Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You


12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke is an excellent resource for all of us to thoroughly consider the impact that our phones are having on our lives.  What is so refreshing about Reinke is that he isn’t one of those that says to throw your phone into the river or freeze it in a block of ice, he simply challenges the reader to carefully consider a philosophy and theology of how to keep our focus on the Lord rather than bowing down to the demands of distraction.  It’s a phone today and it will be something else tomorrow.

I’m always so grateful for a book that points straight to Scripture and this is definitely one of those books.  Reinke writes for Desiring God and there is a good bit of influence from John Piper woven in through interviews and other things that Piper has written over the years about the glory of God.

I’d recommend this book to anyone that is living in the tension of the phone generation.  I’d especially recommend it to someone that isn’t feeling that tension…because you need to be aware of the choices you are making.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • “If you live long enough, pray earnestly, and keep your focus on the imperishable word of God, you can be spared the slavery to newness.  Over time, you can watch something wonderful happen.  You can see overweening fascination give way to sober usage.  You can watch a toy become a tool; a craze become a coworker; a sovereign become a servant.  To cite Tony’s words—and his aim— you can watch the triumph of useful efficiency over meaningless habit.” John Piper, p. 12
  • My phone is a window to the worthless and the worthy, the artificial and the authentic. p. 15
  • “This generation has the unique task assigned it of discerning what the new media are really good for, and that means, also, what they are not good for.  If they fluff it, generations after them will pay the price.” Oliver O’Donovan, Christian ethicist in Scotland p. 19
  • How can we who are most familiar with our smartphones do our best to flesh out the consequences? p. 19
  • A moment of guilt can be a powerful motivator, but it won’t last.  As time wears on and guilt subsides, we revert to old behaviors. p. 21
  • “Be harsh with yourself at times.” Seneca, Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, trans. Robin Campbell (New York: Penguin, 2015), 67. p. 23
  • Too often what my phone exposes in me is not the holy desires of what I know I should want, not even what I think I want, and especially not what I want you to think I want.  My phone screen divulges in razor-sharp pixels what my heart really wants.  The glowing screen on my phone projects into my eyes the desires and loves that live in the most abstract corners of my heart and soul, finding visible expression in pixels of images, video, and text for me to see and consume and type and share.  This means that whatever happens on my smartphone, especially under the guise of anonymity, is the true expose’ of my heart, reflected in full-color pixels back into my eyes.  Honestly, this may explain the passcode.  To get into a phone is to peek into the interior of another’s soul, and we may be too ashamed for others to see what we clicked and opened and chase around online.  p. 27
  • Between the muddy rural beginning of the garden and the gleaming urban finale, we must fill in the story, because that’s where we find ourselves: east of Eden, west of the Great City, journeying now in God’s sovereignly guided history, holding smartphones.  As the broader history of technology unfolds, the Bible teaches us nine key realities we must rehearse to ourselves in the digital age.
