20 Quotes from Tony Reinke’s New Book About Your Smartphone

The following quotes are from Tony Reinke’s new book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Crossway, 2017). Appropriately enough, Tony inspired the 20 quotes idea.

While a full-length TGC review is forthcoming, I’ll take this occasion to state that Reinke’s book is convicting and hope-giving. What I appreciate about Reinke’s book is that it doesn’t merely provide a checklist of behaviors to change but an entire approach—a worldview—to establish. He wants to help Christians be deliberate, others-minded, and God-honoring in their use of smartphones rather than being used (mastered?) by them. Not only is Reinke well versed in the latest research (look at the footnotes), but he grounds all he does in the timeless truth of God’s revelation. I think it’s fair to conceive of this book as a biblical theology of technology. If you’re like me and have often felt convicted about your smartphone use, then pick this book up. I know it’ll serve you well.


“[W]e all need to stop and reflect on our impulsive smartphone habits because, in an age when our eyes and hearts are captured by the latest polished gadget, we need more self-criticism, not less. . . . Our personal freedom from the misuse of technology is measured by our ability to thoughtfully criticize it and to limit what we expect it to do in our lives. Our bondage to technology is measured by our inability to thoughtfully criticize ourselves. What shall it profit a man if he gains all the latest digital devices and all of the techniques of touch-screen mastery but loses his own soul? Are we courageous enough to ask?” (23, 194)

“Too often what my phone exposes in me is not the holy desires of what I know I should want, not even what I think I want, and especially not what I want you to think I want. My phone screen divulges in razor-sharp pixels what my heart really wants. The glowing screen on my phone projects into my eyes the desires and loves that live in the most abstract corners of my heart and soul, finding visible expression in pixels of images, video, and text for me to see and consume and type and share. This means that whatever happens on my smartphone, especially under the guise of anonymity, is the true exposé of my heart, reflected in full-color pixels back into my eyes.” (26–7)

“The philosophical maxim, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ has been replaced with a digital motto, ‘I connect, therefore I am,’ leading to a status desire: ‘I am ‘liked,’ therefore I am.’ But our digital connections and ticks of approval are flickering pixels that cannot ground the meaning of our lives. And yet, I seek to satisfy this desire every time I cozy up to the Facebook barstool, to be where every friend knows my name, where my presence can be affirmed and reaffimed at virtual points throughout the day. I want anything to break the silence that makes me feel the weight of my mortality. . . . Nothing puts social media and smartphone habits into context like the blunt reality of our mortality. Let it sink in a bit. Feel the brevity of life, and it will make you fully alive.” (46)

“For those with eyes to see, Christ’s return is so imminent, it potently declutters our lives of everything that is superficial and renders all of our vain distractions irrelevant. To put it another way, our battle against the encumbering distractions of this world—especially the unnecessary distractions of our phones—is a heart war we can wage only if our affections are locked firmly on the glory of Christ. The answer to our hyperkinetic digital world of diversions is the soul-calming sedative of Christ’s splendor, beheld with the mind and enjoyed by the soul. The beauty of Christ calms us and roots our deepest longings in eternal hopes that are far beyond what our smartphones can ever hope to deliver.” (50)

“In the smartphone age, we are bombarded daily by the immediate: Facebook updates, blog posts, and breaking news stories. Yet the most important book for our soul is ancient. God’s Word demands our highest levels of literary concentration because it requires relational reading: not the superficial chitchat of a cocktail party, but the covenantal concentration of marriage vows. God’s Word is an invitation to orient our affections and desires. Our challenge is to use social media in the service of serious reading.” (89)

“We cannot suppress our souls’ appetite for what is awe-inspiring. The goal is not to mute all smartphone media but to feed ourselves on the right media. We were created to behold, see, taste, and delight in the richness of God’s glory—and that glory often comes refracted to us through skilled artists. Our insatiable appetite for viral videos, memes, and tweets is the product of an appetite for glory that God gave us. And he created a delicious world of media marvels so that we may delight in, embrace, and cherish anything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. This will keep us very busy marveling at Scripture, at nature, and at God’s grace in the people he created.” (100)

“We are composites of the people we want to conform to, and this conformity defines one of the most powerful lures of our smartphones. Digital technology now accelerates and particularizes our search for belonging.” (111)

“Whether or not we see it, worship is the fundamental dynamic of our molding. And this is why, no matter how fiercely independent we are, we never find our identity within ourselves. We must always look outside of ourselves for identity, to our group fit and to our loves. Both dynamics reveal the truth: we are becoming like what we see. We are becoming like what we worship. Or, to put this in Facebook terms directly, we are becoming like what we like.” (112)

“The smartphone is causing a social reversal: the desire to be alone in public and never alone in seclusion. We can be shielded in public and surrounded in isolation, meaning we can escape the awkwardness of human interaction on the street and the boredom of solitude in our homes. Or so we think.” (124)

