Happy to be Here: In defense of cell phones

Happy to be Here

Karen Bellenir

You’ve probably heard some grumbling about the awfulness of cell phones. We spend too much time on them. They sap our attention. They contribute to isolation. They lead to digital addiction.

You’ve heard the anecdotes. Holiday meals where people don’t talk to each other because they’re chatting on their phones. Couples involved with their phones instead of their relationships. Personal spaces invaded by the noise of videos playing nearby.

You don’t have to look far to find complainers asking people to reconsider the amount of time they spend on their phones. One that caught my eye was posted on social media by a Christian women’s group. It asked what would happen if people carried their Bibles everywhere instead of their phones. What if they went back to fetch forgotten Bibles, checked Bibles frequently for messages, used Bibles in emergencies, and committed significant time interacting with Bibles?

While I can appreciate the motivating sentiment, the argument fails. If you’ve got an internet-enabled phone, you’ve got Bibles in your pocket. For example, Biblegateway.com offers access to the text of dozens of translations. In addition, your phone can help you take practical steps to follow biblical teaching. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. If he’d had a cell phone, he could have summoned emergency help, located the best facility for treating an injured traveler, set up payments to cover care expenses, sent words of encouragement, and monitored the victim’s recovery.

Admittedly, phones can be problematic. They are sometimes misused in schools. Loud talking can disturb people in many situations. And, in movie theaters, they can be downright unsettling. When the second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out, I was sitting in a crowded theater enjoying the show. At a critical moment, when Frodo was being influenced by the evil ring, his faithful partner Sam intervened. There was a scuffle. In the dark, hushed theater, a phone rang. Then the actor spoke onscreen, “It’s me. It’s your Sam.” I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or a planned prank, but every time I’ve seen the movie since, the drama of the moment is compromised by the memory of that ringing phone.

Nevertheless, I’m a fan of modern cell phones, and I’ve got mine sitting beside me right now. I did a little exploring online to see how much time people spend on their phones. Surveys with different assumptions report that people check their phones from dozens to hundreds of times per day, accumulating three to seven hours of daily use. While this may sound excessive, consider the diverse range of things people can do with a phone.

My phone has replaced my bedside alarm clock, so most mornings, I start my day with a glance at my phone to see what time it is. I don’t wear a watch because I’ve got my phone in my pocket. It has a calendar that helps me keep on schedule. I don’t need to wait for my computer to finish spinning loading indicators to check my email because mail pops up on my phone. A special chime alerts me when my children send messages. My phone lets me check the day’s headlines, gather information about whatever topic interests me at the moment, and see if something I need is in-stock at a local store. When I’m driving, it can help me find the best route and avoid traffic snarls. Perhaps most importantly, it regularly presents updated pictures of my grandchildren. 

When phones are misused, the fault lies with the user not the device. And, phones aren’t the only pieces of equipment subject to misuse. In human hands, almost anything can be misused. Even the Bible. 

Some people misquote Bible passages to manipulate others. Some string unrelated verses together to condemn and dehumanize those with whom they disagree. Some extract lines out of context to make it seem like God supports their political ambitions.

Yet the Bible also offers a solution to the misuse of its text and anything else: Treat other people in the same way you want to be treated. This is from Matthew 7:12. I know because I looked it up on my phone.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.

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