The iPhone Portal

In a 2007 interview, the philosopher Albert Borgmann makes the case that television is of moral importance. Borgmann says: “When I teach my ethics course I tell these relatively young people that the most important decision that they’ll make about their household is first whether they’re going to get a television and then second where they’re going to put it.”

I think for our generation these questions could probably be amended to (a) “Are you going to get a smartphone?” and (b) “If so, what limits are you going to place on its use?”

These are questions my wife and I are asking ourselves right now too.

We both have iPhones, and too often we found ourselves sitting next to each other on our respective phones. Too often we become distracted and fragmented as our phones beep and buzz around us. Are we going to keep them? Probably. Then how should we limit their use?

As John Pattison writes, “To use a science fiction metaphor, the iPhone is a kind of portal, one that can cause me to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually distant, even when I’m physically present. How often do I want to have that portal open?”

13 Replies to “The iPhone Portal”

  1. A great question! These things become habits, things we do without thinking, almost without deciding to do them.
    I-phones are new in my life – TV is entrenched. We have one in the bedroom and one in the lounge. It doesn’t get switched off often enough for my liking. Perhaps for people like my husband and I the only way to change that is to actually find something else to do in place of chilling mindlessly in front of the TV. Now that I think about it we’ve taken to playing games on our I-phones in front of the TV!! That has GOT to be worse!! Oh dear!


  2. I gave up TV several years ago, not wanting to pay for cable when I grew up with “free” TV. I now have a WiFi iPad loaded with several TV programs and movies; it has replaced my TV and radio almost. My consolation is I’m more picky about what I watch; the downfall is finding a wonderful program (“Grimm,” among others) and watching multiple episodes to “catch up.”
    My iPhone is my camera – multiple camera/editing/video apps for my dogs and life. When I am engaged in conversation with anyone else, the phone is silent or ignored except for the sharing of photos. I have mentioned to a friend about avoiding phone use during personal conversation unless one is expecting a crucial call or text…
    This is a good post w/no answers – we each need to work it out for ourselves but our baby technology is so pervasive I fear in years to come we will lose the art and joy of ambient listening, of enjoying the moment w/o capturing it in picture or video, of intense or light uninterrupted conversation.
    Though I have a speech impediment by which I avoid talking on the phone anyway, I miss personal phone calls; now it is text or email or worse yet, Facebook (though I’m on it, it still creeps me out).


  3. Good topic. As I type this comment on a full train most are using their smartphone. I try not download games and keep it for news reading, bible and taking notes or photos. Is one device to replace all the way to overuse?


  4. I think the point about “Where you’re going to keep them” is especially relevant here. Some ideas might be:

    1.) Keep an iphone out of reach at bed-time!

    2.) Don’t spend more time on your iphone after work hours than with your spouse.

    3.) Consider having one day a week where the iphone “disappears”

    4.) Put the iphone on “silent” when company is over.

    5.) Get rid of apps that you have to maintain at a moment’s notice.

    Thanks, Tom.



  5. I work in technology and I am an iPhone user (addict?) An interesting book is Larry Rosen, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

    It outlines how “more” and “always online” does not = more productive. Down time, family time, me time, nature time, non-technology time all make us better, more relaxed and more connected than technology in some ways


  6. So true. I personally try to not use my smart phone when I’m home for the evening. I’ve never really gotten bad about letting my usage get out of hand, so fortunately it hasn’t been too big of an ordeal 🙂


  7. I’ve always been an advocate of only having one TV in the house and never having one in any of the bedrooms. I’ve always told my students to be sure that their kids didn’t have one in their bedrooms because they would never see them.

    Now, with iPhones and iPads, there is a TV in every lap. People are together in the same room, but separate. TVs are off, but other devices are on. I love the devices, but I’m still in a quandary about how to navigate this new labyrinth.


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