the iPhone. “Today,” he said, “Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”

Although the iPhone was not the first smartphone ever  – that distinction goes to IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator, first patented in 1992 – it was an important leap. The iPhone not only reinvented Apple’s future, but ours as well. “Smartphone” entered our vocabulary, along with a new expectation for what our phones can and should do.

The iPhone is merely ten years old. Though the iPhone was the first of its kind, the original version itself is now old-fashioned – left behind in the dust of technology’s swift footrace. Smartphones have been permanently adopted into our cultural fabric and our everyday routine. They have changed the way we work, play, shop, travel – and especially the way we communicate. Amazing, isn’t it? In only ten years, the smartphone has grown from a novelty to a basic human need.

For the first time in history, a firm majority (77%) of American adults are carrying a computer in their pockets. There are few accessories that we all commonly use – even fewer that we carry with us constantly – yet the iPhone has managed to become a universally desirable device. I’ve seen it in the rural countryside of Moldova, in the bunks of overnight buses in China, and in the hands of my conservative grandpa (a retired Beachy bishop).

Enter, My Phone

I’m part of the crowd now; I own a smartphone too. That hushed conference in the Verizon Wireless store left me with a new Samsung Galaxy in my hand. It’s big. It’s heavy. It runs apps, notifies me about each and every new email, and takes high-quality selfies.

I was a little appalled at first. With the Internet in my pocket, I was suddenly connected to the world in a much more personal way. Any website I wanted, any video, any social media account was only a few taps away.

Did the iPhone, as Steve Jobs said, “change everything”? No, not quite. But a smartphone’s unique potential creates unique problems.

As I’ve made friends with my smartphone, I’ve come to realize that too much technology can be a foe. It can harm my relationships, if I let it. It can even damage me.

Have you ever scrolled through Facebook for a while, only to feel dissatisfied and restless at the end of it? I have too. Being constantly plugged into social media can sap us of joy and contentment. “Wow,” I end up confessing to myself, “I didn’t have a cute enough breakfast this morning.”

I love using my Voxer app to talk to my nephews. I sing songs or make animal sounds to them, and they lisp replies in their adorable little accents. Thanks to my phone, I can text a cousin that I haven’t seen lately, email a friend who’s going through a rough time, or take a picture of a funny shirt and send it to my boyfriend. Phones make communicating almost ridiculously easy.

Yet as quickly as we connect with friends, it is just as easy to disconnect. Ironically, being tethered to each other through text messages and Snapchat doesn’t make our relationships deeper. Phones are a great help, but they’re a poor substitute for real, honest, face-to-face interaction.

Like any relationship, our relationship with God also thrives on quality time spent together. Yet when we’re waiting in line or staving off boredom, it’s easy to gravitate toward our phones instead of sitting in silence and talking to God. Constantly being entertained by something else makes it nearly impossible to hear from Him. Like children wandering away absentmindedly down an aisle at the grocery store, we get lost in the maze of lesser things and, meanwhile, forsake the best that we have. We get distracted by the Cheetos in aisle four and forget about the Parent who diligently seeks us and wants us back.

A smartphone itself cannot make us or break us. It’s what we choose to do with it that matters. What will we make it – a tool or a tyrant?

Amanda.jpg Amanda Gingerich is a reader. She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.

Works Cited:

Merchant, Brian. The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone. New York City: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

Smith, Aaron. “Record shares of Americans now own smartphones, have home broadband.” Pew Research Center. January 12, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology

One thought on “Tyrant in My Pocket

  1. True stuff. I find maintaining Christian disciplines crucial to my faith. I find that the antidote to finding my satisfaction in technology is maintaining the core disciplines such as meditation, time in the Word, fasting and sacrificial giving. For me the key is not getting rid of the technology but keeping it subservient by living a disciplined spiritual life.

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