On October 18, 2011, a photo taken aboard a military plane of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was released. In the picture, she’s wearing her sunglasses and is holding her Blackberry. According to a June 2016 report from Politico, Clarence Finney took note of this viral image. At the time, he oversaw a State department office responsible for Freedom of Information Act searches. Recalling exchanges with colleagues over Clinton’s use of a personal email account, Finney took steps to investigate. His work eventually led to the email investigations that plagued the former Secretary of State all the way to the ballot box in 2016.
It is difficult to overstate the power of technology in our modern era. Even reading that sentence probably sounds boring and redundant. Here at Gordon College though, in a community of faith somewhat different from culture more broadly, there are occasional anti-technology sentiments expressed. Students get upset at themselves at a failure to stay focused and professors bemoan their pervasive presence in the classroom.
In extreme instances, some suggest an eradication of smartphone culture. I’ve heard some friends consider deleting their social media accounts. Some acquaintances have argued that without the constant buzzing of notifications, they’d be able to lead a more clutter free lifestyle. I myself have considered ditching my smartphone; the modern necessity of instant messaging and navigation has left me using my iPhone.
I’m just a sophomore in college, and while I’ve read several books on smartphones and their effects on our brains and lives, I don’t know the answer. However, we cannot forget the importance of sustaining a conversation about the greatest disrupter and influencer of them all. Here’s what I believe are the most important questions to ask when you use your smartphone.
- Are there people around me who I am ignoring for the sake of people who are not around me? It’s a poignant reality that we often like to ignore; a large portion of our time spent with friends is spent simultaneously buried in our personal screens. I’m not suggesting that if your roommate is around, you should never touch your phone! But periodically ask yourself whether you are forsaking quality, in-person interactions for meaningless clicks, messages, gifs, memes or likes.
- How much time am I spending in front of a screen? For the roughly 80% of college students who have iPhones, the recently introduced Screen Time feature allows you to evaluate how many hours you spend on your phone a day. Don’t be concerned if the number seems high; just try setting a goal for yourself and sticking to it with as much consistency as possible. Take breaks from your phone, whether they’re five minutes, five hours or five days.
- Am I on my phone to maintain an image with other people or enjoy content for myself? Looking at memes for an hour can be a great way to unwind at the end of a day; don’t get upset at yourself for wasting time if that’s how you choose to relax. Be sure though that the time you are spending on your smartphone is not centered around curating your social media image. Your screen time should be fun and lifegiving, not exhausting and overwhelming.
Asking yourself basic questions such as these can help you to formulate a coherent strategy for how to use your smartphone in a healthy way. Why? Increasingly, research is demonstrating the dangers of smartphone addiction and its potential negative effects on our lives. Consideration of the impacts on your mental health is important.
I encourage you to have more conversations about it with your friends. Take time to consider what’s happening to your brain, your friendships and your work. If you’re interested in learning more about the subject, there are two resources that serve as helpful tools to navigate the conversation.
First, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke guides Christians through a thoughtful response to the wave of technology crashing upon churches and religious communities. It is available online for as little as $6. For a more in depth resource that guides you through the broader cultural impact of technology, consider reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. While it is almost ten years old now, this bestseller is radical and eye-opening. You can borrow it for free from Jenks.
Hillary Clinton’s political career was arguably destroyed by her infamous misuse of technology. While your career is probably not on the line when you shut the world out and retreat to your phone, your mental health and happiness may be in jeopardy. Don’t allow yourself to constantly use something you don’t understand. Remain mindful and invest in real life relationships; they’re the ones that will last you long after your iPhone X is gone.