Resisting the tyranny of the smartphone

Published May 24, 2024

WORLD Opinions

Remember back when conservatives were up in arms about the use of vaccines as “social passports”? For some, the problem was vaccines themselves, which they regarded as dangerous or unethical. Many others, though, were happy to get vaccinated themselves but 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, and force families to choose between their moral principles and their very livelihoods.

It is odd, then, that having been so vigilant against this form of soft tyranny, we’ve allowed ourselves to submit to the dominion of another form of social passport—the smartphone. During the first decade or so after Apple introduced the iPhone, smartphones quickly established themselves as the easiest gateway to the digital world—music, email, social media, and web browsing—but left the analog world relatively untouched. Over the past few years, though, that has changed. If you want to order a taxi, you’ll probably need Uber or another app. To order off some menus (or at least to skip the line and get the discounts), you’ll need to scan the QR code or use the restaurant app. To park, attend a sporting event, access your university email, access the state park, view your school 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 find (or think) they simply cannot carry out their vocations without carrying a smartphone in their pockets.

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Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.

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