Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Neil Postman’s classic on the nature of television received the intriguing title, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). Jacques Ellul penned The Technological Bluff (1990). Now in 2017, Tony Reinke writes a fantastic book, filled with penetrating theological insight, rigorous research, and probing analysis on the nature of the smartphone and its users, and the only thing that falls flat is the less-than-alluring title, Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

In 2016, Time magazine declared the iPhone as the most influential gadget of all time. The world of smartphones is far different from the world of silent movies or Atari. To minister in such a world, the church needs an army of servants, teachers, and shepherds who can personally find freedom from lurking smartphone dangers. Only then can we assist others to handle these amazing gadgets to the glory of God.

But what if you struggle with smartphone abuse as I do? For instance, my smartphone overuse at home is the most common argument between my wife and me. My kids will sometimes stand in front of me and say, “Dad, I thought you weren’t working today,” while I sneak in a quick email. Quite unconsciously, in the middle of meetings (that in my pride I have determined as boring) I will pull out my phone to check my favorite teams’ sports scores.

To whom shall we go? Answer: Jesus, and Reinke’s book can help. This book cannot save you, but the God to whom this book points can.

Each chapter stirs our affections, challenging us to look away from our device and instead toward our satisfying Redeemer and Creator. In the end, Reinke’s counsel related to the smartphone turns out to be a tutorial on human engagement with all technologies.

With compelling sentences, Reinke forces theological inquiry in the face of technological temptation: “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?” He offers a well-crafted turn of phrase, one after another, such as, “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.”

Later in the book, Reinke argues, “It is better to lose the capacity to scroll for pornography than have your whole body thrown into hell.” Fitting words for someone like myself, greatly thankful that God freed me from a pornography addiction before the onset of smartphones. Sadly, this dark sin still shackles others with Tinder, chat rooms, and images squalling feverishly for lost souls in cyberspace. Others racked with crippling loneliness turn to their phones to deal with relational fears, believing the lie that through a few million microprocessors and network connections isolation will end.

So, read the book. Find freedom in Christ. And Crossway, after this book goes through its first printing, consider a retitling of the book (the existing title can serve as a subtitle), such as, Swiping Our Souls to Death, Seeking a Screen Savior, or iSwipe Therefore iAm.

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