Evo­lu­tion of iPhone puts par­ents in predica­ment

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - Terry Mat­tingly leads GetReli­gion. org and is a se­nior fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge,Tenn. His web­site is tmatt.net.

The late Steve Jobs loved sur­prises and, at the 2007 Mac­world con­fer­ence, he knew he was go­ing to make his­tory.

“Ev­ery once in a while, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct comes along that changes ev­ery­thing,” said Ap­ple’s prophet-in-chief. This prod­uct — on sale at the end of June 2007 — com­bined en­ter­tain­ment pro­grams with a tele­phone, while also putting the “in­ter­net in your pocket.” His punch­line a decade ago: “We are call­ing it iPhone.”

At one point in that first demon­stra­tion, Jobs be­gan jump­ing from one iPhone de­light to an­other. He con­fessed, “I could play with this thing a long time.”

To which mil­lions of par­ents, clergy and ed­u­ca­tors can now say: “#RE­ALLY. Tell us some­thing we don’t know.”

One key iPhone cre­ator has had doubts, es­pe­cially when he watches fam­i­lies in restau­rants, with par­ents and chil­dren plugged into their om­nipresent smart­phones.

“It terms of whether it’s net pos­i­tive or net neg­a­tive, I don’t think we know yet,” said Greg Christie, a for­mer Ap­ple leader who helped cre­ate the iPhone’s touch in­ter­face. He spoke at a Sil­i­con Val­ley event cov­ered by tech web­site The Verge.

“I don’t feel good about the dis­trac­tion. It’s cer­tainly an un­in­tended con­se­quence,” Christie said. “The fact that it is so por­ta­ble so it’s al­ways with you … and it pro­vides so much for you that the ad­dic­tion ac­tu­ally, in ret­ro­spect, is not sur­pris­ing.”

There is more to this puz­zle than mere ad­dic­tion, ac­cord­ing to South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary Pres­i­dent Al­bert Mohler Jr. In a re­cent pod­cast — yes, he noted that many peo­ple lis­ten on iPhones — he tried to sum­ma­rize the cul­tural, moral and even the­o­log­i­cal trends seen dur­ing the first decade in which the iPhone and re­lated de­vices shaped the lives of mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide.

Rather than be­ing a lux­ury for elites, he said, this de­vice “has be­come some­thing con­sid­ered a ne­ces­sity, and in this world, if we’re play­ing by the world’s terms, of course it is. … The ques­tion the iPhone rep­re­sents to us is: Who owns whom? Do we own the iPhone, or, in­creas­ingly, im­morally, does the iPhone own us?”

A ba­sic smart­phone, he noted, now has more power than the com­put­ers that drove the Apollo moon mis­sions. For each con­sumer, this “cold, glass and me­tal ob­ject” ap­pears to of­fer mas­tery of the whole world, he said.

But there’s more to the iPhone than that.

“In ret­ro­spect, we un­der­stand that it rep­re­sented some­thing else, and that was the ul­ti­mate pri­va­ti­za­tion in terms of this hy­per­indi­vid­u­al­is­tic world,” Mohler said. “Now in­di­vid­u­als, not just adults but ado­les­cents and chil­dren, would in­habit their very own world in terms of ac­cess through the por­tal of this small rec­tan­gu­lar de­vice.

“We were al­ready be­com­ing a peo­ple marked by in­creas­ing so­cial iso­la­tion. The iPhone — that came with the prom­ise of con­nect­ing us to oth­ers — ac­tu­ally has had more the ex­act op­po­site ef­fect. It has iso­lated us even fur­ther into our own tech­no­log­i­cal and dig­i­tal do­mains.”

For ex­am­ple, in his rap­tur­ous pre­miere of the first iPhone, Jobs did not an­tic­i­pate the po­ten­tial im­pact on chil­dren of waves of pri­vate texts, bul­lies us­ing so­cial-me­dia sites, pro­grams that slice at­ten­tion spans and easy ac­cess to on­line pornog­ra­phy.

Look­ing back, the “rise of the smart­phone specif­i­cally … has more than any­thing else re­moved par­ents as the ul­ti­mate au­thor­i­ties and sources of truth in the lives of their own chil­dren,” Mohler ar­gued.

This leads di­rectly to a painful ques­tion that par­ents and pas­tors no longer have the op­tion of duck­ing: At what age should chil­dren be ex­posed to the re­al­i­ties of smart­phone life? Many mod­ern par­ents would never dare to dis­cuss a smart­phone-free ex­is­tence with their teens.

There may be moral im­per­a­tives on both sides, Mohler noted. Many adults ar­gue that smart­phones pro­vide safety and se­cu­rity for chil­dren when they’re away from home. How can par­ents deny such a de­vice to their kids?

“On the other hand,” Mohler said, “there’s the case to be made that it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble in the ex­treme to put a smart­phone — with all of its con­nec­tiv­ity, with all of its vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, with all of its in­stant ac­cess — into the hands of those who are cer­tainly by a parental re­spon­si­bil­ity to be guarded from many of the very things that that iPhone makes in­stan­ta­neously and anony­mously and pri­vately ac­ces­si­ble.”


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