I stared at the group of college students across the cafeteria as they ate dinner together. At the full table, I couldn’t help but observe how many eyes were glued to phone screens. The scene was saddening but not unusual in our society. When did eating a meal together stop revolving around rich laughter, deep conversation, and friendly encouragement?
Don’t get me wrong–I love my smartphone. I love that I can text, make calls, go online, make notes, and set timers using one portable device. It can be used for great things, from tithing online to staying in touch with missionaries.
But when we use our phones rather than pay attention to the people we are with, we communicate that we care more about our phones (and ourselves) than them.
I know that probably feels like a cliché, overused statement, but it is unbelievably true.
Honestly, I am guilty of doing this countless times. In fact, I feel guilty every time I pull out my phone while I’m with my family. I know I shouldn’t be scrolling through my notifications while I’m with my friends. But I do it anyway.
We do it anyway.
Isn’t Our Smartphone “Addiction” Socially Acceptable?
These days, having a smartphone addiction is often seen as socially acceptable.
After all, it’s okay that we’re addicted to our phones because everyone else is…right?
We can’t not use our smartphones because that would be wasteful…right?
We can’t ignore our online friends and followers because that would be rude and unkind…right?
I don’t think we can claim these excuses any longer.
The Damage We Cause with Our Smartphones
Are Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so important that we must shun those in our presence to respond to those we don’t even know? Is social media so important that we must neglect those around us who are crying out for attention and in need of a listening ear? Can’t that message, post, or picture wait for just a few minutes?
If I pull out my phone while I’m listening to or talking with you, I immediately make you feel disrespected and neglected.
I see kids staring at screens while their parents are talking to them in the grocery store. I see my peers walking to class with their heads down because they’re staring at a six-inch screen. I see a group of friends in the cafeteria pulling out their devices instead of having a lively conversation.
These behaviors are upsetting, but I can’t point my finger at any of these people I’ve described because I am one of them. I’ve shown disrespect to my parents, neglected those on my way to class, and been rude toward my friends.
A New—and Old—Way of Communicating
Even though I have yet to overcome my smartphone addiction, I do want to say that it makes a difference when you listen and when you pay attention. It makes a difference when you make eye contact, smile, and join the discussion. It makes a difference when you’re intentional in your conversations.
Instagram can wait. Snapchat can wait. Twitter can wait. Facebook can wait.
Social media will go on with or without you.
You may have a thousand followers or get hundreds of likes on your posts, but that has little value in the long run.
The Key to Letting Go of Our Addiction
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 NASB)
If I could sum up this passage in one sentence, I would say this: Be intentional by choosing unselfishness (Philippians 2:1-4).
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how easy it is to pull out my smartphone. If I need a self-esteem boost, entertainment, or comfort, I can get it with a simple click.
But eye-contact is hard. Smiling at others is hard. Having conversations is hard.
Which is why it requires intentionality to put our smartphones away and start paying attention to those around us.
Friends, we must be “intent on one purpose” (2:2). That purpose isn’t checking every text we receive, getting more Twitter followers, or posting the funniest pictures on Instagram.
Our purpose is to serve Christ by serving others.
We can serve others by making them more important than ourselves. We can start by choosing to put away our phones and caring about what others have to say. You never know how you’ll make a difference with your intentionality, but I know people will be impacted by it.
This post was originally published as “How to Serve with Your Smartphone” on August 22, 2017.