Book Review: How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

The alarm bells are blaring. People are beginning to realize that we have run down a path without knowing where the path leads. Even people within the digital media industry are stepping out and calling for us to pause, step back and consider where these new technologies lead. What do they do to us as individuals? How do they impact societies?

Catherine Price sums it up nicely in her introduction:

The problem isn’t smartphones themselves. The problem is our relationship with them. Smartphones have infiltrated our lives so quickly and so thoroughly that we have never stopped to think about what we actually want our relationships with them to look like—or what effects these relationships might have on our lives.

The consumer may have run blindly into our present relationship with smartphones and other digital technology. But, as Price notes, the creators of these technologies had an end in mind. They were not creating a product, but a platform, a marketplace of sorts. In this digital marketplace, the consumer would feel like the customer but would, in fact, be the product. Your attention is the product and advertisers are the true customers.

This concise book is an excellent starting point for anyone who is uncomfortable with their present relationship with their smartphone or other digital media. It comes in two parts: the wake-up and the breakup.

In the wake-up, Price presents the facts of how digital technologies are designed for addiction. They wire our brains for distraction and prohibit focus. They kill our attention span, mess with our memory, and steal our sleep.

…if you wanted to invent a device that could retire our minds, if you wanted to create a society of people who were perpetually distracted, isolated, and overtired, if you wanted to weaken our memories and damage our capacity for focus and deep thought, if you wanted to reduce empathy, encourage self-absorption, and redraw the lines of social etiquette, you’d likely end up with a smartphone.

In the breakup, Price provided practical advice on how we can take back ownership of our relationship with our smartphones and other digital media. This section is full of tips and tricks that you can implement immediately that will improve your “digital hygiene.” This section of the book encourages us to pause and ask, “What do I want to pay attention to?”

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Thoughts on Hamlet’s Blackberry

Take the crowd with you!

That seems to be one of the goals of our hyper-connected lives. Our thinking is increasingly outward as we retreat from “the few and the near”* and immerse ourselves in the “many and the far.”* The changes that have occurred in society and in the individual as a result of the Social Revolution are truly life altering; for better or for worse. With these changes, new questions arise. “The [ultimate] question is whether the hyper-connected life is taking us where we want to go.”*

In his book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers uncovers two issues which every person involved in education of any kind (from parents to professors) must consider. The first issue is one of depth. We have never had more options for depth. “Everything that happens to us all day long, every sight and sound, every personal encounter, every thought that crosses our minds is a candidate for depth.”* The problem is that depth takes time. Depth requires us to look inward, rather than outward. Depth requires focused thought. All of these require disconnecting from the constant stimulation of a hyper-connected life. As educators, it is imperative that we utilize these wonderful new technologies to encourage depth rather than shallow busyness if meaningful learning is to take place.

The second issue concerns how people learn. It is fascinating to watch the unfolding of a post-literate society.** With Gutenburg’s invention of the printing press, learning was drastically changed as people began to think in a linear, objective manner which fostered individualism. However, “mass electronic media work on us in a different way from print, those technologies were creating a new person whose mind was less linear and individualistic, more group-oriented.”* The most advanced societies are quickly reverting to become oral-learning cultures. The question for educators of every kind is, How will we adjust our means and methods to educate in a post-literate world?

I would encourage every educator, especially those involved in teaching the Word of God to consider these two issues. Although, you may have to disconnect for a while! I highly recommend Hamlet’s Blackberry for more reading on these and other issues that arise as a result of our ever-increasing connectivity.

*Quotes taken from Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
**A society that prefers to learn through oral and visual means rather than through reading and writing.