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Electronic Devices: Servants or Masters?

Sometimes things come across your desk that stop you dead in your tracks, and you say, "That just can't be." And then you find out, "Yes, it can."

This happened to me the other day when I read a news release that said that at least 40% of Americans (and 90% of under 30 millennials) are afflicted with "nomophobia"-the fear of not having, or losing, their smartphones. This fear actually produces psychological and physical symptoms. One colleague said it should be called "no-more-phoneaphobia." Seriously, this is no laughing matter. These statistics reveal the extent to which technology is changing our personal lives. When people don't have their smartphones, they feel disconnected and isolated (72% of people report being within five feet of their smartphone the majority of the time.)

According to an article in Psychology Today (July 25, 2013) when people who own smartphones (56% of all Americans) were asked how they felt when they misplaced their phones, 73% said they were "panicked," 14% were "desperate," 7% "sick," and 6% were "relieved."

Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd reports that one well-respected study found "the urge to log into social networking sites" exceeds all other urges except "sleep and sex," including "drugs and alcohol."

All of us have observed, or experienced, people texting on their smartphones: in restaurants, at movies, in church, at lectures and even while driving (although statistics show that this is far more dangerous than driving while intoxicated). According to Mobile Consumer Habits (2013) 12% of Americans even acknowledge they use their smartphones while in the shower.

People feel disconnected from family, friends, and acquaintances when they are deprived of their smartphones. According to Junio, 58% of cell phones users feared "losing contact with others" if their phones were taken away.

The irony is that using smartphones to such an obsessive extent (checking them up to at least 100 times a day) leads to less personal relationship with others and vitiates the real, human face-to-face interactions in their lives. MIT professor Dr. Sherry Turkle, having studied the impact of our obsession with technology for almost two decades, has been sounding the alarm (most recently in Alone Together) on how our relentless electronic "connectedness" leads to an ever-greater emotional solitude.

There is no question smartphone usage (and addiction) is changing and altering our personal and family relationships negatively. And unless addressed forthrightly, the problem will only get worse as more and more young people who have never known a non-smartphone saturated world come to maturity.

As a Christian I believe that when God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," He was doing more than declaring man's need for a wife and helpmate. He was revealing that He made man as a social being, meant for fellowship with Him and with each other. That is one reason why in the New Testament Christians are told not to forsake the "assembly of ourselves together, as the manner of some, but exhorting one another" (Heb. 10: 25).

In other words, while salvation is personal and individual, God intends for us to grow in grace corporately with other believers, each exhorting and ministering to one another the spiritual gifts God has gifted to the various members of His body, the Church. It is only together in fellowship and relationship with each other that Christians can plumb the depths, scale the heights, and embrace the breadth of all God's grace and blessings for His people.

We must sound the warning that our technical devices can become masters-idols if you wish-rather than servants. And they can increase personal and social dislocation and isolation. We must bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10: 5) and that includes smart phones-useful and helpful tools, but never masters of our time and attention. That role belongs to Jesus alone.

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