The thing that does everything
History won’t forget the Apple Keynote event of 2007 when the first iPhone was unveiled. Steve Jobs teases the world with promises of, ‘Three revolutionary products.’ The first is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. The third is a breakthrough internet communications device. As we now know, there’s a twist to these three products. Instead of being separate gadgets, they are all functions of a single device: the iPhone. This supercomputer small enough to fit comfortably in your pocket became the focal point of entertainment, work, and social interaction. With the fast development of apps and better hardware, our phones quickly integrated into our moment-to-moment lives and altered our habits. We have tried to consolidate our lives into a single slab of glass and plastic. Everything from banking to shopping to watching movies can all take place on a six-inch screen.
With so much power and convenience at our fingertips, who would want to return to the days of pre-2007? But with over a decade of smartphone use to reflect on, could it have been better when we carried flip phones? That’s an important question, not because I’m nostalgic or hate technological innovation (I like technology), but because we are now feeling the social and psychological fallout of society’s newest idol, the iPhone.
An idol is an object of worship that promises to add value to our lives but ultimately enslaves us. Phones promise value, connectedness, productivity, and entertainment but also come with huge personal and social ramifications. Most ominously, suicide rates in children and young adults have seen exponential increases according to data that follows the exact trend of smartphone adoption over the last ten years. If you’re interested in the statistics, check out these findings from Florida State University.
Some might look at images of ancient civilizations bowing before golden statues and think, ‘I’m glad we have progressed beyond that.’ But what is the difference between worshipping an image of gold and the way we relate to our phones?
A neuroscientist ran an MRI test on an iPhone user’s brain and discovered that images of Apple products lit up the same areas of the brain that a person experiences when worshipping God.
Like worshipping logs
How would the world be different if we used today’s technology in more intentional and compartmentalised ways? For starters, maybe a phone should just be a communications device. Is that such a radical idea?
Technology as a tool should free our attention instead of claiming it. It should serve us so we don’t waste our lives serving it.
Isaiah 44 highlights how bizarre it is that a carpenter uses wood to warm himself at a fire, then, using leftovers from the same wood, he crafts an idol and asks it to save him.
We’ve been busy building idols out of technology that promises to save us – from boredom, from loneliness, from life’s inconveniences but ultimately our creations have the redemptive quality of a log, leaving us dissatisfied. I don’t think technology is the problem. The problem is how we have shaped it into an object of worship.
When we pick up our phone each morning we must ask, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’ From that place of awareness, we can focus our worship where it belongs. Our souls need so much more than a revolutionary new mobile phone, internet communications device, and touch control iPod all rolled into one. Our souls long for the Lord (Psalm 42:1). God blesses us richly. Everything we have comes from him.
So, we must remember daily that a log is a log, a phone is a phone, and only God is worthy of our worship.
Nathan Wilson, College Pastor