Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
First, I want to start with a quote that the author, Mr. Reinke, used from Charles Spurgeon: “The easiest work in the world is to find fault.” Mr. Reinke used that quote in the context of Chapter 11 – “We Become Harsh to One Another.” My goal is not to just find fault with Mr. Reinke’s book – I do have some positive things to say about it. But I also want to turn this quote back on the book as a mirror, because ultimately that was my biggest complaint with this book – I felt like much of it was just the author finding fault with smart phones and smart phone users.
Before I go further with my review, let me back up to why I found myself reading/listening to this book, and why I am offering this review on my homeschool website.
One of our church elders likes to tell us about good non-fiction books that he has discovered. I often read his recommendations and generally like them and learn from them. Last week’s recommendation was another interesting-sounding title that I wasn’t familiar with – 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I did what I do with the majority of books that catch my interest – I went to Audible and got the audio version of it – so I could listen to the book on my phone. I’m still mulling over the irony of that decision for this particular title, but I knew it was the best way for me to get to the book sooner rather than later.
I listened to most of the book during the week – while I was driving to swimming, driving to the airport in Nashville, and during down times on a family trip when the others were occupied). I like the fact that I can listen while I drive – that fact alone has allowed me to finish many great books in the last few years that I would not have had the time to read. (In fact, that was one of my first complaints about the book – Mr. Reinke went to great lengths to share the differences between reading a print version of something and reading the ebook version. But he completely ignored those of us who listen to books, which for some of us is our most frequent method of consuming books today.)
Because I listened to the book, I can tell you approximately how much time I initially spent with the book – just under seven hours. Was the book worth seven hours of my time? Definitely. Was it worth the price(s) that I paid? Yes, I would say so. Did I agree with everything the author wrote? Not even close. But that isn’t ultimately my measure for whether a book was worth reading (or listening to).
I think the author makes some really good points about the way cell phones have invaded our lives in these modern times. But I cannot agree with much of what he says, as hard as I might try.
Positive Points of the Book
The introduction was a little lengthy, but overall I liked his “Theology of Technology.” It’s good to be reminded that technology is not a new thing, nor strictly speaking a human invention. We have to give God credit for giving us the ability and the raw materials with which to invent things.
It is also good for all of us who use smart phones to evaluate how we use our phones, or as the book’s description puts it “Do you control your phone or does your phone control you?” And the author does give many suggestions for how to determine that.
Another quote from the book that I agree with: “I do not have ‘time to kill’ – I have time to redeem.” This is a good thing for Christians to remember, particularly in regards to our use of technology. Putting that quote on our smart phones and our laptops would probably be a good reminder as we make decisions throughout our days.
Additionally, it is good to remember that Jesus commanded us to love God and to love our neighbors. How we use the tools in our life certainly fall under those commandments. I do agree with that fact, though I often got the impression that the author was balking at the idea that we could use our smart phones in the obedience of God’s commandments.
Negative Points of the Book
I think the author paints with too wide a brush. He describes extremes of smart phone usage as if that was the norm. And while I know there are many who do abuse the use of their phones, I don’t believe it to be the case that the majority do. I’m spending the weekend out of state with my sisters and our mother. (We’re attending a family reunion tomorrow.) We’re all smart phone users to some degree (my mother, who is in her 80s, is much less so, not surprisingly), but I think it’s fair to state that none of us our controlled by our cell phones.
In fact, when I read the following quote aloud to my sisters, there was universal disagreement: “If we are honest, we use most of the time we spend on our phones for sharing jokes, GIFs, images, and videos, and for talking about sports, the weather, humor, and entertainment with our friends and family members.”
All three of us have children and grandchildren around the country and around the world. As a result, we all use our cell phones as a primary form of communication with them. No, we don’t necessarily use our devices to TALK to them, but we use texting, emailing, and WhatsApp to keep in touch with them. Most of our photo and video sharing is to keep up with the same kids and grandkids. While memory might be great for something you experience yourself (a point the author made when he seemed to dismiss the value of most digital photography), these videos and photos are what keep us in the loop with our families, and are something we are all extremely happy to have.
So, in answer to his question towards the end of the book, what should we do with our phones, rather than what can we do, for us as grandmothers and mothers, using them to help us keep connected to our families certainly falls in the should category.
Do I Recommend The Book?
So, after all that, do I recommend this book? To the right audience, yes. I think it could be really helpful for a family with teenagers (and/or adults) who are using smart phones. (Especially if some or all of said family members are overusing their phones.) My recommendation would be to read (or listen to) the book out-loud together, one chapter at a time. I can envision good conversations as families discuss the principles that Mr. Reinke presents. And in many cases, I can see it making a real difference, as family members evaluate how their phones really impact their daily lives! (Just keep in mind that everything he says is not going to apply to everyone!)
My Personal Usage
I do believe that for many of us, smart phones are a legitimate tool for many of us to use in our daily lives. Does my morning routine involve my cell phone? Yes, I willingly admit that it does. I check my emails, texts and WhatsApp almost as soon as my alarm goes off. (My phone has been on silent all night, and with family all over the world it is not infrequent to awake to messages.) I glance at my recent emails that aren’t from family, but seldom respond to them at that time, since I’m generally getting ready to get out the door for swimming.
One of the next things that I do is check the email that came in during the night from BibleGateway with the verse for the day. I always read the verse, and generally listen to the entire chapter that the verse is from. My one real “time waste” at this time is also to check the Audible Daily Deal – I seldom purchase those, but I listen to enough Audible books that I like to see what the option is. (I have encountered countless great books through the Daily Deals that I would otherwise not have known about.)
If I’m by myself, I generally turn on music or push play on one of my current Audible books. One of those will generally be on until I join other family members or get where I’m going (again, many mornings I’m heading straight to the pool). My personal rule – I don’t listen to my phone when I’m around others, unless we are listening to something together. I seldom deviate from that rule!
Later in the day my phone gets used for communication, research, my calendar and to do list, and only rarely do I get on Facebook (usually to catch up with family members, or currently, to check in with a writers group that I’m involved with). I don’t play games, seldom watch videos, or do any of the other things Mr. Reinke mentions. Could I use other devices to set my alarms and do all of the above things? Sure. But why would I want to? Just like the laptop that I do most of my writing on, my phone is a very useful tool. I appreciate the ways that it can streamline my life. I will make no apologies for that. If my use of it becomes problematic, I will certainly reconsider, but at the moment, I am comfortable with my cell phone usage.
What is Your Usage?
But again, everyone who uses a smart phone would be well served to periodically do a reality check of how that usage is going. This book could a good tool to help make that check.