Driven to Distraction by our Smartphones
Last week on the daily Zoom broadcast from pastors of Trinity Reformed Church, I discussed general principals for how to be wise as we use technology. This week so far, I have focused on what we give our attention to. I’ve been honing in on attention because so many of us own a smartphone, and our smartphones are attention magnets. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2019 the percentage of adults in the United States who owned a smartphone was over 80%. It’s certainly higher today. So for most of us, from the first moment we wake up, throughout our entire day, and then as we turn the lights out after climbing into bed, our phone is our constant companion.
Tuesday I exhorted us all to give our attention to the Word of God, to Scripture. Yesterday, I said we need to be people who value words over images and this, too, is about what we give our attention to. Do we spend our time on the images of TikTok videos or the words of a book the challenges us to think and grow in our thoughts and feelings?
Today then, let’s turn to interruptions. Here, I’m not speaking about all the different kinds of ways we can get into trouble looking at or reading things on the internet that are wicked. That’s a topic for another day. Today, we’ll limit our focus to the common experience of our smartphones interrupting us.
The thing to remember here is that your smartphone is a tool. Its entire purpose is to help you accomplish things that matter.
Instead, we often use it for frivolous things that help us to avoid doing the things that matter. Why?
There are many different reasons, but let me suggest a few:
Pro 21:25 – The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work;
We are lazy. Creating reports, writing emails, designing flyers, working on spreadsheets, and listening to others can be boring and difficult. Instead, we watch a few TikTok videos.
Pro 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets!”
We are controlled by fear and anxiety. If you’ve ever written a term paper, you know what I’m talking about. The assignment is large and difficult, and therefore scary. Rather than trusting God and getting to it, we fire up Facebook and scroll.
Pro 26:16 – The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.
We are selfish and proud. Meetings are boring and our boss is an idiot, so we focus on our screens and texts, refusing to give eye contact or attention. It’s nice how Zoom makes this even easier. Anyhow, the boss is an idiot.
Matthew 24:12 – Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
We are thoughtless and loveless. There are so many children around the dinner table, and they are all talking at once. How about I just take a look at my phone. Of course, we are particularly thoughtless and loveless when we look at our phones while we drive, yet we do it constantly.
The whole world recognizes that smartphone distraction is a problem, so it doesn’t cost me very much to point it out again here. But I trust that if we begin to see the nature of our sin rightly (which the World certainly doesn’t) then we can begin to confess our sin and repent.
Now then, what practical steps can we take to fight the temptation to give in to smartphone interruptions?
- Put your phone “away.” This may mean putting it face down in the middle of the table when you’re in a meeting or putting it across the room when having dinner with your family. If it costs something for you to pick it up and look at it, you’ll be less inclined to do it.
- Turn on do not disturb whenever you need to focus for a time and get work done. There are some people who need to get in touch with you right now. Your boss. Your wife. Maybe your kids, if they have a phone. But when you’re in the middle of something, others can wait a few minutes for you to call them back. Trust me: no one is dead or dying. Really.
- Be disciplined about answering your phone and calling people back. This one may surprise you. Anyone who is 40 years old and younger probably doesn’t like talking on the phone and thinks they can get by without it. But actually answering your phone and calling people back – even if only to say that we can’t talk right now – is humbling and disciplines us to use our phone as a tool to serve others rather than ourselves. Imagine how you’d like it if other people were as rude answering and returning your requests as you are.