While it is common to find Christian books that fall short of, or meet their stated goals, It’s rare that I find one that transcends its own stated purpose. The clickbait-titled “12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.” is one such book.
This may be a function of my own very low expectations on beginning the book, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of being a string of barely related pseudo-facts, the book is a tightly reasoned, astute and solidly Biblical examination of the issues raised for Christians by the now near-ubiquitous use of smartphones.
While the book does actually match its title, and gives 12 things that happen to the Christian through their use and ownership of a phone, it does so with clear knowledge of the science, philosophy and cultural theory bearing on the subject. All of this knowledge is then brought under the direct tutelege of a consistent reading of scripture, providing a useful guide for Christians thinking through the use of mobile phones.
All of this is to simply say that the book meets its stated goal.
More than all of this, however, by being a biblically astute, thoughtful and honest examination of the themes of media in the smartphone age, it seems to do what Neil Postman did for media theory in his seminal work “Amusing Ourselves to Death”; it gives a model for thinking through the issues (though, spoiler alert, Reinke pointedly critique’s Postman’s views from a Christian perspective).
It remains to be seen if Tony Reinke’s work will match the longevity and use that Postman’s work received well after its release, and after the technology it spoke of has lost its cultural pride of place (the Biblically-oriented Christian community is much more of a niche market). However, a Christian seeking to think through smartphone use, and indeed any social technology, would be well served to give this little book a thoughtful read.
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” Proverbs 29:9
“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.” – Proverbs 17:10
One of the advantages of living in east Asia is that election results I’d have to stay up late to hear when I was back in Canada, come in at pretty regular intervals during my waking hours in Korea. It’s even better when it’s during a US election, which tends to have interesting commentaries, and honestly has very little to do with me, a Canadian expatriate.
That said, it also gives me an opportunity to see the opinions of friends of mine as they express their own understanding of the situation in the US. To be blunt, very few wind up agreeing with me on much of anything when it comes to politics, which is honestly okay, because I’m not too worried about being silenced for my difference of opinion quite yet.
That said, I have been noticing a very troubling trend in public discourse over the last little while. I don’t think it’s a new thing, just something I’ve only noticed recently.
It has become common to make moral judgements about people who come to different conclusions than you do. I noticed this first when I expressed my right wing proclivities to a friend of a friend, who said that the only person who could be right wing was either evil or stupid, and I was forced to ask which he thought me to be. Of course, he stammered for a while, since previous to this, he had had no reason to doubt either my love for my fellow man, or my intellect. I never really got an answer.
The reason he had made his statement, however, seems to me a rather common set of assumptions in modern western dialogue, and I think stems from a mixture of pride and a misunderstanding about intelligence. Quite simply, people want to be seen as smart, because in the modern technological age, it’s seen as very important to be intelligent, and to be seen as intelligent. You can see this most readily in the way people denigrate opposing positions (as my friend did) as “stupid”. Note that the problem isn’t that the opposing position is incorrect or dangerous or immoral, rather, the opposing position is seen as lacking in intellect, meaning that the person holding the position is also seen as stupid.
The problem is that this shows a fundamental failure to understand the nature of intellect. While it is true that smart people often know a lot of details about things, it is not the knowledge of details that makes one intelligent. Even less is intelligence marked by holding “correct” opinions about given subjects. The simple fact is that there are many very intelligent people, who for very good reasons, have held incorrect opinions; most commonly due to a lack of pertinent information (or a lack of seeing information that is pertinent as pertinent).
Intelligence is not marked by the ability to hold correct opinions, but rather by the ability to come to correct conclusions. This is NOT the same thing. Anybody can learn correct opinions and not know the reasons behind those opinions (which means they cannot adequately critique their own opinions). An intelligent person is one who, once given the necessary information, will be able to synthesize that data into valid conclusions based on the data.