“Online, we offer up our lives in stories forged by self-interpretation, and only rarely is our interpretation called into question. In person, however, our interpretations can be pushed back, questioned, and challenged, all for our own good. Friction is the path to genuine authenticity, and no amount of online communication can overcome a lack of real integrity. We must be real with the people God puts into our lives. We must tell the truth. We must be honest at school. We must be wise with our money. We must be trusted friends. We must be reliable at work. The world needs what we must be: God-centered, joyful, and trustworthy men and women. We are not flawless; we are fallen repenters who require relational friction to grow and mature. We are authentic believers who are committed to replacing easy relationships with authentic ones. . . . Eye-to-eye authenticity is the key to empathy, humility, and trust in our relationships, and these are skills we all need.” (125–6)

“Technology . . . makes us think we can indulge in anonymous vices, even conceptually, without any future consequences. Anonymity is where sin flourishes, and anonymity is the most pervasive lie of the digital age. The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for. . . . [N]o addiction in our lives is hidden from the eyes of God. Our Creator is no respecter of privacy laws. His omnipresence shatters the mirage of anonymity that drives so many people to turn to their phones and assume they can sin and indulge without consequence.” (133–4)

“Digital consumerism is directly at odds with many of the most fundamental convictions of the gospel. Spiritual authenticity is measured by faith in the unseen truth of God, not by confidence in the visible consumables of our age.” (138)

“To live an abundant life in this insatiable consumer society, we must plead in prayer for God-given power to turn our eyes away from the gigs of digital garbage endlessly offered in our phones and tune our ears to hear sublime echoes of an eternal enthrallment with the transcendent beauties we ‘see’ in Scripture.” (144)

“Whether it’s a ‘breaking-news’ alert, a direct-message prompt, a text message, or a news app, our phones make our lives vulnerable to the immediacy of the moment in a way unknown to every earlier generation and culture. Social media and mobile web access on our phones all drive the immediacy of events around the world into our lives. As a result, we suffer from neomania, an addiction to anything new within the last five minutes.” (148)

“Lacking self-control over the volume of our data ingestion introduces burdens that our physical bodies cannot carry. . . . By grace, we are free to close our news sources, close our life-hacking apps, and power down our phones in order to simply feast in the presence of friends and enjoy our spouses and families in the mystery, majesty, and ‘thickness’ of human existence.” (150, 151).

“My desire to never be socially left out comes at the price of beeps, pings, and endless feed refreshes. I constantly check my phone to make sure I’m not missing anything. But others also pay a price for my so-called ‘relevance.’” (154)

“FOMO [fear of missing out] is neither unique nor modern. It predates the acronym coined in 2004, it predates WiFi, and it predates our smartphones. FOMO is an ancient phobia with a history that reaches back far before we started using our opposable thumbs to text one another gossip. We can say that FOMO is the primeval human fear, the first fear stoked in our hearts when a slithering Serpent spoke softly of a one-time opportunity that proved too good to miss. ‘Eat from the one forbidden tree, Eve, “and you will be like God.”’ What more could Eve or Adam want—to escape creaturehood, to become their own bosses, to preserve their own independence, to define their own truth, to become all-knowing, and to delight in autonomous regality. They could keep all the glory for themselves by becoming gods and goddesses! Who could refuse the irresistible chance to become godlike in one bite? These words—this lie!—were loaded with a succulent promise too good to be true. It was false flattery. It was Satan’s attempt to dethrone God by spinning words into an insurrection by God’s own image bearers. In other words, FOMO was Satan’s first tactic to sabotage our relationship with God, and it worked. And it still does.” (158)

“In an age when anyone with a smartphone can publish dirt on anyone else, we must know that spreading antagonistic messages online, with the intent of provoking hostility without any desire for resolution, is what the world calls ‘trolling’ and what the New Testament calls ‘slander.’” (166)

“Our gluttonous fascination with the failures of others long predates social media. Faultfinding is an ancient hobby, meant to prop up a façade of self-importance, even among Christians. Faultfinding destroys our love for others. Faultfinding runs contrary to Calvary. In Christ, our pardoned sins are plunged into a grave—but the slanderer keeps going at night to exhume his neighbor’s sins in order to drag those decomposing offenses back into the light of the city square.” (169–70)

“We grow emotionally distant with our expressions. We become content to ‘LOL’ with our thumbs or to cry emoticon tears to express our sorrow because we cannot (and will not) take the time to genuinely invest ourselves in real tears of sorrow. We use our phones to multitask our emotions. In the age of the smartphone, we are both trying to escape emotion and trying to ‘plug the need for contact with the drug of perpetual attention.’ This juxtaposition, by necessity, makes us broadly connected but emotionally shallow.” (179)


Previously in the “20 Quotes” series:

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