Slow Church and the iPhone

John Pattison, at Slow Church, asks a good question that I wish all of us would ask …

In a 2007 interview with Arthur Boers, the philosopher Albert Borgmann makes the case that television is of moral importance. Borgmann says: “When I teach my ethics course I tell these relatively young people that the most important decision that they’ll make about their household is first whether they’re going to get a television and then second where they’re going to put it.”

I think for my generation and for the generation coming after mine, the questions could probably be amended to (a) “Are you going to get a smartphone?” and (b) “If so, what limits are you going to place on its use?”

These are questions I’m asking myself right now too. I have an iPhone. Am I going to keep it? If so, how should I limit its use? To use a science fiction metaphor, the iPhone is a kind of portal, one that can cause me to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually distant, even when I’m physically present. How often do I want to have that portal open?

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  • Thanks for sharing this one with us, Scot. I first encountered Borgmann and his thoughts about technology through Eugene Peterson’s recommendations in his spiritual theology series. Because evangelicalism tends to be so pragmatic, we do not always give thorough consideration to the intersection between theology and technology. Borgmann’s voice, as well as that of Wendell Berry, can help us with this quite a bit.

    While I am by no means a Luddite – I have an iPhone and an iPad – I sense a personal need for more thoughtful engagement and disengagement from technology. Technology has not simplified my life but actually has complicated it (as my wife would testify!).

  • John W Frye

    My observation of people in our metro-area is that the “sacrament of the present moment” is absolutely absurd. Almost everyone is walking around listening to something through ear-buds or texting or talking on a cellphone or fiddling with an iPad, etc. No one or nothing is “present” to them in their immediate environs. The sad *illusion* of “being connected” totally consumes them.

  • I recently got rid of my iPhone and feel a sense of freedom without it. I still miss all of the awesome tasks I could achieve (driving directions for one), but I also find myself actually thinking a lot more.

  • I think Andrew’s point (3) hits the head on the nail!

  • joey

    I came home from work one day about seven years and my, then, 5-year-old son was channel-surfing. Canceled the cable that day and haven’t gone back.

  • I have found this technology to be liberating and spiritually motivating. You Version keeps the bible at my fingertips. I use the alarms and calendar to keep me praying at certain times of the day. The ability to scroll through email while waiting in a line frees up more time to spend with others. I have also used the texting feature to elicit questions and reflections during my sermons. As with anything else, technology can be used to reinforce the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. But Jesus has overcome the world and even the smartphone. My iphone is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.

  • Doug, #6, your last sentence is quite good, and serves as a good goad for my approach to the iPhone and most other technology I use regularly.

    I think Pattison raises a sound point. Reflecting for just a few short minutes (not a very slow approach) I wonder if blogging is a slow medium. I rarely comment, because my first thoughts aren’t usually worth sharing and by the time I formulate a thought the blog moment has past. So it strikes me as a fast medium. Use it sparingly would be the counsel, I suppose.

    I appreciate the introduction to the blog. And will probably read it on my iPhone. I hope they will supply a needed reminder to, in Dallas Willard’s words, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from my life (a project in which I’m regrettably foundering).

  • Art Balis

    If you think you’re not addicted, put it down for just one day. I actually did this and counted reaching for it (and not finding it) 9 times in a single hour.

    I read John Stott recently – “Technology demotes a person into serial numbers punched on a card, designed to travel through the entrails of a computer- p 271 The Cross of Christ.

    I agree with comments on the ‘sacrament of the present moment.

  • The question in your post puts what I have been thinking into words. I have been researching the ways Christians can make sure that we are, as Al Mohler said today on his daily podcast, “on the Internet and not of it.”

    This is a helpful collection of tips for personal cellphone rules from David Murray:

    The idea of a tech basket has become quite popular, and I see it as helpful for creating a healthy atmosphere for technology in the home:

    This one is my favorite, the idea of a technological sabbath every week. There is a Jewish organization that promotes a National Unplug Day and has also created an app for your device to remind you to turn it off every week:

  • Allen Browne

    Rats! Here I am, reading your blog on my smartphone, Scot. Let me rethink this… 🙂

  • Tessa

    Don’t have an iPhone or a smart phone – it’s more economics than anything. Bought an LG touch screen Tracfone that comes with triple minutes. For only $200, I get 4,500 minutes (4.5 cents/minute) which is a great deal. My monthly phone bill averages about $23 thanks to this. No land line. Can text children easily. When I compare $23 to the $100 plus that my iPhone friends pay, I say no thanks to the convenience. I did have an iPod Touch which does everything the iPhone does, minus the phone. That was great, but it was stolen. So I smile and enjoy my Tracfone AND the low cost. It is enabling us to do more serious saving to the tune of about $900/year if I had an iPhone. (Oh, and the LG phone only cost $50).

  • i seem to remember the NYTimes doing a piece on our inability to process and think creatively because we’ve filled our “down time” with apps, games, Facebook, email, etc.

    thanks for sharing!

  • Melissa

    So true. If you are concerned about how media is taking over our lives, you should definately check out
    Can we find freedom in a media captivated culture??