What Are We Looking For When We Look At Our Phones?
by Ryan Plantz – Associate Pastor
Wake up. Look at my phone. Eat breakfast. Look at my phone. In the car. Look at my phone. At work. Look at my phone. Eat dinner with my family. Look at my phone. Watch TV at night. Look at my phone. Go to bed. Look at my phone.
One study shows that throughout the day, the average person checks his or her phone 47 times. Another study put that estimate closer to a whopping 150 times!
What are we looking for when we look at our phones?
A Longing to Connect
Think about the times you were at your happiest - deep in conversation with close friends; enjoying the quiet presence of your family around a campfire; holding hands with a loved one on a walk in the woods.
Notice that reading the heated exchange of two strangers on Facebook or endlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other people's lives didn't make the list?
That's because we've been designed for a deeper connection than our devices can give us.
God created us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27) and by doing so, created us with a capacity to connect with Him. We have been fashioned in such a way that we will only find contentment when we connect with the One we belong to. As St. Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
Furthermore, after God finished crafting the first man from the ground, He knew there was still work to be done. Man needed someone to connect with on earth (Gen. 2:18). Someone designed to compliment him and provide mutual connection and comfort. And so God made him a match. These two connected and they created others that were just like them. Others with those very same longings to connect and to belong.
Like that first man, we've all been created to connect and to belong. These desires have been hardwired into us by our Maker and there's a deep longing inside all of us to have those desires met.
Smartphones, Social Media, and Counterfeit Connection
The allure of our smartphones and social media should come to us as no surprise. They are beautifully designed, impossibly powerful, and they promise us the very things our hearts are looking for - connection and belonging.
But do they deliver on that promise?
In a recent article documenting smartphone usage and habits among teens, one writer makes this statement, "Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements 'A lot of times I feel lonely,' 'I often feel left out of things,' and 'I often wish I had more good friends.' Teens' feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since."
Smartphones and the apps within them have been specifically engineered to keep our attention, tapping into our God-given desire for connection and belonging. However, instead of meeting those longings, they leave us longing for more. This is because the connection we've been promised through our smartphones and social media is a counterfeit one.
Our smartphone usage and social media habits are making us less connected and more alienated from one other than ever before. We are lonelier, sadder, and filled with more anxiety because we're comparing everyone else's highlight reels to our behind the scenes.
Again - we've been designed for a deeper connection than our devices can give us.
Repairing Severed Connections
How should we respond? Should we gather all of our devices in a big pile and set fire to them? Not quite. There's a better way forward. Just because we may have an unhealthy relationship with our smartphones doesn't mean we must abandon them entirely. In fact, here are some simple steps that we can take to have a more healthy relationship with out tech.
1. Disconnect from the device.
When's the last time you spent an entire day free from your smartphone? Have you ever taken a break from the steady stream of information your connectedness provides? A first step toward developing a healthier relationship with your device is to disconnect from it for a season. Smartphone fasting, whether one day a week, or for a week or more at a time, is something that would be beneficial for most of us. "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything." (1 Cor. 6:12) A fast from our smartphones will give us perspective to check if we are enslaved to or 'dominated by' our devices.
2. Connect to God.
While disconnecting from our devices is a good first step toward developing a healthier relationship with them, it's not the only step. We can choose to say 'no' to something good, but our next step should be to say 'yes' to something better. Use the space created during your smartphone fast to connect with God. Remember, we were designed to connect deeply with Him. We belong, first and foremost, to God. Fill the newly created space from your smartphone fast with time in His Word and in prayer. "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" (Psalm 34:8)
3. Connect to others.
Finally, take steps toward connecting with others - in person and on purpose. Not only have we been designed to connect deeply with God, we have been created to connect deeply with those around us. Make an effort to intentionally connect with others for the purpose of encouragement and fellowship. Have a meal with friends, spend time laughing together, pray together. The writer of Hebrews encourages believers to not neglect, "meeting together, as is the habit of some, but [encourage] one another..." (Her. 10:25).
Let's put our phones down and look up - true connection awaits.