When preaching at ABC on 19 June I mentioned that we were approaching the 15th anniversary of the iPhone. The first one was released by Apple on 29 June 2007, and it is difficult now to comprehend its significance. While this device wasn’t technically the first ‘smartphone,’ it turned out to be the clever breakthrough in design (and marketing) that changed everything. In one pocket sized device we now had something which gave us (as well as the ability to make phone calls and send text messages) a high-quality camera, and the internet – and with that all kinds of ‘apps’ allowing us to navigate our journeys, follow news and sport, post and see pictures, and all manner of things.
I confess that I was not an early adopter. Why would anyone want a phone to do all these things, I thought? I was a little ambivalent about the mobile phone itself too – the prospect of being able to be reached at all times, wherever I was, seemed to have some disadvantages too! But I came around, and now it is difficult for me to imagine life without the computer in my pocket. Because that’s really what the iPhone (other brand smartphones are available) is – a computer. In fact, I tended to make comparatively few calls on my iPhone until quite recently – and now we hardly ever use our landline (it seems the only people who do are trying to scam us!).
More than three quarters of adults now access the internet on their phones – a higher proportion than for any other device – including laptops, tablets, and desktops. And what phones they are! – the iPhone 6 (now superseded several times) processes its instructions 120 million times faster than the fastest Apollo rocket computers did. (That must be true, I read it on the internet.)
To think: it is only 180 years since Samuel Morse successfully applied for a patent for his telegraphy equipment which revolutionised the communications of our ancestors. (I know, ‘only 180 years’ seems a daft thing to say – but in terms of human history, it is very recent.)
The smartphone revolution has not been all good news. Social media sites, for instance, bring much joy and fun, and offer real support to many who might otherwise feel isolated. But they can also be places of abuse, or ‘echo chambers’ where we have our prejudices reinforced and distort the sincerely held views of others. It would also be as well for us to remember that most sites are ultimately trying to make a profit from our use (even those that aren’t, initially, usually then get bought by those which are!), and that they encourage an instant communication which sometimes results in things being said too hastily. There is also the ‘keyboard warrior’ syndrome, where people say things online which they would not usually say face to face. The internet can be cruel and unkind, but it needn’t be. And for younger people it is increasingly the go-to source of information and sharing.
It seems to me that ABC has begun to use the opportunities presented in the smartphone-world well. The website is kept up to date (a real challenge) and looks good on a mobile phone (not as easy as you might think). The Facebook page ‘ABC Together’ has frequent and regular new posts and offers a good way of making the church’s prayer life more corporate; and regular updates on the 35 Ock Street Café Facebook Page include the menus! What next? The young people running an Instagram account or making Tik-Tok videos (disclaimer: I have never used Tik-Tok!), a Twitter account with updates on church meetings? It’s much easier to list all these possibilities than actually to commit to doing them and keep doing them. But what possibilities all this offers!
Our faith is a hospitable one. Jesus welcomes us into his body, and part of our mission is to find ways of sharing the Christian community with others: a community where we look out for one another and support one another and share good news. The communication possibilities of the smartphone age offer all kinds of opportunities, and they are opportunities churches need to think about carefully and positively – just because just about everyone ‘out there’ accesses the world through this small handheld device. If we are going to speak and live gospel today, we have to develop more and more ways of getting to grips with all this and creating safe spaces for people online where they can be part of our community in Christ.
Rob Ellis, Moderator