The Liturgy of the iPhone

In James K.A. Smith’s, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, book he discusses the concept of “liturgy”. In Smith’s definition, liturgy is a ritual that forms our identities. Going against the notion of “worldview” Smith argues that our daily liturgies form and shape us into a new person. He says, “a way of life become habitual for us such that we pursue that way of life—we act in that way of life—without thinking about it because we’ve absorbed the habitus that is oriented to corresponding vision of the ‘good life (140).’” Liturgies don’t just make us view the world differently but we fundamentally become a new type of human being.

He then gives the example of the way the iPhone (and other smartphones) have shaped the way we think and act. Everything is now available to us right now.

How big is the Grand Canyon? Instant answer.

I want to know if we are hanging out with our friends tonight. Instant communication.

Did the St. Louis Cardinals win tonight? Instant updates.

My professor emailed me a question. Instant response.

This friend I haven’t talked to in years is now pregnant. Instant “connection” to others.

We now live in a world where everything is instantaneos. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it has shaped us into a new humanity. Social media is just dangling there begging for our attention. No longer are the days of waking up in the morning to find the sports score, waiting until the next class to ask that professor a question, getting an update in the mail announcing a pregnancy, and so forth.

This also affects our attention to specific activities we are engaged in. Everytime we think of something that we want to know we have a device that can provide instant answers. In a worship service we might love the song but don’t know who wrote it. We can just pause, take our minds off of worshipping our Creator, and check the artist. In that sermon, the preacher says something that we want to fact check we can instantly Google the answer. In class our minds drift because there might be that Twitter mention or Facebook notification. We are now pulled in many directions while our attention is being diverted from the task at hand.

I’ve really begun to think about this in terms of both worship on Sunday mornings and class time. For the past several months I’ve been turning off my phone during worship. Not putting it on “silent” (i.e. vibrate, which the whole row can still here) but actually turning it off. These months I’ve begun to see my attention more focused on worship. I am no longer distracted by the chance that I might have missed some notification or text that family member or friend a question. I can no longer get distracted by surfing the web for a question during the sermon. My attention is focused on worshipping the living God. I have to say, it has been a great blessing these past several months. I’ve also realized that the text message can always wait, that email doesn’t need responded to right away, and the Cardinals score will always be available afterwards.

I want us to think about how we have all been effected by the liturgy of the iPhone. Turn off the phone off during worship these next couple weeks and see if this habit changes who you are and how you worship. My guess is that you will see a wonderful renewed focus on worship.

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