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What lies is your phone telling you?

January 2, 2018 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

For the first two months of 2018, I will be using this space to interact with “This is our time” by Trevin Wax, a book that appeared on many “Best of” Christian book lists of 2017. In this book, Wax looks at the myths our culture teaches us, affirms the good longings underneath those myths, and then challenges those myths with the gospel. I believe this will be a good exercise for us in how to be discerning as we live in our world, so that we might be as Paul exhorted the Ephesian church: “Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

The first chapter of “This is our time” is entitled Your phone is a myth-teller. In this chapter, Wax looks at the place smartphones increasingly hold in our lives and what they are telling us. If you own a smartphone, it is probably almost always within reach; you may even be reading this on your smartphone right now! The temptation to constantly check your phone, scroll through Facebook or Twitter, play mindless games, or click on your favorite app, is seemingly ever-present. And even if you don’t own a smartphone, hopefully this chapter will help you to understand how it is impacting the people in your world who do.

 Wax argues that the first myth our phones tell us is that “You are the center of the universe.”  If we have tailored our phone to fit our needs, then at all times we have this device that exists to serve our needs and seemingly make us more connected, knowledgeable, and in control of our lives.

 The second myth our phones are telling us is that “You have the knowledge you need most.” In the not so distant past, think about how inconvenient it was to find the answer to something or to learn what was going on: you would have to find an encyclopedia, or wait for the 6:00 news, or the morning paper. And if you wanted to know how someone was doing, you actually had to call or visit a person! These days, it seems like every answer is a click away, on Google or Wikipedia or Twitter, and you can “know” how people are doing just by checking out their Facebook or Instagram feeds. But is that really knowledge? Wax argues that there is a difference between “knowing about” and “knowing of,” as well as a difference between knowing information and having wisdom. Just because I have seen someone’s Facebook update doesn’t mean I know them, or know how they are really doing. And just because I have knowledge at my fingertips does not mean I have the wisdom to know how to use it.

 The third myth our phones are telling us is that “You are right.” When we decide what apps we want on our phone and what voices we want to listen to, we only hear voices affirming what we already believe instead of voices that challenge us. If anyone has ever waded into the cesspool that is the comments section of blogs or articles, or seen the worst of Twitter and Facebook, you know what Wax is talking about: people who are convinced that they know what is right, and that anyone who disagrees with them is stupid.

 The fourth myth is one we are telling the world through our phones: “I want you to know me.” I would argue that it is more accurate to phrase it “I want to be significant.” We selectively share the kind of information we put out into the world in order to influence how people view us, and as people “like” and “comment” on what we share, we feel significant. Even home and vacation, instead of being places where we can get away from the world and just relax and be ourselves, become places where we use our phones to put ourselves out to the world.

So how do we evaluate these myths? The longings for connection, for knowledge, and especially to be known and valued and loved are good longings. But if we are looking to our phones – and through them to people on social media – to give us those things, we will never be satisfied. In the gospel, we find that God knows every part of us, even the terrible parts that we would never think of posting on Facebook. And instead of rejecting us, we are told in Romans 5:8 that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Because of Jesus’ death for us, we can KNOW God, not just know about Him. Furthermore, in God and His Word we find the wisdom that we truly need to live in this world, a wisdom that can not be learned simply by reading the endless volumes of “knowledge” to be found on our smartphone.

 Finally, as we see the truth about our sin and God’s amazing grace and love, we realize that we should not be in the center of the universe – He should. And so we can use our smartphone not as a device to serve our kingdom, but to help us better serve His kingdom. Sometimes that will mean putting it away in order to truly spend time with Him, with others, or just unplugged so that we can be more aware of our world or spend our time on other important things. And other times it will mean filling our smartphone with apps that help us to better love and serve Him, and better love and serve others.

What do you think? How has your smartphone, and the online world it connects you to, been a positive or negative thing in your life?

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