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Brad Littlejohn: Smartphone savvy


WORLD Radio - Brad Littlejohn: Smartphone savvy

Although smartphones are ubiquitous, their distractions, temptations, and risks call for caution

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LINDSAY MAST, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 11th, 2024. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Lindsay Mast.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. World Opinions commentator Brad Littlejohn now on that little surveillance agent we all carry around.

BRAD LITTLEJOHN: Remember back when conservatives were up in arms about the use of vaccines as “social passports”? Many worried about the implications of a society in which one had to carry around proof of vaccination to work at a job, attend a movie, or even order lunch. And rightly so—such mandates strike at the very basis of a free society.

It is odd, then, that we’ve allowed ourselves to submit to another form of social passport—the smartphone. If you want to order a taxi, you’ll probably need an app like Uber. To order off some menus (or get the discounts), you’ll need to scan the QR code. To pay for parking, attend a sporting event, access the state park, even to view your sports team’s practice schedule—you name it, and you need a smartphone to do it, or soon will. Most adults and many teenagers now assume their vocations require a smartphone in their pockets.

Now, if the smartphone were just a useful gadget, this phenomenon would be a minor annoyance. But recently, data on the harms of smartphone addiction have exploded. For instance, Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Anxious Generation, summarizes a reality we cannot afford to ignore. It turns out that giving 12-year-olds a 24/7 distraction machine, access to hardcore pornography, and a hotline to sexual predators in their pockets is not a good idea.

Frankly, it may not even be a good idea for 32-year-olds, especially if they’re trying to model healthy habits for their kids. I know that my smartphone makes me a worse parent. And for conservatives worried about surveillance, the idea of wedding ourselves to a little machine that tracks our every movement and whim should be unsettling.

Unfortunately, the typical conservative response tends to be, “Let’s promote individual responsibility and healthy habits.” But the market will always follow the path of least resistance, and telling customers to download an app is often more profitable than saying, “Come talk to one of our sales associates.” And for parents of teenagers, it can be almost impossible to promote healthy choices when peers, employers, schools, and churches all require them to communicate via smartphone.

The soft tyranny of the smartphone is one area where individuals cannot push back on their own. There is an appropriate role for public policy in keeping useful but dangerous technologies out of the hands of children. (Take cars, for instance!). Government can also preserve spaces where we don’t need to use smartphones. Florida governor Ron DeSantis required businesses to serve customers equally whether or not they had a vaccine card. In the same way, we should require businesses to serve customers with or without a smartphone.

While government can help, we must also work through our own local institutions. How many churches today expect you to scan a QR code to participate in worship or give money? How many Christian schools use an app for managing extra-curricular activities?

Technology is a great servant but a bad master. These devices may be here to stay, but we have a responsibility to ensure we are using them, rather than them using us.

I’m Brad Littlejohn.

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