Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

“Unhealthy digital addictions flourish because we fail to see the consequences.”[1]

In 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Reinke outlines for us distinct ways in which our digital age and smartphone addictions hinder us, not only from human flourishing but, from spiritual growth and sanctification. This book served as a wake-up call for me. When we realize how much time we truly spend on our phones, this reality of distracting addictions boils to the surface; all of us, who own a smart device, suffer from these addictions.

About the Author

Tony Reinke is a journalist and serves as the senior writer for desiringgod.org. He hosts the popular Ask Pastor John podcast and is the author of Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books and Newton on the Christian Life. 

Review

12-ways-your-phone-is-changing-you-e1493048622504Reinke does such a wonderful job of conveying the problems we Americans have with addiction to our smart devices. In the introduction of this work, the author fleshes out the theological implications of technology. Much to my surprise, there is a great case given toward the implementation of technology in our lives, yet also a great warning for the ways we allow it to affect us. Reinke offers the view that since Creation, there has been some use of technology in the world. From working in the Garden of Eden to Noah building the Ark to the tower of Babel and so on, technology has always played a part in human flourishing. Although it was not digital technology, it most definitely served a purpose. He writes,

“From trumpets and temples to gold-edged Bibles, God intended technology to play an essential role for us to know and worship him.”[2]

In chapter 1, there is a gut-wrenching statistic given to open up the book. It tells us that we check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes. It is in chapter 1 that Reinke presents our smartphones and smart devices as distractions. It is all too easy for us to become distracted by our smartphone. But this distraction is not exclusive to communication and relationships, it also transfers over to our spiritual lives. Reinke argues that these distractions – that include the good things in life – place a veil over our spiritual eyes as we long for our reward and glorification.

Chapter 2 presents the subject of texting and driving. Though it seems a bit odd to list this problem within the context of the book, Reinke, again, makes a great case against it. He writes,

“Assuming a driver never looks up in the average time it takes to send a text (4.6 seconds), at fifty-five miles per hour, he drives blindly the length of a football field.”[3]

The title of this chapter is, We Ignore Flesh and Blood. What Reinke believes is that when human beings text – or use their smartphone in any way – while driving, they are ignoring the world around them whether they realize it or not. You and I know how easy it can be to lose control of your car if you text and drive. More often than not, people are swerving and running off of the road because they are texting and driving and ignoring the others who are closer than 10 feet in the lane next to them.

But the author also mentions that these laws are ineffective and I tend to agree with him. It’s not as if these laws are pointless, for they do serve a great purpose in trying to minimize texting while driving. However, the normality of what happens is the not the putting down of smartphones, but the lowering of them. You see, police officers can only see so far down in your car unless they are standing right beside it looking into the window. Therefore, if they continue to enforce laws that make texting while driving illegal, the result will be the opposite of what they expect. It won’t be that people stop texting, but that they will lower their phones to where no one can see it, which increases their risk of danger on the road.

Chapter 3 opens with this sentence:

“In the digital age, we can ignore bodies, but we can also abuse them.”[4]

Our digital age has presented us with an opportunity to love cameras and pictures. With this opportunity also comes the love of self, self-worth, and the approval of others. It was the Graphic Revolution that replaced our heroes with celebrities. But he quickly rebuttals,

“Time, not image, makes heroes.”[5]

You see, our digital culture has made human beings think that “likes” and “reactions” to our pictures give us self-worth and self-confidence. But in reality, they give us nothing more than narcissism.

Chapter 4 reminds us that when we become so distracted by our smart devices and our image, we also tend to lose our literacy of biblical knowledge. In fact, the statistics now show us that Christians are now reading the least amount of books than ever before. The result of the lack of reading books is the lack of reading your Bible. And when Christians forget or neglect to read their Bibles, spiritual growth and health subside in their lives.

Chapters 5 and 6 show us that what we feed on and consume is eventually what we become. Just like a diet, when we eat unhealthy foods, our bodies become less healthy. Similarly, when we possess unhealthy addictions to smartphones and smart devices, we then become like the things we “like.” Reinke references the 90’s era when everyone wanted to be “like Mike.” At some point in your life, you’ve probably wanted to be like Mike or some other successful celebrity. In times past, people would be fine with being themselves and not fitting in. In modern-day America, we find people doing the exact opposite and trying to fit in to find themselves.

The result of chapters 5 and 6 come into play in chapters 7 through 10. What happens when we “become what we like” is that we become “comfortable being alone” and “in secret vices” that our “life becomes meaningless.” Reinke argues that our being comfortable in loneliness is actually not realistic, for everyone wants friends and someone to sit with. He uses this video to illustrate in the book:

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9Tvik9nmV8] [6]

The reality is that all of us, apart from our smartphones, would admit that we like being alone but in reality, do not because we were created for so much more. The Lord has created us for community and relationships with Himself and with others.

Reinke ends the book with a wonderful plea to remember the examples in the Old and New Testament of those who got distracted from their purpose in life and also the good grace and mercy of God for sending His Son to redeem us. The last chapter of the book is an epilogue giving us exhortation on how to be “smartphone smart.”

Analysis

This work was such an invigorating read for me personally. There were many times while reading this book that I was tempted to pick up my phone and I had to constantly remind myself that I was reading a book about that very problem. Whether you don’t own a smartphone or if you own every smart device, this book is for you. This problem of addiction and losing purpose is not exclusive to smartphones. It is an epidemic in the digital age that must be addressed and corrected, for it may cost some people their souls and eternity.


[1] Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 43.

[2] Ibid, 33.

[3] Ibid, 55.

[4] Ibid, 65.

[5] Ibid, 67.

[6] Karim  Metwaly, video, “Lonely Homeless Man,” YouTube, youtube.com (June 19, 2015).

 

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