Featured Columns

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech


In its march to ubiquity, the smartphone has eliminated the need to carry GPS devices, cameras, music players, Bibles, books, newspapers, alarm clocks, televisions, credit cards and more. But, as with most technology, this Swiss Army Knife of gadgetry is a double-edged sword. One side slashes away armloads of gear, consolidating functions into an easy to use package which simplifies our lives. The other side, however, is more like “The Blob” from the 1958 Sci-Fi movie—a monster that consumes our time and attention. Time that may have been spent in creative daydreaming or person to person interaction may be lost as we opt for a hit from Twitter or a million other sources. One author wrote, “People are carrying around a portable dopamine pump.”

I am certainly no exception.

For a couple of years, I led a team of people in a game we played on our phones. It started out very social. Most of us knew each other in real life and the game drew us together kind of like a church softball league. Occasionally, we would gather to have pizza, play table tennis, and take our turns with phones connected to the big screen. But over time, a few players ended up as part of a team of people scattered around the globe. Personally, I found myself investing an increasing amount of the fixed resource of time into my phone, which reduced the amount I had for those around me. When a couple of trusted friends mentioned how disruptive my phone use had become, I gave credence to their words and decided to look into it.

Like thirsty travelers, our varied online activities draw us again and again to the bottomless luminescent well in our hands. For many, the attraction is social media—the need to stay aware of activity in the lives of friends on a minute by minute basis. For some, it is the news. An app can provide stories from 20 sources at once and allow us to find affirmation for our views as well as “tsk, tsk” at those who disagree. For others, it is the need to watch cute videos of costumed cats careening off couches.

It is easy to be absorbed by this technological “Blob,” and find ourselves giving more attention to distant friends or strangers than to those right next to us.

This amazing little marvel demands our attention and melts time like no other as it delivers a comforting rush to our brains. It is easy to be absorbed by this technological “Blob,” and find ourselves giving more attention to distant friends or strangers than to those right next to us.

So what can be done?

I decided to start by taking an honest look at how much time I spent on my phone. A paper and pencil could definitely be used to keep a time diary; however, knowing myself, I understood that an electronic solution was more likely to succeed. So I started using an app called Moment. On iPhones there is a section of the settings app which shows battery life percentage and a summary of time spent in each app for the past day. With Moment you take a screenshot of the battery page each morning. It then plots how much time you give to each app and the total amount of time you spend on your phone daily. It is not perfect, for example if you use your phone while it is charging, then that time will not show in the battery use tracking, but for me it was a helpful look into the mirror. Moment also has coaching and reminder features to encourage you to reduce your time on the phone. If you have an Android phone, similar apps are available.

For me, seeing the actual amount of time I was spending on the phone was enough to provoke a change. I unplugged from the game and instantly created more time in my life for reading, walking, and those around me. If you are wondering if your phone is affecting you in this way, ask a couple of close friends, and try this exercise: when you are in a social situation, see if you can be the last person to bring out your phone. Is it difficult? Becoming aware is the first step toward being intentional with our time.

Smartphones are great devices, and many of us would find it difficult to get through just one day without them. But, like anything that can provide enjoyment, whether it’s TV, the Internet, video games, eating, or even work, we need to be careful that we have balance in our lives and time for ourselves and others.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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