I first realized that smartphones may be a bigger problem than I suspected when I saw a mother ignore her child in a cafe while fiddling with her phone.
I was flush with parenting joy and idealism after the birth of our first son, and so I couldn’t fathom why she was so checked out. What could be so captivating on her phone?
On the other side of parenting three kids and owning a smartphone that I use more frequently, I can see where she was coming from.
Parenting can be exhausting and kids can wear you down if you don’t have time for a bit of a restorative break. Some of us get drained a bit faster than others, and those same people often need a little personal quiet to recharge. Perhaps she had hit that point. Or perhaps there was something on her phone that she just couldn’t resist–it may have been a lot of both things.
I wonder if she feels guilt or shame about the time she missed with her kid because of her smartphone use. I sure do. My phone has served as a way to check out in stressful situations, which is actually a really bad way to use a phone by the way. Yet, neither of us feel as bad as the mother I met at the pool one summer day.
I say that I “met” her, but it wasn’t quite a meeting. Rather, I was standing in the baby pool with one of my boys while the other stood under the sprayers at the adjacent splash park, and her daughter toddled by in the pool.
The mom was engrossed in her phone, and her daughter tripped in the baby pool. I saw her tumble into the water and gave her a moment to regain her balance. As she thrashed and struggled in the water, I knew in a few seconds that she wouldn’t be able to stand up on her own.
I plucked her out of the water, and she gasped, sputtered, and wailed to the surprise of her mother, who was now quite alarmed. She couldn’t believe she had almost lost her baby to her smartphone.
I’m sure most of us haven’t had such an extreme experience with our smartphones, but it’s likely that we carry some form of shame or guilt over a particular situation or a general tendency to use our phones too much. Most studies of smartphone use find that young adults average four hours on their phones alone, and the Moment app estimates a typical user in any age group lands around three hours per day.
That’s a lot of time on our phones, and I wonder how many of us carry guilt and shame about this. In the Christian context, we may carry shame over all of the time we could have spent in prayer or Bible study or service to others. Heck, four hours per day for a year is easily enough to read the Bible in a year… twice or to get a part time job.
Guilt and shame can be paralyzing, alienating, and disempowering. As bad as we may feel about our smartphone overuse or misuse, there is one big thing we’re likely overlooking: smartphones and the apps on them are designed to hook us for long periods of time.
Our phones are linked in with an advertisement driven digital economy that puts a premium on attention. Your eyeballs are extremely valuable, and it should surprise no one that apps and phones are quite addicting. They are expressly designed to capture your attention.
What most people need more than guilt or shame is a simple plan for countering the addictive qualities of smartphones. We have a lot of smart engineers, psychologists, and venture capitalists working against us, trying to capture our attention for as long as possible. The more discouraged you become, the easier their job becomes.
Learn more about smartphones and space for spirituality in my next book,
releasing June 2, 2020 from Herald Press: