Lord, Deliver Us from Smartphone Stupidity

As the Internet goes mobile, phones and tablets have become symbols of our personal identity. But this latest digital divide could be bad for our souls.

The few times I’ve had the opportunity to preach on the topic of reconciliation, I’ve drawn from one of the many iconic Bible passages on the subject, Galatians 3:28 — “for there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is their male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

As a way to inject some levity into the conversation, before I get to the “one in Christ” part, I like to throw in a “neither Mac nor Windows” reference.

Or at least, I used to enjoy doing this. Because there was a time when that was, clearly, a joke.

That time is long gone.

In 2012, the iPhone vs. Android argument is in full force.

It’s been raging for a while now, as I referenced in last year’s tribute to Steve Jobs. But a new round of controversy erupted recently with the release of the iPhone 5. Apple’s decision to jettison Google Maps in favor of their own mapping program may have aligned with the company’s long-term interests (fending off Google’s Android OS), but to put it mildly, their users are not happy about making the switch.

And it’s touched a nerve, because not only are there plenty of iPhone owners lamenting the loss of Google Maps, but also plenty of Android owners gloating over the whole thing. I know because I was, at least temporarily, one of them. I didn’t call out any of my iPhone-carrying friends directly (mostly to avoid embarrassing flame wars), but believe me, it’s not because I didn’t consider it.

I mean, let’s be honest. There’s something delicious about seeing someone that you perceive as arrogant get their comeuppance. (I wish there was a word for that…?) And few stereotypes are more resonant in tech than the arrogant hipster who insists that the latest Apple product is automatically and universally superior to everything else on the market. It drives informed consumers crazy, and eventually they do things like create spiteful, R-rated animated videos lampooning so-called “iSheep” just to blow off steam.

The Foolishness of Smartphones

What is it about phones that inspire these levels of personal investment, adoration, and vitriol?

Maybe it’s their omnipresence. Just about everyone has one, and they are either central or peripheral players in many of the basic things we do every day. We use our phones to communicate professionally and socially. We use them to listen to music, to be informed, some of us even use our phones to read the Bible.

But you add in all of the complexities inherent in understanding all the differences in hardware and software, the various manufacturers, model names (and code names), and the wireless carriers involved, and it’s clear that choosing a cell phone is no simple task.

APPLE PASSION: Eager customers, like these in New York City, camped out in front of Apple Stores around the world last week in order to be the first to purchase the new iPhone 5. Apple sold 5 million of the gadgets in the first three days of its release. (Photo: Don Emmert/Newscom)

And since cell phones often require two-year service agreements, even after we’ve made our choice of handset and/or data plan, we consumers are constantly looking for reassurance that we’ve made the best decision. This often manifests itself as a form of confirmation bias, where we tend to filter the available information by emphasizing the things that confirm our belief.

Just as in any other emotionally charged issue (like, say, a presidential election), once our beliefs are questioned, we tend to come out swinging. In comment sections of tech articles, I’ve seen people use strawman arguments, ad hominem attacks, profanity, you name it.

But they’re not talking about the tax code, campaign-finance reform, or the societal cost of mass incarceration.

They’re talking about phones.

Rejecting Digital Snobbery

Ironically, some of the most mean-spirited, spiteful rhetoric comes from people who would probably boast of their belief in racial harmony and tolerance, including many Christians. But Christ died to break down all of the walls between us. If these folks have somehow cleared the ubiquitous hurdle of race relations, what kind of sense does it make to replace one dividing wall with another?

Especially since the truth is nowhere near as simple as we’d like. Just as there are plenty of other ethnicities and racial dynamics at play besides black and white, there are plenty of other brands besides those of Apple and Google competing for market share. Before the iPhone, the hot “it” phones were usually by Nokia, Motorola, or Blackberry’s Research In Motion. There are no guarantees that either Google or Apple won’t be outshined by some other new phone (for example, check out the new HTC Windows Phone 8 phones — cool colors, shiny tiles … sorry, I got a little distracted there).

Maybe this article isn’t for everyone. But if you’re like me, now might be a good time to take a step back and remember that sometimes a phone is just a phone.

Yes, there are cultural implications to the way we implement technology. Yes, we’re free to discuss, and even defend, the merits of our preferred tech platforms. But like Paul said, don’t let your freedom become an opportunity to indulge the flesh. If you’re an iPhone user and you’re tired of people badmouthing your phone, or you’re an Android user and you’re tired of seeing churches make apps exclusively for iOS, feel free to say so — just do it in love.

Because we all need grace from time to time. And considering how quickly the pace of technology keeps changing, all of us will need help navigating the digital landscape here and there.

Especially those of using the new Apple Maps app, because I hear it’s pretty terrible.

(Lord forgive me, I couldn’t resist just once.)

About the author, Jelani Greenidge

Jelani Greenidge is an UrbanFaith columnist based in Portland, Oregon. A writer and musician, he blogs at JelaniGreenidge.com.
  1. Jelani, is it really that deep? And if it is, it further confirms how idolatry has become normative in a a technological society that leans toward a scientific worldview. Let me take you back a bit: the first guerilla war was between mac and pc. Mac won. The brief second one was between NeXT and Mac. Mac won. The third one was between Mac OS and Window OS. Windows won. The first war flared up again between Apple computers and any PC. PC finally became more multimedia friendly. My point here is Apple has created a cult through constant innovation and the coolness factor. Windows, IMHO, has created a religion that finds a way to get its products to you through killing its competition. Now with phones, other players are in the game. all these companies have help create an atmosphere where a phone is a necessity…and somebody’s god.

  2. Ron, you’re absolutely right. In a technocratic society, these brands are becoming gods that demand our allegiance. I mean, no one THINKS of their phone that way, but if it’s what you spend most of your time using, fiddling with, complaining about, or defending from others… maybe the shoe fits.

    Like I said, for some people it isn’t really that deep, it’s just a phone. But consumer tech brings out the nerd in many of us, and the pride we feel in how awesome our toys are can turn into allegiance to the brand.

    And by the way, Google, for all of its do-no-evil posturing, may be just as guilty now of the antitrust violations that Windows was accused of a decade prior.

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