Unfortunately, finding out about that takes a great deal of work. To know if a person’s opinions are intelligent based on that kind of synthesizing of information, you need to look at the information, and the person’s reasoning, not just the conclusion. It is far easier to simply look at the concluding opinion and make a judgement on that. Unfortunately, the result is that people who do that often then label conclusions that are different from their own as stupid without actually looking at the evidence and reasoning, meaning that the opposing position cannot do any work to correct errors in our own thinking.
This is compounded by a level of pride in society that wishes for us to see ourselves as intelligent. Being corrected is hard, and often not comfortable. It can lead to the questioning of cherished beliefs, or to isolation from a majority position, and is almost always a blow to pride. Thus it is often much easier to insulate our own opinions from critique, by grading opposing positions based on the conclusions rather than on the reasoning that got there.
This is why it is important to know, not just correct opinions, but the reasons behind correct opinion.
I think that is also why in the recent political movements in the United States, denigration of the opposition as unthinking or stupid became the norm, with statements themselves seen as being stupid without looking at the reasoning behind them (why do Keynsean economists think that government spending can stimulate an economy, why did a failed senate candidate think that the first amendment did not contain “the separation of Church and state”, etc.).
The question then is simple. Will we take the easy road of acceptable opinion, or the much harder road of humility and examination? Will we do the work of finding out why an opinion is correct or incorrect, or simply rest on the perceived intelligence of our own conclusions?
I fear in my own heart, I often do not answer that question well.
Sports: If I don’t begin with Korea’s advance to the second round of the World Cup with their 2-2 draw with Nigeria last evening, I might get lynched.
Freedom of Religion: Apparently in dearborn, handing out information about Christianity to Muslims is “disorderly conduct“. Some also worry that word choices among the Obama administration may reflect a desire to limit freedom of religion…. nah.
With the positive things dealt with over the last 2 days, it’s now a good time to give the basic rules for the (now fully moderated) comments section. I get to choose whether or not I post your comments.
I reserve the right to edit your comment (usually if your ideas are worthwhile, but you’re using language not acceptable for a family blog). Both publishing and editing are at my discretion (I choose). I cannot be appealed, and abusive followups will be met with blacklisting. I know that sounds harsh,
but after a few years talking about the topics I’m told polite people never discuss, I have had too much experience to be light on that. Following are the guidelines I’m going to use in grading comments. I will try my best to hold to these myself as well.
1) Don’t swear. Usually, I don’t demand this of people around me, but there are a variety of readers to this website, and some do not appreciate frequent f-bombs. Besides, it makes you sound like you can’t express yourself without an appeal to your possibly astounding command of the profane vernacular. Since I also have many readers for whom English is not their first language, I also don’t want to explain many of the terms, especially to members of the board of deacons.
2) Don’t be rude. This is a harder one to gauge, but still a hard rule. I do not want to have comments that you wouldn’t say to someone if they were sitting across from you, and neither of you were drunk or stoned. This means I don’t want you to call people names.
3) Don’t get snooty. Again, a bit subjective, but I know that I’m not a complete idiot, and I know that many of my readers are much smarter than I am. On the internet, you don’t know which ones are which. (“kutiepi314” might actually be a triple PhD in topics related to the one you’re trying to lecture them on). I also don’t want to clean up the mess if the J-School grad word-ninjas decide to take you down a peg using their finely sharpened lexical skills. Take the linguistic fisticuffs outside.
4) Respect others. Even if people don’t use the best words, and even if they seem less intelligent, they may still be right in their comments. We live in a universe in which intelligence does not guarantee truth. Smart people can be wrong, morons can be right. Assume the best of those that disagree with you, and you might be surprised and learn something.
5) Explain yourself. In this I mean, try to avoid using terms of art, or words that not everybody understands. I’ll explain further tomorrow when I do “a word on using logic”. For now, however, just remember that non-sequiter and ad hominium are latin, and very few people speak latin these days. It’s more fruitful if you actually tell us why a given statement is illogical than using the phrase “that’s a clear non-sequiter”. You can still use the term, but I’ll need to hear why you think the statement in question has no bearing on the argument.
I pray this will keep our conversations civil. :-)