  1. Technology modifies creation
  2. Technology pushes back the results of the fall
  3. Technology establishes human power
  4. Technology helps to edify souls
  5. Technology upholds and empowers our bodies
  6. Technology gives voice to human anatomy
  7. God governs every human technology
  8. Technology shapes every relationship
  9. Technology shapes our theology
  • We live under the threat that if we fail to embrace new technologies, we will be pushed aside into cultural obsolescence, left without key skills we need to get a job, disconnected from cultural conversations, and separated from our friends.  p. 38
  • 1 Corinthians 7 is the most detailed biblical theology of distraction and the pursuit of undistraction. p. 49
  • Distraction management is a critical skill for spiritual health, and no less in the digital age.  But if we merely exorcise one digital distraction from our lives without replacing it with a newer and healthier habit, seven more digital distractions will take it’s place. (Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26) p. 51
  • As in every age, God calls his children to stop, study what captures their attention in this world, weigh the consequences, and fight for undistracted hearts before him.  p. 52
  • Our smartphones amplify the most unnecessary distractions as they deaden us to the most significant and important “distractions,” the true needs of our families and neighbors. p. 52
  • Christians today still face real-life glory wars and real-life tensions inside the digital world.  So what do we fear more, the disapproval of God or the disappearance of our online followers? p. 74
  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 p. 75
  • In God’s economy, approval is something we must wait for.  Those who feed on little nibbles of immediate approval from man will eternally starve.  But those who aim their entire lives toward the glory and approval of God will find, in Christ, eternal approval. (Romans 2:6-11) p. 77
  • Is your heart set on becoming a celebrity in this life or a hero in the next?  Is time your daily nuisance, threatening to erode your significance, or is it your friend?  Do you want your approval and fame now, or can you wait for an eternal crown?  We all must answer these questions, and how we answer them will determine whether our souls find health in Christ or sickness in the spotlight. p. 78
  • Our joy in God is at stake.  In our vanity, we feed on digital junk food, and our palates are reprogrammed and our affections atrophy. p. 86
  • “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.” (Romans 11:36) p. 93
  • Sin lies about the future.  If I don’t grab this chance at glory now, sin tells me, it will be lost forever. p. 99
  • “Our smartphone addiction leads to creational blindness.” Andy Crouch, “Small Screens Big World”, April 8, 2015, p. 101
  • “When you had your smartphone, you were a walking vending machine of whatever you’d ingested that day.  It was difficult to talk about deeper things that mattered, because you were constantly distracted by Internet litter.  You’re now able to focus and give necessary attention to deeper issues.  More of what we talk about comes from the heart rather than your Twitter feed.” wisdom from his wife, Andrew Sherwood, “The Sweet Freedom of Ditching my Smartphone”, All Things for Good,, Jan 21, 2016 p. 117
  • Isolation + feeding on vanity = soul-starving loneliness Isolation + communion with God = soul-feeding solitude p. 128
  • “Permit not your minds to be easily distracted, or you will often have your devotion destroyed.” Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1878 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1878), 136, p. 128.
  • Anonymity is where sin flourishes, and anonymity is the most pervasive lie of the digital age.  The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for. p. 134
  • “It is better to enter heaven having decided to never use the Internet again, rather than going to hell clicking on everything you desire.” Sinclair Ferguson, p. 137
  • Digital consumerism is directly at odds with many of the most fundamental convictions of the gospel.  Spiritual authenticity is measured by faith in the unseen truth of God, not by confidence in the visible consumables of our age. p. 138
  • Like a head-on collision of freight trains, the gospel of consumerism and the gospel of Christ smash:
    • The gospel of consumerism says: everything you could possibly imagine for your earthly happiness and comfort is available in a dozen options, sizes, colors, and price points
    • The gospel of Jesus Christ says: everything you could possibly need for your supreme joy and eternal comfort is now invisible to the human eye. p. 141
  • It is worth reminding ourselves that the substance of our hope is not found in the latest visible spectacles on our glowing rectangles.  Instead, our hearts delight in and relish a Christ we cannot yet see, a Christ we take by faith, a Christ who is so true and so real to us that we are filled in moments of this life with a periodic and expressive joy that is full of glory.  Our imaginations must come alive to Christ so that we can “see” that we live in him, so that we can turn away from the visual vices grabbing our eyes, and so that we can live by faith and share a present joy as we anticipate the unimaginable future joy of his presence. (1 Peter 1:8-9, Jude 24-25) p. 142.
  • Our challenge in this digital age is twofold:
    • On the external front: Are we safeguarding ourselves and practicing smartphone self-denial?
