Hammers and Phones

Ideas are important at Worldview at the Abbey. They are discussed in class, debated over meals, all as we try to take seriously Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This simple admonition is a reminder that ideas influence us. They will shape our thoughts, words, and actions once they have been adopted and allowed to root into our minds. However not all ideas are straightforward, and some are even hidden from view unless carefully discerned.

Ideas hide in and influence us from almost every possible direction of life. This is easy to see in a conversation with someone who disagrees with Christianity or in the consumption of art; however even some of the things we use in daily life, the physical objects, are carrying ideas. Things are made to fulfill purposes. The purpose a thing is made to fulfill is informed by a desired end to be achieved. The ends we choose to pursue are influenced by our worldviews, the ideas that help us understand reality. The things we use and interact with in life are still carrying a bias in them.

These biases may in some cases be easily identified and largely innocuous. For example a hammer is a tool that is biased to a certain purpose. It smacks things very well and can drive nails or break things apart. You could try to use it for different purposes, but it is designed to work a certain way. However, beyond the immediate utility they provide, things have a shaping effect on us. We do not simply make without intent, and we do not use without being influenced. There’s a reason it’s been said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I have recently had this shown to me in quite vivid terms. Prior to Thanksgiving last year my smartphone broke and for several weeks I was without a tool I was used to having access to. Being removed from the device would expose a number of ways it was influencing me without my realizing.

First, I had to replace the device with a temporary phone. To accomplish this I went back in time to 2005 and got a cheap flip-phone. This new phone came with a new number, requiring me to reach out to those I contact most frequently to pass along new contact information… if I could have remembered their own phone numbers. I grew up as a member of the last generation before cell phones were ubiquitous in our culture, so I can remember needing to remember people’s phone numbers. That or physically maintain an address book, or consult a monstrous phone book to find who you were looking for, hoping they were listed. Cell phones have largely liberated us of that requirement on a daily basis.

So for the few numbers I could remember I reached out to let those people know. However, over the next several days and weeks I would see people who would almost immediately let me know that they tried to contact me and I had never responded. This slight I had delivered them was only slightly mitigated after my explanation that I was indeed not ignoring them, but had never received the message due to a broken device. I found myself reflecting that if in their position I would react the same way. My phone and the combination of ways to reach out to someone has created almost a sense of entitlement in me toward other’s attention. “I know you have your phone in your pocket, why aren’t you responding to my texts?!?”

The next shock to me was made real as I started driving out of the parking lot of the store I had just purchased my archaic technology from. As I drove off, I was struck by the silence in my truck. Usually my phone connects to my truck’s stereo and picks up playing one of the multitude of finely curated songs I carry around in my pocket daily. I had to commit the barbarous act of turning on my radio and finding a station playing (1) music I could discern from static and (2) that I could tolerate to listen to. Added to this was the horror of horrors that I had to endure commercials and local radio DJ’s far more frequently than I would have wanted. I found myself reflecting that I could not remember the last time listening to the radio while driving. My ability through my phone to not only have entertainment, but exactly desired entertainment, at my fingers at all times left me with a sense of loss and discomfort at my newfound lack of control.

In these few ways and others I was forced to acknowledge that my smartphone had changed me. The patterns of behavior and life that I had built with it had influenced my thinking about my life and the world around me. Now this is not the “go-smash-your-smartphone-with-a-hammer” article, I have my phone back at the moment in working condition. However, if I can be shaped and influenced by habits of interacting with a tool without realizing it, how much more can I be influenced by the books I read, the movies I watch, the friends I spend time with? Because that’s the insidious thing about the influence of ideas: I often fail to realize when its happening.