What’s the story?
TV talent show mogul and cultural icon Simon Cowell has revealed that he has not used a smartphone for the past ten months, and he’s part of a growing trend of people rejecting the rapid advance of technology in order to preserve their own sanity.
He’s not always a trend-setter – those high-waisted trousers have never really caught on – but showbiz kingpin Simon Cowell may be on to something this time. He recently told The Mail on Sunday that he has given up using his mobile device, and in fact hadn’t checked it for 10 months since making the decision to ‘fast’ from it. As a result he says his mental health has improved, that he has “become way more focussed”, and is more “aware of the people around me.”
He told the newspaper: “The thing I get irritated with is when you have a meeting, everyone's on their phone - and I was probably in that place too. You can't concentrate.” It’s unclear whether Cowell has now banned phones from all meetings he’s involved with, but such is his influence it’s unlikely that anyone will be checking Twitter during a Britain’s Got Talent production gathering anytime soon.
Although research on the effects of smartphone use on mental health and wellbeing are in their infancy, Cowell’s decision is part of a movement towards rejecting invasive technology such as phones and social media. Jaron Lanier’s new book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now has become an instant best-seller, while a 2017 Deloitte survey revealed that 41% of people believed their partner used a mobile too much.
Cowell is one of a number of celebrities to go public about ditching their mobile devices; others include Tom Cruise, Elton John and Vince Vaughan. Talking to the Mail on Sunday he added, evangelistically: “It has been so good for my mental health. It's a very strange experience but it really is good for you and it has absolutely made me happier."
What have others been saying?
Users of the BBC’s news website submitted their own stories of giving up their mobile devices.
The BBC also reported that two major investors in tech giant Apple are urging the retailer to develop software which limits the amount of time that children can use their smartphones.
The conservative Christian website Desiring God surveyed 8,000 users about their smartphone usage, and the results revealed widespread addiction and what they termed ‘Our Spiritual ADD’.
My article for Christian Today looks at how an addiction to dopamine – the chemical released by the brain when we’re excited by a social media interaction – could be ‘hurting your soul’.
#1 – PEACE
In John 14:27, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus is offering a deep sense of contentment and well-being which is the very opposite of what the world has to offer. Right now, thanks to technological advancement, the world seems to offer stress, comparison, and a culture of being ‘always-on’; that is, always reachable, day and night. In contrast Jesus offers a genuine sense of peace. This is perhaps one of the most profound things that we can offer to a world of fast-paced, hyper-connected digital pressure: freedom from all those suffocating things through knowing Jesus personally.
#2 – SIMPLICITY
In an age of consumerism, almost all of us (at least in the wealthy West) have too much, and most of us do too much. We become accidentally obsessed with the accumulation of stuff, and make an idol out of our own productivity. Yet Jesus achieved more than any of us will in just three years of ministry, and had no possessions or home and frequently took time out to be alone with God. His example has led many Christians through the ages – and particularly those in monastic orders and traditions – to embrace the Biblical discipline of simplicity. Before his most significant moments in ministry – large-scale open-air preaches and incredible miracles – the Bible says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Simplicity allowed Jesus to disconnect from the world, and connect fully with the Father, and it allows us to do the same. Perhaps learning to disconnect ourselves from our smartphones is a first step.
Points for prayer
Pray for Simon Cowell, that in this more reflective season, he might hear the “still, small voice” of God.
Pray for those who have become unhealthily addicted to technology, that messages such as this will reach them and have an impact.
Pray for Christians working to share the gospel through smartphones, social media and other technology, that their work would have an impact, and also encourage people to have healthy relationship with technology.
Pray for ourselves, that we would be able to simplify our lives where necessary, and have a stronger connection to God than to our mobiles.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.