Brian Cooke, our team leader on the World Race, told me the smart phone situation was terrible. “We were in Africa. When we’d have a spare moment, the team would all get on their iPhones. They were distracted and wasting their time. It killed me – as a leader, I was broken over the issue. They were there to serve and to grow, but they couldn’t stay present.”
So what are we to do about this? It’s become a real problem. People go on the World Race to solidify their identity, learn to do community, and learn how to live a great life. But smart phones get in the way.
As I spell out here, we need to first leave or abandon the things that have have come to define us if we are to allow God to redefine us in his image. Consider the things that we need to abandon:
- The false self
- Consumer spirituality
- Victim attitudes
- Negative relationships
The Divine exchange
In their place, God wants to give us a deeper relationship with him. He wants to confirm our identity as a son or a daughter. He wants to connect us to a life-giving community. He wants to show us the world in all of its glory and pain.
He wants us to partner with him in bringing the Kingdom of light and grace to dark places.
What spectacular gifts these are! How awesome to take in the glory of God’s creation wherever you are in the world! How incredible is it to go from a place of insecurity and angst to feeling the depth of God’s great love for you.
And all God is asking for is a little space. Space to connect. Space to notice other people. Space to hear his still, small voice.
Leaving things that have come to define us can make our lives uncomfortable. As comfort-seeking creatures, we rebel. The smart phone is like a little electronic security blanket. It creates a portable comfort zone for racers no matter how far they are from home.
When we started the World Race ten years ago, this wasn’t an issue. Racers always brought their computers along, but they didn’t interrupt life as much. PCs required time to boot up. They required wifi and a place to sit. Then in 2007, Steve Jobs rolled out the iphone and everything changed.
Smartphones have become ubiquitous. Gradually they have come to occupy an ever-greater part of our daily living. It used to be we restricted our computer time to primarily productive activity – our work life. Now, with the advent of Facebook and social media, we can live the rest of our lives online as well.
Smart phones are impacting people in a number of subtle ways. At family dinners they get in the way of conversation. In schools they are impairing learning. A recent study showed that schools that ban students from carrying phones see a clear improvement in their test scores, according to a study by the London School of Economics.
“We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days,” researchers Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Beland told Money Magazine.
And then there are the truly destructive things a smart phone can do. The vast majority of young men struggle with pornography. For guys like that, packing an iphone can be like carrying a copy of Playboy with them.
The smart phone can be a wonderful tool – a camera, a device to do research, and a means of communication. But it can also be a source of constant temptation. If racers have the ability to self-govern, that is, to resist the temptation, then it can serve a good purpose. But in the absence of self-governance, the temptation can be overwhelming.
So here are our options for the World Race.
1. Ban the smart phone. Problem: Racers never learn self-governance and resent this kind of top-down rule-setting.
2. Assume self-governance. Problem: They are addicted and can’t self-govern.
3. Set strong boundaries. Problem: Someone has to be the policeman. It’s a thankless task.
Prove it or lose it. In the best of all possible worlds, the racers would have the chance to demonstrate their self-governance (see the video below for an example). If they fail, then they lose the privilege.
All our lives we face temptations and need to learn how to practice self-control. What are your thoughts on how we deal with this issue?
(Edit) Be sure to read the follow-up:
The Smartphone Issue is Bigger Than We Realized
Smart Phones & Mission Trips