Smartphones and salvation

If you believe, as I do, that smartphones are some of the most powerful idols of our time (my iPod touch is the closest thing I've ever had to a golden calf), then Microsoft's recent smartphone commercial is striking for its salvific rhetoric. After a humorous montage of people whose attention to their smartphones causes a series of slapstick mishaps, the ad proclaims, "It's time for a phone to save us from our phones."

How will Microsoft's phone save us? The end of the ad explains that the phone is so fast that we can resume living real life sooner. A faster phone will mean people will use it less. Do you follow that logic?

The more plausible way for this phone to save us from our phones is that, since it's made by Microsoft, the product will inevitably be so faulty, buggy and unpleasant that people will vow never to use a smartphone again.

In any case, one rule about idols is that you should never trust an idol that says, "Oh those other idols - they're just idols. I'll save you from them."

Confession time: Are you willing to share your own story about the moment you realized your smartphone had crossed over into idol territory? Do you place restrictions on yourself to prevent this from happening? And is this a problem technology itself can solve, as Microsoft suggests, or is it simply a matter of being intentional about powering down?

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I asked myself that question a couple of times. I don’t think the phone is so much the idol. It’s work vs people. Here is why I say that:
1) I wrote down all that I do with my phone.
2) I then wrote how I did each of those things prior to the all holy & omnipresent iPhone. If new, I marked it new.
3) I then wrote down where I worked vs where I worked before on each item.

I found 2 things. 1) I worship work more than the phone. 2) While still navigating numerous things done on 1 device, I am able to be present for my kids more. It is easier to put the phone to sleep, give hugs or fix a train, and then resume work then it is to walk away from a computer and do the same.

Good question raised.

Uh, do you mean to tell me that having over 30 apps on my iPhone, reading my Bible on my iPhone, keeping a journal on my iPhone and spending much more time looking down is making my iPhone an idol? Psst! The nerve!

But What you don’t understand is that I have made a drastic change in my lifestyle and spend less time now looking down on my iPhone. You see, I got an iPad. It really did save me from my iPhone.  :)

On a more serious note, I do agree that smartphones and social media (yes, I went there) are taking a front seat in the altar of our hearts and we are letting God take the back seat.  One thing I’ve done to “test” my dependence on my smartphone is trying to leave it home on purpose one full day and see how I react. If I go nuts and I am uneasy, then it does reveal a little too much “reliance” on my smartphone and less on God.

I don’t have a cell phone to idolize, but this computer I’m typing at easily becomes an idol. Sometimes I’m so engrossed by what’s on the screen, I don’t even see the more pressing things sitting on my desk RIGHT BESIDE IT!

Thanks for your comments, especially the line about not trusting an idol to save you from your idols!

FYI: I used this ad as part of a call to confession during a worship service a few weeks ago. The prayer following it asked God to forgive us for when we ignore the world beyond our own noses (or cell phones). I blogged about it here:


excellent points and ideas .. I should try that myself.

so if work is the real idol, do you think it’s a more or less dangerous idol (than a smartphone)? what if you work for a Christian organization?

Is it a forgone conclusion that we must all have idols? The Biblical concept of an idol is a physical object that we worship ascribing supernatural powers to it. Idols are still present in native American rituals, occult rituals and in most countries of the world. They are not metaphors. If you have an idol in your life, I say you better get rid of it real quick…read Deuteronomy. I don’t worship my iphone, I don’t offer food to it, pray to it, dance around it. Heck, I don’t even really like it. They’re awkward to hold and speak into, sound quality doesn’t compare to land lines and I rarely use the super duper features and Apps. I just want to talk on the phone. And it lets me check my e-mail on business trips and access the internet. Now my Powerbook, that’s indispensable. Boy, that commercial for the Microsoft product is typical. They just never get it.

I think for me the moment I realized it was after having a conversation with a friend about my girlfriend complaining I was “too into technology.” My defense of course was my degree in communications and media prod requires me to be….up to date on technology. He pointed out that in the space of that 8min conversation, I had checked my BlackBerry about 5 times. I think we get these devices and we’re told, it will help you work, you can get your email wherever and it will solve problems. But it tends to create more problems, having access to everything at anytime, isn’t necessarily the best thing. It’s easy to txt someone to talk and never really talk. I think smartphones have become a result of our society trying to be more productive, we care about quantity, not quality. Jesus didn’t spend large amounts of time in one place, as soon as they started wanting to make Him king, he’d move on. But the time He spent there was quality time, not months. Smartphones can be an idol, because an idol is anything that comes between you and God. I’m not saying they’re evil and need to be destroyed. But we need to learn how to manage our time on them, so that we can correctly connect with the society around us and share Jesus.

Perhaps the fact that I don’t remember the last time I sat down to go to the bathroom without getting out my iPhone is an indication (I draw the line pulling it out at the urinal, though).

TMI?  Maybe.  But it’s confession time, right?

I especially appreciated Nathan’s post because I just jumped into the smartphone game about a month ago. I’m not sure I’m idolizing it yet, but it’s such a fun toy it does remind me of the obsessive giddiness I used to have about my playthings as a kid.
There are danger signs: I took it on a recent vacation because I knew the hotel had wi-fi, something I wouldn’t have done with my old phone. Then again, the ability to have our sister project, the Today devotional, pop up right away each morning on the phone has allowed me to be much more discplined about my devotional life. Not too many idols will help you wih that.

Best book on the biblical concept of idolatry I know of is We Become What We Worship by Gregory Beale.

Idolatry is the outward expression that we are more important than God. Feeding our will seems more important than seeking his.

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