10 observations on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone

June 29, 2017

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the Apple iPhone, a device that has helped shape our culture in many different ways. On January 9, 2007, then-CEO Steve Jobs introduced publically the Apple iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco, California. It was officially released on June 29th, 2007 for sale to the public.

I remember the first time I saw the iPhone in person like it was yesterday. I was a part of a member meeting for our small church plant in New York City. A fellow church member stood in line for hours to get the first iPhone at the iconic glass cube Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan. My friends and I were captivated by it, yet had no idea the impact that it would have on our lives over the course of a decade. Here are 10 observations about the powerful influence of Apple iPhone and smartphone technology.

1. Access to (seemingly) unlimited knowledge

With the rise of the iPhone and smartphone technology, we now have access to more knowledge and information at our fingertips that anyone in the history of the world. We can research any given topic and, within seconds, have more information available to us than we can comprehend in our lifetime. We can explore historical archives and access more works than the Library of Congress is able to house. Using mapping and GPS apps, we are able to plan down to the minute when we will arrive at work or school with real time updates on accidents and hazards. We can listen to or watch incredible conversations between some of the most gifted men and women in the world with the emergence of podcasts and live video. We can learn about news and current events as they happen in real time through social media as we scroll on our phones and devices. This level of data and knowledge can allow us to tackle larger problems with more skill and precision than was possible in the past.

2. Increase in human connectedness

From FaceTime calls with family while traveling to Twitter notifications about current events, we are now more connected as a society than ever before. We receive alerts when our friends interact with us online and can follow along with those same family and friends from across the globe. Even here at the ERLC, we are able to connect with our remote staff via video conferencing and workplace apps like Zoom, Slack, and Voxer in ways that never would have been possible prior to the advent of the smartphone. We live in an age where human connections have never been as simple to establish. We are created by God to be connected. When used wisely, smartphone technology can aid us in our goal to love and care for others as we build community with them.

3. Exposure to the world

We can now “see” the ends of the earth in ways that prior generations only dreamt. We can “walk” among the wonders of the world using cardboard goggles and a phone through augmented reality apps. We can learn about other cultures through ever expanding mediums. We can have access to photos and videos from a host of sources that can help expand our perspective on the world. We are able to share our own experiences and travels with our family and friends through mobile photography and social media using our smartphones. The iPhone helped usher in major shifts in photography, videography, and audio recording. God created us to be a curious people who explore and mature. These advances can help us to accomplish our goals if used wisely and with caution.

4. Exercise and health tracking

Smartphones now allow us to track our health by logging our intake of nourishment and exercise in simple ways. This data is then connected via other devices to give health care professionals and ourselves insights into our health and vitality that has never been possible before. Through the iPhone and other smartphones, we can map runs or bike routes. In fact, years ago, I was able to alert my wife that I tore something in my knee while out on a run so that she could come take me to the doctor. With the rise of this level of tracking and care, we are able to care for our bodies in more specific and beneficial ways by treating problems before they become too serious.

5. Technology is more integrated

Technology has become exponentially more integrated and more compact since the introduction of the iPhone. One of the main selling points of the iPhone when it debuted was the ability to have multiple devices in one. Gone are the days when we carried around our old brick phone, a digital or film camera, computer, watch, notepad, and iPod. We are able to have all of those devices in one. Our phones have functionally replaced television sets and other entertainment devices for personal use. Using smartphones, we can now control other devices through smart home technologies, and developers are finding more and more uses for the smartphone to replace other devices in our lives. These types of integrations can aid us in living simpler lives and being more effective in the work we are called to do.

Even with all of the benefits and good things that the iPhone has helped usher into our lives, Christians must think critically about technology and its impact on our lives. Not all changes or advancements are good for our souls or our society. Here are a few of those dangers:

6. Increased apathy from overexposure

With the rise of seemingly unlimited information, we have a tendency to become de-sensitized to the needs of those around us. We become increasingly desensitized and apathetic to suffering around us. Through our devices, we are able to see the brokenness of our world in clearer and clearer ways. We are exposed to more bloodshed, death, sickness, and sin going on in the world around us. From the Planned Parenthood videos to terrorist attacks and shootings, we are exposed to more carnage and destruction than ever before. It is easy for us to see something so often that we stop engaging and gloss over what is really taking place.

7. Decrease in human connectedness

While smartphone technology has allowed us to be more connected as a society, this technology can also have the opposite effect on us as we start to develop online only relationships with others where we are able to curate our lives for them. We are able to show others only what we want them to see, thus sacrificing authentic community, often with plenty of blemishes and rough spots. This technology also allows us to create our own bubbles and become increasingly self-focused through bolstering our own social media presence and brand. We can easily allow our narcissistic tendencies to take over instead of fighting against our sin alongside people who really know us.

8. Hidden sins and vices

As we have become more inward focused and curated as a people, we also have seen a rise in hidden sins and vices. Online pornography has grown at an exponential rate since the introduction of the smartphone and is now easier to indulge in since you don’t have to have a real interaction with people to engage with it. Fear of missing out (FOMO) and covetousness have grown as we can “see” into our friends lives and desire what they have in sinfully secret ways. The inward focus of our technology has allowed us to separate from authentic community where we share and deal with our sins with public accountability.

9. Loss of privacy

At the risk of sounding like Ron Swanson from NBC’s Parks and Rec, the connectedness and tracking that we enjoy using our smartphones also has drawbacks in terms of our privacy. Online marketers are able to using tracking mechanisms to see where you’ve been online, then place ads for products they think you’d like right into your social media feed. Our online presence is a part of a massive data mine that people are using to “know” us better. This data is even collected through geofencing and GPS mapping technologies. Though we shouldn’t run for the hills or bury gold bars in our yard, we need to know what we’re sacrificing for the societal connectedness we enjoy.

10. Inability to disconnect

In my opinion, the most profound change that iPhone and smartphones have ushered in is the inability for us to disconnect from our technology. Our devices are so connected to us that we find it difficult to put our phones down and focus on what and who is right in front of us. Through constant notifications and real-time updates, we are a very distracted people. In times past, we could turn off our computers and e-mail when we left the office, but now the office comes home with us. It’s even difficult for some to go to sleep because of screen time. We are tempted to stay glued to our devices for work and pleasure in ways that are damaging to our souls, families, and friends.

Ten years has gone by so fast. It feels just like yesterday that I was holding the original iPhone on Christmas morning back in 2007. For such a small device, the iPhone has had an outsized influence in our lives and culture. Technology is a good gift from God that every generation has used in one way or another, but as Christians we know that even good gifts can be misused and abused by our sinful souls. Our goal as believers is to think critically about technology and its influence on our lives. We should celebrate and embrace the benefits, all the while recognizing and fighting the temptations that are before us. There isn’t an app for that.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24