Interview on Smartphones, the Internet, and How They Are Changing Us

Last year, Tony Reinke interviewed me while working on his forthcoming book, which reflects on the subject of the smartphone and the wise use of it from a Christian perspective. The first half of the interview was published on Desiring God last February, but the full interview has only just been posted over on Tony’s blog. Here’s the beginning of the second half of the interview:

So, our digital profile is plastic and malleable — we can edit and project ourselves as we please. Our physical profile exists in a much more fixed state — we are largely the product of biological factors we cannot control. For most people, do you think social media is an attempt to disguise our physical limitations, or a way to express the sort of control we wish we had over our physical selves?

I don’t think that most people are alert to the ways in which their profile in various social media has come to shape the way that they relate to themselves. I don’t think that our use of social media is initially an attempt to gain control over ourselves. It does tend to become such an attempt very quickly, though, simply through the sort of reflexivity of self-understanding that the habitual practice of self-representation encourages. In an earlier response, I remarked upon the manner in which the Internet functions as a spectacle and that this spectacle mediates our relationships, not merely with others, but also with ourselves. The projected representation of ourselves within this shared spectacle can be a means of vicarious or idealized self-realization. This occurs as my personal sense of self becomes increasingly dependent upon and represented in the ‘self’ that is represented in my Facebook profile, Instagram account, Twitter feed, Tumblr, and other such media.

The advent of social media and mobile connected devices is, in certain respects, a development akin to the movement from a world without any clear mirrors to one where highly reflective surfaces are ubiquitous. Just as the physical mirror image powerfully mediates my sense of my bodily self, the virtual mirror of social media now powerfully mediates my sense of who I am as a relational and social being. If the physical mirror feeds many anxieties and obsessions with our bodily appearance, the mirror of social media has a similar effect for our sense of our selves within our communities and society more broadly.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Christian Experience, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Interview on Smartphones, the Internet, and How They Are Changing Us

  1. Geoff Graham says:

    Apologies – I’ve not read the linked whole article, so you may cover some of the comments.

    1 Do you address demographic factors in the use of this technology?

    2 I’m not sure where my personal relationship with myself fits in, but that may involve demographic factors such as age, gender, class, education, geography, work, profession, and involve experience,

    3 Does this personal relationship with self differ between Christians and non Christians? Do christians ultimately not get their significance, status, identity, security, acceptance from who they are in Christ?

    4 Does the use of the technology increase or reduce social capital (both “bonding “social caplital and “bridging” social capital) or is it merely virtual?

    5 Does it increase or decrease the well known barriers to effective communication?

    6 I was a laggard adopter of a smart phone, mostly to use as an enhanced MP3 player to store sermons, talks and teaching and it is useful to be able to carry around a substitute camera, but I don’t need it. I’m not on twitter or part of any other sites, though I do contribute comments on one blog. And the deep question is why do I comment at all. Influence? It would be an unlikely outcome, for it is nothing that has not been said in different and better ways by others. And is it revelant, that is: logically probative of the fact in issue. My comments will make no differnce in the way technology is used.

    7 As a former UK solicitor I’d be interested in the effects of it’s use in the wider societal legal context, and not only involving children.

    8 And, of course, there’s the recently highlighted international relational context

    7 Technology can be a good servant to humanity, but terrible, demanding, master,

  2. Eric says:

    ‘The advent of social media and mobile connected devices is, in certain respects, a development akin to the movement from a world without any clear mirrors to one where highly reflective surfaces are ubiquitous.’

    I need to lie down in a dark room and let that idea run . . .

    What comes to mind in the moment is ‘now we see as in a glass darkly . . .’

  3. Geoff Graham says:

    I caught the back end of an airing of some opinion on a similar topic, on BBC radio 4 prog. “You and Yours” at about 12:40pm today. Dom Jolly was speaking and it was laugh out loud for me. You’d be able to track it down, if interested, but you may be aware that there were other topics discussed.

  4. Pingback: Is your smart phone hurting your spiritual life? (Ten diagnostic questions) |

  5. Eric says:

    HI Alastair – more grist to the ‘Smartphone’ mill in yesterday’s Guardian. One of the England Rugby coaches, hired to help with vision and hand eye co-ordination (absolutely no stone left unturned . . .) claims that smartphone use is reducing ball handling ability and awareness of others (both rather important to Rugby 🙂 My own thesis is that to a degree all technology leads to a diminution of the human, and I can’t say I found her comments surprising. You may like to have a look here


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