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Are Dumbphones Actually Smarter?

Last week, an innovatively strange new phone drew quite a bit of attention. In the span of just a few days, the Light Phone 2’s crowd-funding campaign raised nearly one million dollars, more than tripling its stated goal.   

What makes this phone unusual is not what it does, but what it doesn’t do. It cannot access the internet. There’s no YouTube. You can’t even check email. The marketing promises that this is a “phone that respects you,” because it encourages you to spend less time staring at a screen and more time experiencing life. It is meant as a kind of protest against our daily addictive habits. And if the initial response is any indication, its creators are on to something.

Hebrews 12 tells us as we run the “race” of faith, we must get rid of every weight that slows us down. I remember once hearing a preacher helpfully point out that this verse specifies two types of hindrances that we should remove. There are sins that entangle us (which we should repent of). And there are other, non-sinful behaviors, perhaps even good behaviors, that are also capable of hindering us. These too we should cast aside.

I suspect that for many of us (myself included), our smartphone usage is an example of the second category. In and of themselves, our smartphones are good and useful tools. But it can become all too easy to fill every spare minute with checking email, viewing social media, or occupying ourselves in other ways with the mind-numbing stuff that we find on our screens. And so we become perennially distracted, rendered almost incapable of noticing God’s grace constantly being shown to us. Our IPhones and Androids are slowly siphoning away all of our attention from the glory of God.

If the structure of our lives makes a smartphone necessary, what are ways that we might at least “cast aside” our unhelpful usage patterns? How might we make our phones less addictive and distracting to us? I think this would be a great discussion to have together, as I suspect many of us are asking this very question. Here are three steps that I personally have found helpful: 

  1. Remove all unnecessary apps and limit the notifications. Social media is one of the main reasons many of us get distracted by our phones. If we remove those apps, and perhaps also stop email notifications, this can significantly change our relationships to our smartphones.
  2. Put some distance between you and your phone. When you are home, pull your phone out of your pocket and allow it to be a room or two away. Especially important: try to avoid having your phone charging next to your bed. It’s better if your phone isn’t the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing at night.
  3. Go grayscale. Okay, this is perhaps a bit too much for some, but there is a good amount of evidence that viewing the things on your phone only in black and white actually makes your phone less addictive. Try it and see what you think.

Smartphones are fine, even good at times. But they also create a danger for our souls. For you and me to grow and “run the race” well, we need daily to “fix our eyes on Jesus” and be attentive to what he is teaching us. This may not require us purchasing a Light Phone. But for me at least, it does mean being more careful with my phone habits.   

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