Live Smartphone Smart

This past month I had some dear family members purchase a handful of books—yes, a handful, from my Amazon Wish List as a birthday gift. What a gift! One of the books received was Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. There’s a reason I had marked this book as a must-have and must-read: it is because I know I can do much better in using my phone.

Is your phone changing you? (It’s a rhetorical question, you know.) Check out a few of these quotes from Reinke’s preface and see if you agree.1


My phone is a window into the worthless and the worthy, the artificial and the authentic. Some days I feel as if my phone is a digital vampire, sucking away my time and my life. Other days, I feel like a cybernetic centaur—part human, part digital—as my phone and I blend seamlessly into a complex tandem of rhythms and routines.

We now check out smartphones every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives.

We can’t escape it, and probably none of us wants to escape it. We cannot become digital monks.

Every Christian is now given unmatched opportunities for online ministry… Even the most average Christian can speak to an immediate audience of two hundred or three hundred friends on Facebook, a reach unparalleled in human history.

Each of us faces similar questions about how to live healthy and balanced lives in the digital age.

[T]echnology is always an extension of the self.

To get into a phone is to peek into the interior of another’s soul.

Suffice it to say, we all could use a book like this in our hands. (But it means putting the phone down to do so!) I am grateful to the author for his transparent tales and theological truths. From the moment I opened to page one, my mind began to wrestle with the moment-to-moment utilization of this technology; and you will, too. There are ‘to-do’ and ‘stop-doing’ lists, staggering stats, and incredible interviews all found within its pages.

Near the end of the book, Reinke expresses what I believe to be the desire of each reader. It is the determination likely found in each person who will attempt this self-examination—to live smartphone smart:

For now, in this season of ministry, I will own a smartphone. But like never before, I can see how unnecessary the phone is to most of my life. I’m challenged to be far more disciplined than I ever imagined I would be. The writing of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You marks a new era in my relationship with digital technology.

Perhaps the clearest revelation of this project is simple: to benefit from my phone, I must not use all of the features all of the time. This is true because my phone is an open platform for developers to fill with shiny apps that promise me productivity or amusement.

[Francis Schaeffer 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.”]

Contrary to Schaeffer’s wisdom, we buy our phones with the unquestioned assumption that anything our devices can do they should do. Or, to say this more personally, we tend to fill our devices with a lot of nonessential apps. If this sounds weird, it is, because we have been conditioned to never ask the minimalist question: What is truly essential for my phone to accomplish?

We do ask this of other technology. Imagine me driving in my minivan. Based on the dashboard readout, my van can travel at 140 miles per hour (unconfirmed). So I could race the van every weekend on a local racetrack for fun. But that’s not what the van is for. It’s not intended to win races or to exceed speed limits. It exists to provide safe transportation for my family. To draw out the full benefit of my van, there is no need for me to use all the features at maximum capacity. If, in fact, my van can reach 140 mph (which I doubt!), that’s so it can travel at 70 mph legally, safely, and comfortably. There are unsaid limits to what I ask the van to do. Certain features serve my family—others don’t.

The key to balancing ourselves in the smartphone age is awareness. Digital technology is most useful to us when we limit its reach into our lives. The world will always expect technology to save humanity from its darkest fears, and to that end, it will submit more and more of itself to breaking innovations. But by avoiding the overreach of these misdirected longings for techno-redemption, we can simply embrace technology for what it is—an often helpful and functional tool to serve a legitimate need in our lives.

Take a moment to watch the short promo video below from the publisher. Is this you or someone you know? How is your phone changing you?

I urge you to pick up a copy.

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You from Desiring God on Vimeo.


 Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017). 15, 16, 18, 20, 25-27, 198-99.