Back in April we surveyed readers of desiringGod.org. 8,000 of you responded — thank you for the amazing response. Of those total responses, over 50% of those who have a smartphone admit to checking their phones within minutes of waking up in a typical morning. Among readers 18–29, that number is over 60%. Most of us know a pattern like this (checking email, texts, and social media on our phones immediately in the morning) is not healthy, but we do it anyway. Pastor John, why do you think grabbing for our phones in the morning is a default reaction for many Christians? And is there a better way forward?
I think there is a better course, but to help everybody understand why I think that and what that better course is, it might be helpful to start by analyzing why we are so prone to click on our phones before we do almost anything else. So I thought of six possible reasons why we do this. And I got these reasons out of my head. That is, by analyzing John Piper’s soul and his temptations, I haven’t done any surveys, so if people think this is narrow, I say, “Well, yeah, it is. It comes out of me and, if people are like me, then they might get help.”
It seems to me that all of these six reasons I am going to give are rooted in sin rather than rooted in the desire to serve others and savor God. And I put it like that because I do think the great commandment sets the agenda for our mornings and our midday and our evening. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we wake up in the morning. And we are to prepare ourselves to love our neighbor and to serve our neighbor as ourselves.
Given how sinful John Piper is — and I presume others are like me — very few of us wake up with our whole soul spring-loaded to love God and love people. This process takes some refocusing to put it mildly. It takes some focusing of our souls by means of the Word of God and prayer. And we have to remind ourselves about reality in the morning in order to begin to love God and love people the way we ought. So here are my six guesses for why so many of us are drawn almost addictively to consult with our phones or devices when we wake up in the morning. The first three I call candy motives and the second three I call avoidance motives.
So first, I think we love to immediately take a bite of candy from our phones for our novelty hunger. Call this novelty candy. We simply love to hear what is new in the world or among our friends. What has happened since the last time we glanced at the world? Most of us like to be the first one to know something, and then we don’t have to assume the humble posture of being told something that smart and savvy and on-the-ball people already know. And so we want to be quick and have knowledge of what is new in the world. Then maybe we can assume the role of being the informer rather than the poor, benighted people that need to be informed about what happened — and if they were smart enough, they would have been on their social media earlier. So there is a big ego trip in our novelty hunger.
Second, I think we love to immediately take a bite out of our “candy phone” for ego hunger. What have people said about us since the last time we checked? Who has taken note of us? Who has retweeted us or mentioned us or liked us or followed us? In our fallen, sinful condition there is an inordinate enjoyment of the human ego being attended to. Some of us are weak enough, wounded enough, fragile enough, insecure enough that any little mention of us just feels so good. It is like somebody kissed us.
Third, I think we love to immediately take a bite out of our “candy phone” for our entertainment hunger. So this is entertainment candy. There is on the internet, as we have all come to know, an endless stream of fascinating, weird, strange, wonderful, shocking, spell-binding, cute pictures and quotes and videos and stories and links and many of us have gotten to the point where we are almost addicted to the need of something striking and bizarre and extraordinary and amazing. So at least those three candy motives are at work as we wake up in the morning and have these cravings that we satisfy with our phones.
Then there are these three avoidance motives. In other words, these aren’t positive desires for something; these are simply avoiding for another five minutes our duties we must face in life.
First, I would call it the boredom avoidance. We wake up in the morning and we find that the day in front of us simply looks boring. It feels boring. There is nothing exciting about coming in our day and there is little incentive to get out of bed and, of course, the human soul hates a vacuum. And if there is nothing significant and positive and hopeful in front of us to fill the hope-shaped place in our souls, then we are going to use our phones to fill that hole and avoid having to step into all that boredom.
Second, there is the responsibility avoidance. We have a role — father, mother, boss, whatever. There are burdens that are coming to us in the day that are fairly weighty. The buck stops with us. Many decisions have to be made about our children, the house, the car, the finances, and dozens of other things. Life is full of weighty responsibilities and we feel inadequate for them, so we stay there in bed feeling fearful, maybe even resentful, that people put so much pressure on us. And we just are not attracted to this day at all and we would very happily avoid it for another 5 or 10 minutes — and there is the phone to help us do it.
And the third avoidance incentive is hardship avoidance. You may be in a season of life where what you meet when you get out of bed is not just boredom and not just responsibility, but you meet mega-relational conflict or issues of disease or disability in the home or friends who are against you or pain in your own body in your joints so that you can barely get out of bed because it hurts so bad, and it is just easier to lie there a little longer and the phone adds to the escape.
So those, Tony, are at least six of the reasons I thought of that are functioning when I am inclined to go to my phone first before going to something else. And so there is a better way forward and I have probably used too much time on responding to this question. So maybe we will have to address the better way at another time.