• Matthew Kaufman

Escaping the Smartphone God

People love their smartphones. It’s no secret and it’s no crime. They are truly wonderful devices. They can help us pick out dinner arrangements for somewhere within walking distance, let us video call with other people half the world, and most of them can even do all these things all day long without really needing too much of a break. We are bound to our smartphones.

And, for some of us, our smartphones are our gods.

Without unnecessarily complicating things, we can define a "god" as a person or thing that someone pays regular homage to and seeks approval from. This homage involves sacrifice, nearly always. In the deep past, that sacrifice was often living, but now humanity typically uses a monetary sum as a representation of this sacrifice. An additional aspect of godhood is prayer--that is, a good is a person or thing that the believer goes to in times of needs or crisis.

Finally, gods are represented through the establishment of sacred space. Worshiping a god requires, in almost every religion, the establishment of an altar or idol. Sometimes one altar is sufficient, usually more are needed.

A god is something that someone often pays some kind of sacrifice, usually monetary, to. A god is something that someone goes to in times of need or crisis. A god is something that a believer doesn’t feel as if they couldn’t live without. Finally, let’s add the idea that a god is something that someone would have an altar to, perhaps even multiple altars.

If you’re feeling nervous already just from reading that list, then perhaps you know where this is going and you should rethink how view and use your phone.

We check our phones ceaselessly. We unlock our phones, open a web browser only to stop and end up asking “What was I doing again?”

For many of us, checking the phone is second nature--a comforting tic that becomes the equivalent of a Buddhist or Eastern Christian thumbing prayer beads. This isn’t even to bring up the “prayers” people offer up to their phones. I'm sure you've seen people literally talk to their phones, asking it to work a bit faster or just take away some of their problems.

We expect our prayers to be answered because of the monetary offerings we pour into our phones each day. Beyond cell phone bills and the need for the newest iPhone, now there also exists a plethora of in-app purchases we can and often blindly do make. We believe that these sacrifices will win us the approval of our gods, and we wait for their voices.

Scarily enough, our gods do answer. Dating apps tell us whether our looks are sufficient for the masses. Meditation apps promise internal peace. Instant directions from a far off satellite evaluate whether our memorized directions are truly optimal. Now, none of these things are necessarily bad. What is deeply disturbing, however, is the shame and submission people experience when confronted by these apps.

We reject the advice of those around us because Siri tells us they are wrong. We accept her word as fact, not up for dispute. Her word is divine.

Most alarming, however, is the inability to live without the smartphone. Next time someone you know loses their phone, watch the panic that sets in. It's not dissimilar to the existential crises religious individuals express when they feel that their deity is no longer communicating with them. The panic is such that it draws us back, almost ceaselessly, to the altar of the phone charger.

No matter how messy your room is, I’m sure you always know where to find your charging station. In all likelihood, it sits at your bedside--so that you can check it before going to bed and immediately upon waking up.

Breaking free of the smartphone god isn't easy, but it can begin with something as simple as leaving your phone in another room when you go to bed. Buy an alarm clock. Turn off your phone. Listen to those around you just as much as you listen to those across the world wide web.

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