Finding God In Our Smartphones

by Brian S Hall   |   November 11th, 2013

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony.”
- Albert Einstein

Smartphones have changed our world. Wearables will change our selves. Together, these amazing devices represent some of humankind’s greatest work, integrating the absolute leading edge of technical prowess, computer engineering, manufacturing skill and materials science. I wonder also if they are bringing us closer to God.

I confess, I do not know the answer.

Silicon Valley is about money, not faith. Real-time, not eternity. Change, not permanence. The worship that occurs here is typically at the altar of wealth, intellect, and luck; a place where residents proudly wear their atheism on their sleeves, and where the obviously religious are, if not looked down upon, then viewed the way far too many view obese people — broken, not quite fully evolved.

The spirit finds a way.

At the intersection of smartphones and wearables is a locus of desire to know ourselves, improve ourselves, celebrate ourselves. And yet, through these devices we are reminded how fully connected we are to one another, and soon, to all things. This strikes me as a form of grace.

At first glance, this notion seems incongruous. With smartphones and wearables, we post in real-time what we ate, how much we weigh. We tweet our passing thoughts on all manner of topics. We update our Facebook page to sanction our latest pleasure or most recent transient annoyance. We take pictures of our self, then another, then another, and display them all for the world to see. We actively seek the affirmation of nearby friends and faraway strangers, asking them to affirm our actions, no matter how small or fleeting.

We may all be, in this age of miracle and wonder, at our most vain.

Nonetheless, that fire hose of data gushing from these personal computing devices lays bare our very human failings, our strivings and our mortality. What comes after that? At the time of our greatest technical and intellectual advancement, do we merely expose ourselves as insufferably common, or are we (unknowingly) unlocking the fullest truth of ourselves?

The very tools used  to elevate our physical and intellectual selves, helping us to be the very best we can be, may ultimately serve to remind us that without a equal focus on the spiritual, it’s all for naught.

Consider that with smartphones, that which was once physical is now digital. Apps, tweets, music, movies, these are abstractions made real. We are contented with their ephemeral realness. Our very best technology, then, may be edging us closer — shaman-like — to bridging the physical and the virtual, and possibly to accepting the spiritual.

Our most advanced personal technologies are not merely uplifting, but guiding. We track everything, or soon will. In the morning our devices will remind us to eat right, to walk 10,000 steps. In the evening they will ask us if we gave due attention to our children, our spouse and our dreams. The daily rituals of monitoring what we do and how we improve may in fact help us find our way onto a narrow, possibly righteous path to goodness.

Yes, we can instantly access all manner of fetishism, violence, pornography, but also the greatest of humanity — and one another. The fragments of humanity, good and bad, are embedded within our technology, and resident inside our iPhones and Fitbits. Humans seek, we care, we dream, we sense there is far more beyond our self, our neighbors, even our world. This is true even if, at least in this infant stage of our meta connectivity, we initially turn such powers upon ourselves.

With smartphone in hand, we are connected to nearly everyone, from anywhere, at any time, and never truly alone. Wearable computer bracelet strapped tightly against our skin, the truth of our self is brightly flashed before our eyes, including our mortality. These devices will change us.

Which may not lead us to God but certainly should lead us all to be better.

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology and change. His work has appeared in Techpinions, ReadWrite, the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn, The Push, CIO and Business Insider. His latest novel, "Love in the Time of Caller ID" is available from Amazon and on iBooks.
  • robbieP

    Nice thoughts, hope your “should” becomes a reality for you…. and for me too.

  • klahanas

    The physicists prayer…”Dear Lord, forgive me the sin of arrogance, and by arrogance I mean…”

    -”We may all be, in this age of miracle and wonder, at our most vain.”
    -”The worship that occurs here is typically at the altar of wealth, intellect, and luck; ….proudly wear their atheism on their sleeves, and where the obviously religious are, if not looked down upon, then viewed the way far too many view obese people — broken, not quite fully evolved.”

    Well…Silicon Valley can just be building the New Tower of Babel (or as punishment make them run babel benchmarks all day), but then the “lord” (Jobs) could just write new rules and confound them.

  • David Olson

    Steve Job’s analogy of the personal computer as a bicycle for the mind applies well to this topic. Smartphones and tablets make it easy for people to carry resources useful for a life of spiritual devotion and service. But they also facilitate the numerous vices people indulge. Having this breadth of access and possibility forces me to ask myself what kind of person I really want to be.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      You can lead a horse to water, as they say…

  • Chris Marriott

    There is no god, expect the one you invent, in order to feel better about the fact you’re going to die and cease to exist like every other living thing on this planet. There’s no magical afterlife for you to meet up with your dead friends and relatives and live happily ever after. Our planet would be better off; our chances for survival greater, if we stop wasting time, energy, and money on fairy tales for adults capable of accepting false beliefs that defy reality. Religion and god are human inventions, just like your iPhone.

    You can’t find god in technology. It’s 100% humanity and pretending otherwise isn’t giving credit where credit is due.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      Then some of us go about our lives blessedly deluded.

    • klahanas

      Insofar that organized religion, like all human endeavor, is fallible, I can agree with you to a point. Science and tech are fallible by the same token. “Priesthoods” have existed in science and tech into antiquity, when they were “natural philosophy”. In either case it’s to exert control or power over other’s.
      Science relies (correctly) on “proof”, religion on “faith”. Thus science cannot, by it’s very definition, express a scientific opinion on faith. The most science can do is abstain or at worst say “we see no evidence to believe”. There are those that have claimed to see, and that which we call a miracle simply is a violation of natural or scientific law, or a huge coincidence.
      You can no more disprove the existence of God using science any more than you can prove the existence of God using science. Science, however, basically should have no opinion on the subject since it only deals with “observables”. If I wanted to stretch it, however, both science AND religion begin with “let there be light!”.

      • Chris Marriott

        Science has an opinion on everything and it should. Unlike religion, it actually has the capacity to explain our place in the universe. Religion is nothing but a collection of easy answers to complex problems. It’s intellectually lazy and encourages people to suspend critical thinking. There’s nothing more dangerous to our civilization than that.

        • jfutral

          “Science has an opinion on everything and it should. Unlike religion, it actually has the capacity to explain our place in the universe.”

          That’s not science. That’s art, interpretation. Not that the two aren’t related.

          Joe

          • Shameer Mulji

            Funny, I always thought my place in the universe was inside an Apple Store.

        • klahanas

          In science, there is only room for opinion in the absence of knowledge, of data. Which means you “know”, not “you think that”. So, yes, there’s room for “scientific opinion”, but it’s not as strong as data. Theory guides, experiment decides.

    • Blinx182

      Look up Michael Roll.

    • Scott Sterling

      Chris, in the South we’d say “You took the bait”.

    • jfutral

      Not that you are actually addressing the author’s point, but, if religion and God are human inventions, you should have no problems with someone finding God in a human invention.

      Or as B. Hall put it, “The fragments of humanity, good and bad, are embedded within our technology, and resident inside our iPhones and Fitbits. Humans seek, we care, we dream, we sense there is far more beyond our self, our neighbors, even our world.”

      Seems to me your atheism and the author’s search for God are on common ground here.

      Joe

  • Rene Stein

    Technology is a neutral medium, equally useful for enabling any kind of lifestyle the user wants. What I am scared of, is that people will enable it to surround them only with the sweet sound of things we want to hear, while avoiding the conflict of opinion and ideas that make life interesting and diverse.

  • Shameer Mulji

    You guys are making this too complicated. If I want to find God, I look in the mirror.

  • qka

    Wearables – a solution in search of a problem.