The Moral Importance of the iPhone

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?

  • Steve

    Then there is the question of finances that isn’t even considered. How much will I spend this year on my data package?

  • David

    I’m a geek by trade. But (especially) computer technology vexes me. I’m bothered by how the distraction of smartphones crept into my own habits, and then how others are distracted from the Present by their phones. I’ve had to draw some clear personal lines when it comes to technology. A few include: 1) no headphones when my family is home or when I’m working outside. It’s amazing what you notice when you listen to ambient noise. 2) No phones during home group. We lead a small church Bible study and have noticed that (of course) a house full of teenagers wouldn’t interface with each other because they were so busy looking at smartphone screens. But many of the adults aren’t much better. 3) No technology (including books!) at the dinner table. And we will not answer ringing phones during dinner. This is just old school, but an increasing temptation with text messaging, twitter, and FB.

    I’d like to hear what limits others place on their phone time or technology time and how it’s enriched their relationships or what, if any, backlash they’ve experienced.

  • Ray Siler

    Great questions John. It is just amazing how hard it is to really disconnect and limit something that is so multifunctional and connects us to so much information. My wife and I are trying/failing to keep iphones only in our office and entryway. We plan to start wifi free weekends soon.

  • chad m

    what a great question! the TV issue we settled a few years ago when we saw how easy it was to put shows on and pacify our children. we quickly cancelled cable. now we have the beast of the internet, iPad, and iPhones.

    i particularly appreciate your use of the word “portal” here. i recall reading a New York Times piece about our inability to creatively think or use “down time” to process conversations, upcoming business, etc because we don’t have “down time.” instead, we fill all time with games, apps, and other junk on our phones. i find myself bored at stop lights wondering whether i should check Facebook, email, text someone, check baseball scores, or maybe play a quick word in Words With Friends. it’s crazy. what did we do before these things, all those years ago?!