A man lies in bed staring at his phone

Why Are Smartphones So Addictive?

  • By: Scott Stein
  • Jul 27, 2021

I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.1

—Blaise Pascal

According to research the average person checks their smartphone about 81,500 times each year. That works out to once every 4.3 minutes2, which means you'll probably be tempted to check your phone at least once before you finish reading this post. Let’s face it, we’re addicted to our smartphones.  I’m not pointing fingers though. I had to delete Facebook and email from my phone after realizing how often I was checking it.

Why are smartphones so addictive?

But why are we so addicted to our phones? What is it about them that’s so irresistible? Research demonstrates how they affect our brains in addiction-forming ways. Their real addictive power, however, doesn’t come from the phones themselves but what they feed: our addiction to distraction.

We’re distraction addicts because distraction lets us avoid the truths we don’t want to face:

  • We’re stressed about a coming exam so we escape the truth by checking Instagram.
  • We find our work tedious and unfulfilling so we escape the truth by reading our Facebook feed.
  • We fear disapproval or loneliness so we escape the truth by trying to be in constant communication with as many people as possible, even if it means ignoring the person sitting in front of us.

Perhaps the greatest truth we wish to escape is the truth about God. And to the extent that smartphone addiction is shaping the thought patterns of an entire generation, this is perhaps their greatest danger to us.

The real danger behind smartphone addiction

The Christian’s view of reality is based on this: God is the Creator and we’re his Creation. The fall of humanity into sin was caused by humanity’s attempt to reverse this. As Paul puts it,

They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Life without God, therefore, is built on the delusion that we can find true meaning, purpose, and reason for being without him. But we can’t. King Solomon applied all of his wisdom to the task and came to one conclusion: “Meaningless! meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Whether or not people believe this is beside the point. This is reality. That’s why we have a natural aversion to death. The thought of having no more life to live for is terrifying. And that’s the real allure of distraction. It keeps us from facing up to the fact that without God our souls are but temporary vessels hopelessly longing to be eternally filled.

The great Christian thinker Blaise Pascal recognized this reality centuries ago, stating,

Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion…[for] he then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.

The allure of distraction therefore is common to every age since distraction is the only thing that keeps us from facing up to the truth that without God our hearts are empty and we’re alone. 

The Christian has no need of distraction

Since “full life” is found in Jesus, distraction is not longer appropriate for the Christian.

Becoming a Christian means finding true life in Jesus. What that amounts to is discovering who God truly is and how truly, eternally satisfying it is to know him, and be known by him. Simply put, becoming a Christian means discovering what life is really all about. As Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Since “full life” is found in Jesus, distraction is no longer appropriate for the Christian. This may be hard to fathom being so culturally conditioned as we are to crave entertainment and amusement. There are three very crucial reasons, however, why we ought to re-train our minds away from distraction.

1. Craving distraction betrays the fact that there are still some truths about life that we’re trying to escape

It might be our fear of not measuring up, or that people don’t like us, or that we aren’t really exceptional after all. But as followers of Jesus, these things no longer matter. Our identity and our worth have been eternally secured by Jesus’ victory over sin and death and our adoption by God as his children.

2. Distraction prevents us from loving others the way that Christ commanded

The joy we have in loving others comes from the fact that in Jesus we can give our life away without any fear of losing it. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” But how often do our smartphones distract us from the person right in front of us, robbing them of the love God wants to show them through us?

3. Distraction prevents us from knowing God

King David wrote that the blessed person is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). The blessing he’s talking about is not merely the benefit of walking in ways that lead to successful living. What he’s referring to is the fact that spending time in prolonged, uninterrupted, and thoughtful meditation on God’s word fills our souls because doing so brings us into the presence of God himself.

Take a smartphone fast

I’m not suggesting that smartphones are evil and that we should all throw them away. I do think that we need to take seriously the very real spiritual dangers they pose by feeding our appetite for distraction.

I would suggest, therefore, that you try a smartphone fast. Fasting is a long held and biblical spiritual discipline meant to help us co-operate with the Holy Spirit’s work in teaching us self-control. We only serve one master and fasting is a great way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that nothing else holds mastery over us.

Maybe you can’t do totally without your phone because you need it for work or to be in communication with your kids. In that case maybe just try deleting the social media apps for a couple weeks. Or make a goal of not bringing it out unless you have to use it. Otherwise keep it in a pocket or purse.

Whatever you choose, submit it to the Lord as an act of living sacrifice and ask him to bless it and teach you through it.

Originally published Dec 14, 2018, updated Jul 27, 2021.