    • On the internal front: Are we simultaneously seeking to satisfy our hearts with divine glory that is, for now, largely invisible? p. 144
  • We now live in an information deluge only dystopian novels is could have foreseen.  In the introduction to his landmark book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasted two very different cultural warnings, those of George Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  Orwell argued that books would be marginalized by data torrent.  Postman summarizes the context well. “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.  Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.  Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.  Huxley fears that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”  Huxley seems to have won.  Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), vii-viii. p. 145
  • The bigger challenge for us in the digital age is not the metal pollution of the information overload, but the nutritional deficiency of the content that has been engineered, like modern snacks, to trigger our appetites. p. 146
  • Solomon’s three solutions in the midst of all the noise:
    • Christians must identify and cherish wisdom (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12a)
    • Cherishing wisdom is a discipline of literacy.
    • Christians must strive for fearful obedience over frivolous information (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
  • We must embrace our freedom in Christ, as we step back from the onslaught of online publishing and the proliferation of digital sages. p. 151
  • In this digital age of overwhelming content, we must not relinquish ourselves to passivity or egoism.  And we certainly must not drown in a sea of irrelevant news and gossip.  Instead, we must learn to treasure what is most valuable in the universe—God.  When we turn to God, we find that the most precious wisdom and knowledge is not hidden under a mountain or embedded in the newest device, but found in Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:3)  He defines the purpose and meaning of all life.  He orients what is truly important and valuable for us in the digital age, and in every age. p. 152
  • While there are many “one anothers” in the Bible, “compare one another” is not one of them, and yet this is the direction we tilt online.  p. 163
  • As the Westminster Larger Catechism explains it, this is a call for “a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging their gifts and graces, defending of their innocence; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers.” Westminster Catechism Questions 144, p. 169
  • Life online is a whiplash between deep sorrow, unexpected joy, cheap laughs, profound thoughts, and dumb memes. p. 178
  • “While some might have expected the Internet and mobile phones chiefly to be used for the communication of information, their primary significance in most people’s lives is their provision for the communication of presence.  The Internet often feels a lot less like an ‘information superhighway’ and much more like a virtual village, where, through countless intertwined lines of relationship, everyone is minding everyone else’s business.”  Alastair Roberts, “Twitter is like Elizabeth Bennet’s Meryton,” Mere Orthodoxy, (August 18, 2015), p. 183
  • Remembering is a key verb of the Christian life.  We recall our past, we correct our nearsightedness, we take heart, we regain mental strength, we find peace in the eternal Word.  Remembering is one of the key spiritual disciplines we must guard with vigilance amid the mind-fragmenting and past-forgetting temptations of the digital age.  p. 188
  • What I am coming to understand is that this impulse to pull the level of a random slot machine of viral content is the age-old tactic of Satan.  C.S. Lewis called it the “Nothing” strategy in his Screwtape Letters.  It is the strategy that eventually leaves a man at the end of his life looking back in lament: “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” 
This “Nothing” strategy is “very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years, not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 60., p. 191
  • In an act of courageous self-criticism, I must ask three questions:
    • ENDS: Do my smartphone behaviors move me toward God or away from him?
    • INFLUENCE: Do my smartphone behaviors edify me and others, or do they build nothing of lasting value?
    • SERVITUDE: Do my smartphone behaviors expose my freedom in Christ or my bondage to technique? p. 194
  • We will benefit from returning often to the challenge of Francis Shaeffer, who said: “Christians have two boundary conditions: (1) what men can do, and (2) what men should do.  Modern man does not have the latter boundary.” Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 1, A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982), 369. p. 196
  • Our greatest need in the digital age is to behold the glory of the unseen Christ in the faint blue glow of our pixelated Bibles, by faith.  (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6) But in the new creation, in God’s finished city, we will enjoy the blazing splendor of Christ, by sight.  This moment will mark the pinnacle of our lives, when we are transfigured into perfect image bearers of God. (1 John 3:2)  In this beatific vision, our souls will be ravished and joy will spill over from our hearts forever in a night-free eternity.  The new creation will fulfill Jesus’s longing and prayer that we would dwell with him, not merely for a splendid moment, (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36), but permanently, in the light of his unfading glory. p. 210

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