First, a disclosure. I have an iPad and and an iPhone. These tools are wonderful helps to me. After a few double or missed bookings because my wife and I were unaware of each other’s calendars, this summer I synchronized them on these devices (after I convinced her to not use the large printed one anymore in our kitchen). In teaching, I love how easy it is to plug my iPad into the projector so my students can follow my notes. I just discovered the Doceri app (I’m always a little behind), which allows me to use my iPad as a whiteboard as it projects what I write on the screen. Having my iPhone on my commutes saves me invaluable time, as I catch up on phone calls, listen to SermonAudio, or even record sermon or blog thoughts (including these) that I speak out loud in the semi-privacy of my car. Though far from tech savvy, I am fairly integrated and love these tools.
Yet I am uneasy. My hand seems to reach for my iDevices automatically, without thinking. Some nights I stay up too late catching up on emails or just reading the news or blogs. I find it more difficult to concentrate in the reading of books, and relate to Nicholas Carr’s description of his own distracted reading in The Shallows. Sadly, this phenomenon has an impact at times on my praying and reading the Bible also, I believe. Sometimes, if I am honest, reaching for my phone feels like reaching for a needle.
So, as Mike Wittmer points out, when even a secular publication such as Time magazine contains warnings like the following in an article about the new Apple Watch, perhaps we should be more careful.
The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets overconnected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual–tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them–and the world has congratulated you for doing so.
Idolatry is defined as “a blind or excessive devotion to something; image-worship or divine honor paid to any created object.” Using God’s good, technological gifts is not wrong, but giving them honor that should be going to him is repulsive in his sight.
So how do we overcome “iDolatry”? The Apostle John ended his first epistle with a short admonition: “Little children, guard your heart from idols.” Following his example, here are five short admonitions to help you guard your heart in this area.
1) Do not rush to get the latest device. When Apple makes a new announcement, take some deep breaths. You can live without whatever they are rolling out. You already have.
2) Create tech-free periods in your day. Do whatever it takes to lock the devices away for a while so you can enjoy quiet thought, reading a book (learning how again!), and your family.
3) Train your children carefully in their use. A great resource can be found here.
4) Leave it at home. Enjoy going somewhere without your phone. Try going for a walk without needing to talk on your phone.
5) Let the sanctuary remain a sanctuary. If you are using these devices in worship, you need to ask before the Lord if the distraction is worth the convenience.