Smartphones need to be used smartly

Ryan NealCulture, Ryan Neal, Technology

Raise your hand if you own an i-can-always-be-found-Phone (aka iPhone).

Or a Crackberry (aka Blackberry).

Or some other version of a so-called Smartphone.

At the start I’d like to make it clear … this is not a Luddite screed, where I am hoping beyond hope to return to the “good old days” or the Pony Express or phones attached to walls with 30 foot cords. I am a fan of technology, gadgets, smartphones, etc, but I wonder if we use them as smartly as we should.

Ding, chirp, zing, ring, bleep, beep, zzz-zzz. The sounds phones make to get our attention are diverse, but our reaction to them is often uniform. The phone chirps or chimes or in my case sends out a sonar ping grabbing my attention, distracting me from what I was doing milliseconds before. And our phones are often successful. We get what I’ll call itchy, twitchy fingers. The phone beckons and our mind wanders and wonders:
o Who emailed?
o Who left a message?
o Who is trying to reach me?

Perhaps your phone is set with different sounds matched with different people, so you can avoid your mother-in-law and your boss’s attempts to reach you, but can easily answer the phone when it’s your significant other. But, this situation brings up a similar set of questions:

o Is the answer yes or no?
o Does s/he prefer Tuesday or Wednesday?
o Can they meet in 20 minutes?
o Is the report positive or negative?

In other words, the phone still promotes itchy, twitchy fingers. When my wife first got a Blackberry, her friends mentioned how it wouldn’t be long until she understood why they’re called Crackberries. It does appear that some of us are addicted to our phones. And then we enable this behavior by making our lives even more “convenient.”

You can set your phone to alert you when:
o Someone calls
o Someone emails
o Someone texts
o Someone leaves a message
o Someone posts on your facebook wall
o Someone tweets you
o Your favorite team scores
o And on and on it goes, where it stops no one really knows.

You get the point, I’m sure. You can identify with the image of someone addicted to their Crackberry or always close to their i-can-run-but-cannot-hide-Phone (= iPhone), whether it’s you or someone you live or work with.

Kris Barnett wrote a good critique of how constant motion can be damaging for ministry and I suppose I’m here to simply recommend something on a personal level like a “no phone zone” in your life, at dinner, your child’s soccer game, or some other time where you resolutely disengage from your electronic devices and the people who can reach you through them. (This used to be during worship, but in a growing number of worship settings electronic devices easily outnumber physical Bibles, and at my Sunday night Bible study about half use their phones or iPads and half use a physical Bible. Q: How long before people are more engaged with their devices than with God’s divinely inspired word … at church?)

These devices are meant to help us be more productive, but sometimes I wonder. Sure, there are times I am able to answer an important email more expediently than I would have in the pre-cellphone days, and I am sure I can work more efficiently, measured by the “two-birds-one-stone” productivity scale. But, and this is surely just directed towards me, is it really a good thing that I answer emails while my son plays soccer on Monday nights? Is it good that I can read emails at a stoplight? Part of me screams: “Yes, the triumph of technology and progress” while another part, thinks “Ummmm, this is not progress.”

I think that smartphones can make us more productive, but I fear they can distract and detach us from our immediate context. When we are in-touch, findable, and accessible by anyone who has our email address or phone number, I think we can be distracted from those standing in front of us.
It’s a little bit like being at a store when the clerk behind the counter says: “Just a minute, I need to answer the phone.” Then they proceed to help the person who called, rushing off to find something for the caller, rather than helping the person who showed up physically for assistance. Should stores get rid of their phones? No. Should we? No. Should we use our smartphones more smartly? Indeed.
I think our smartphones can, at times, actually hamper our productivity, not to mention our sanity or psychological well-being.

Sometimes I think instead of efficiency, I am just working more, not smarter, with my work just spread out over more hours of the day. Some days I leave work at 2:30 (insert snide remark here), and don’t return again until the next morning. Does anyone really believe that I am done with work at 2:30? My computer and smartphone keep me working for many more hours in between my physical presence at work. I suppose I’m just wondering out loud: is this progress?

So, if any of the above resonates with you … then might I suggest: for a few hours each day, and perhaps for an entire Saturday or evening out, un-plug, detach, become unfindable, unaccessible. Be smart and use your smartphone to increase your well-being and your ministry.

Create slots in your day where you turn your phone into the “i-can’t-be-bothered-for-a-few-hours-Phone.” Of course, ironically, you’ll likely need to enter these slots into your smartphone’s calendar, to remind you to turn it off.