A couple weeks ago I took some time off. Not exactly vacation, but I was out of the office for five days for one purpose: to paint the house in Toledo. The problem was I forgot to notify my iPhone that I’d be off duty for a week.

See, the icons on the iPhone feature number counts for my various apps. There’s a count for

  • unread emails
  • missed calls
  • unchecked voicemails
  • unread text messages
  • overdue tasks
  • even Facebook notifications and it’s-your-turn Words With Friends notices

While I tried to ignore everything else, I made sure to take advantage of double-word and triple-letter scores for each of the six games I’m currently playing. A man’s gotta set priorities.

These little number counts constantly annoy me. I hate to see my pristine phone screen littered with 8’s and 12’s and 6’s. Some of these I’ve turned off. Like the count for unread blog feeds. I could go two days and be 50+ posts behind. I started marking read every subscribed post that didn’t look interesting enough to read. (I wonder how many people do this to my posts. Surely no one marks me read when I haven’t been.)

Even on my to-do list (I use Appigo’s Todo which enables me to use the Getting Things Done system), I just keep moving the due dates back so the nagging numbers will disappear. Never mind what needed to be done before Sunday. Just go away, stupid number!

All this reminded me of something I’d read awhile back: “The Tyranny of the Urgent.”

When Charles Hummel wrote his classic essay “Tyranny of the Urgent,” in 1967, he identified the telephone as among the worst offenders against our peace and complacency. And that was before we carried the offending instrument with us everywhere and embellished it with email, computers, cameras, downloadable ring tones and music files. —Gordon Govier

Hummel’s essay doesn’t offer a program to get our priorities back in order, though it stresses not allowing things that seem urgent to overshadow what’s important. Hummel points to Jesus who never seemed to be in a hurry.

Jesus may have set his plans for his day, but he was also open to interruptions. Whether something was urgent or not depended on what his Father was telling him about it.

Schroeder copyInstead of feeling the need to answer every phone call and email as I receive them, I have a tendency to retreat to solitude when I’m working on something that demands my complete attention, setting my office phone to DO NOT DISTURB. Certainly, there are times to shut off my phone, but I also need to be open to interruptions. God may want to order my steps differently today.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. —Proverbs 16:9 NLT

At the end of the day, I don’t want to feel like I didn’t accomplished much because I didn’t check everything off my list. I’ll just ignore the app counts on my phone knowing I walked with Jesus today.

How about you? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your to-do list? Are you open to interruptions? Are you maybe too open?

2 thoughts on “Tyranny of the Smartphone

  1. With six children my day is filled with interruptions, and I can relate to the pesky number counts. When I had Facebook that RED number in the left hand corner was the first thing I clicked to remove it.  (then go back and read the stuff)  I have lots of friends that have hundreds of notifications; I can’t do that!!   I only subscribe to my families blogs and TWO others (yours being one), as I cannot deal with having too many things to crowd my plate. If I have time, I will gladly indulge.  I don’t want the pressure of not accomplishing things.  If I agree to do something it WILL get done, so I don’t want to commit to too many things.


    1. I could only imagine. I do like my technology to help me get the tasks done I need to, but I’m OK with ignoring it when I need to, like when Micah says, “Play with me.”


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