Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best way to summarize this book is probably to let the author do it.

In the last twelve chapters, I have warned against twelve corresponding ways in which smartphones are changing us and undermining our spiritual health:

– Our phones amplify our addiction to distractions (chapter 1), and thereby splinter our perception of our place in time (12).
– Our phones push us to evade the limits of embodiment (2) and thereby cause us to treat one another harshly (11).
– Our phones feed our craving for immediate approval (3) and promise to hedge against our fears of missing out (10).
– Our phones undermine key literary skills (4) and, because of our lack of discipline, make it increasingly difficult for us to identify ultimate meaning (9).
– Our phones offer us a buffet of produced media (5) and tempt us to indulge in visual vices (8).
– Our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7).

Sounds pretty dire. But Reinke is, at heart, a technophile, not a technophobe; and he doesn’t conclude from these dangers that every Christian needs to smash his smartphone. He offers positive practices in place of the negative.

Along the way, I have also attempted to commend twelve life disciplines we need to preserve our spiritual health in this smartphone age:
– We minimize unnecessary distractions in life to hear form God (chapter 1) and to find our place in God’s unfolding history (12).
– We embrace our flesh-and-blood embodiment (2) and handle one another with grace and gentleness (11).
– We aim at God’s ultimate approval (3) and find that, in Christ, we have no ultimate regrets to fear (10).
– We treasure the gift of literacy (4) and prioritize God’s Word (9).
– We listen to God’s voice in creation (5) and find a fountain of delight in the unseen Christ (8).
– We treasure Christ to be molded into his image (6) and seek to serve the legitimate needs of our neighbors (7).

A few more thoughts:

One question that really stuck out to me, toward the end of the book: do I deserve to spend time on social media trivialities right now? Sobering.

Another question Reinke pressed on me helpfully is one I have to ask all the time, especially in my line of work as a professional blogger: do I have an unhealthy interest in validation-through-social-shares? That one’s tough when your job description involves increasing social shares.

Chapter 11 was really excellent, about slander and “outrage porn.”

In an age when anyone with a smart phone can publish dirt on anyone else, we must know that spreading antagonistic messages online with the intent of provoking hostility without any desire for resolution is what the world calls “trolling,” and the New Testament calls “slander.”

I sometimes wonder how much of our society’s public worry (and public kvetching) over the dangers of technology will seem quaint to our great grandchildren—like those who worried around the turn of the 20th century that people wouldn’t be able to breathe if cars exceeded 10 miles per hour, because the air would be rushing by too fast. But we’re not our grandkids. We’re us. I can’t shake the feeling that the world really has changed, that the Internet has amplified our fallenness more than it has increased our virtue. The overall tone of Reinke’s book is one of gentle warning and instruction, and I think that’s perfectly appropriate.

This is definitely my new go-to book for wisdom on the use of consumer technology. (Dyer’s From the Garden to the City is a good complement to it.)

The reader in the Christian Audio production was smooth and serviceable, though (to be a little too frank?) a little too much like a male version of Siri for my tastes. This book called for reading with a little more feeling, a little more homiletical intensity. But I was able to go triple speed (is that ironic?) and understand perfectly.

I got this book for free for review purposes from Christian Audio, but they attached no strings to my opinions.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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