Tony Reinke seeks to answer the question, “What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life (p. 20)?” Few questions are more pertinent in an age obsessed with technology in general and the smartphone in particular. While the smartphone was invented barely a decade ago (p. 15), one is now owned by most people and is checked on average every 4.3 minutes (p. 43). Reinke appreciates the valuable tool that the smartphone has become but at the same time recognizes the dangers. As a result, highlighting useful components of smartphone use, each of the twelve chapters zeros in on a unique danger. Some of the more serious dangers include: smartphone addiction, distractions, increased loneliness and isolation, living vicariously, illiteracy due to short attention spans, misplaced hero worship, seeking approval of people rather than God, wasting time, online slander, and secret vices.
Reinke does not recommend nonuse of smartphones, as least not for most people, but he does call on his readers to courageously ask themselves three questions.
- Ends: Do my smartphone behaviors move me toward God or away from Him?
- Influence: Do my smartphone behaviors edify me and others or do they build nothing of lasting value?
- Servitude: Do my smartphone behaviors expose my freedom in Christ or my bondage to technique (p. 194)?
In conjunction with these questions he adds twelve more:
- What does my smartphone cost me per year if I add up the price of the device, insurance protection, covers and cases, and monthly service?
- Do I need mobile web access to fulfill my calling in vocation or ministry?
- Is texting essential to my care for others? Do those texts need to be seen in real time? And is the smartphone the only way to do it?
- Do I need mobile web access to legitimately serve others?
- Do I need mobile web access to navigate unfamiliar cities? Is the device an essential part of my travels?
- Do I need my smartphone to take advantage of coupons in stores? How much money would I save instead without a smartphone data plan?
- Can my web access wait? Is the convenience of mobile web access something I can functionally replace with structured time at a laptop or desktop computer later?
- Can I get along just as well with a dumbphone, a WiFi hotspot, an iPod, or a tablet?
- Can I listen to audio and podcasts in other ways (through an iPod, for example)?
- Have I simply grown addicted to my phone? If so, can the problem be solved with moderation, or do I need to just cut if off?
- Do the mobile lures of my phone insulate me from people and real needs around me?
- Do I want my kids to see me gazing at a handheld screen so much as they grow up? What does this habit project to them and to others around me (pp. 197-198)?
Assuming that most will continue to use smartphones Reinke suggests twelve valuable boundaries:
- Turn off all nonessential push notifications.
- Delete expired, nonessential, and time-wasting apps.
- At night, keep your phone out of the bedroom.
- Use a real alarm clock, not your phone alarm, to keep the phone out of your hands in the morning.
- Guard your morning disciplines and evening sleep patterns by using phone settings to mute notifications between one hour before bedtime to a time when you can reasonably expect to be finished with personal disciplines in the morning (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. for the author).
- Use self-restricting apps to help limit your smartphone functions and the amount of time you invest in various platforms.
- Recognize that much of what you respond to quickly can wait. Respond at a later, more convenient time.
- Even if you need to read emails on your smartphone, use strategic points during the day to respond to emails at a computer (thirty minutes each at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for him).
- Invite your spouse, your friends, and your family members to offer feedback on your phone habits (more than 70 percent of Christians in my survey said nobody else knew how much time they spent online).
- When eating with your family members or friends, leave your phone out of sight.
- When spending time with family members or friends, or when you are at church, leave your phone in a drawer or in your car, or simply power it off.
- At strategic moments in life, digitally detox your life and recalibrate your ultimate priorities. Step away from social media for frequent strategic stoppages (each morning), digital Sabbaths (one day offline each week), and digital sabbaticals (two two-week stoppages each year) (p. 200).
Reinke is a Christian leader who is conflicted over technology and especially the smartphone. On the one hand he loves its usefulness and contributions to his life. As a researcher (he is senior writer for desiringGod.org) and author, it is invaluable. But he struggles to control his smartphone use and finds it often possessing and controlling his life. He has written this extremely helpful book for himself and others. This is a volume which could be helpful not only to individuals but as a teaching tool for younger generations.
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 224 pp., paper $14.89
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel