I held on to my dumb phone as long as I possibly could. I knew putting the internet in my pocket would be a dangerous thing. Instant access to porn was my immediate concern (I’m an recovering addict), but lurking beneath the smart phone hype was a sense that I would be entering a world of fallacy. I saw people projecting a fragment of their real life on Facebook, and their followers accepting that narrative as wholly true. Giving Facebook access to my pocket, I thought, would put too much pressure on me to perform.
I was the last of those closest to me to get a smart phone. In meetings at work and around the dinner table at home, I felt alone. Eye contact was a thing of the past. So was singular focus. I can remember awkwardly gazing around the room, waiting for anyone to undress themselves of the digital glow illuminating their faces. I tried to upgrade my dumb phone through Verizon, but every dumb phone option had expired. My “why not” moment happened with the iPhone 4. Four years later, I feel naked without it.
“The car has become… an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete” –Marshall McLuhan
Marshal McLuhan is someone I continue to study. Even though he died nearly 40 years ago, his thoughts on modern media should be poignantly observed.
“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values”
“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery.The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”
Smart phones are synonymous with social media. They are our main transportation medium into the digital world. They allow us to paint a portrait of first-impressions. Outsiders are forced to see us as we wish them to, not as we really are. Artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
“First we build the tools, then they build us.”
I’m glad to have my (currently) iPhone SE. This is the language our culture speaks. It’s how we communicate. So yes, as a church media producer I believe the church needs to speak the language of our culture. But wow, we need to be acutely aware of what’s really happening (ani-moticons? Really? Black Mirror, anyone?). When I pick up my phone, am I neglecting those around me and trading my real life for an artificial one? Because if you are, you’re likely in line for the newest promise of a “better” life.
The entirety of the gospel is pointing us to reconciliation with God and with one another. Right relationship is more important than right theology. Our digital lives promise real community, but in reality we’re more alone than ever. That’s important to remember as we all figure out how to cultivate our online worshiping communities. The best action you can take today is to step out of line and give a real person your time and focus. Maybe you’ll break your porn habit in the process.