And the Rest Of It

Mark II

The Phone Was Made for Man (Not Man for the Phone)

June 3, 2023 · A 7 minute read.

If you don’t believe that New Testament believers receive the blessing of spending one whole day in seven being relieved from their worldly labors and getting to delight in Christ, this post is not going to try to convince you. There are plenty of other articles for that.

But assuming you are already convicted about the fourth commandment, or perhaps you’ve been convinced of it by reading the embarrassment of articles I’ve just linked to—either way, this article is a tip for how to get your technology to help you delight in the Lord on his day, instead of hinder you from that delight, as it is wont to do.

Your Attention is Valuable

I’m sure you’ve heard this an hundred times, so I’ll keep this point brief. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, and the rest of their ilk all want your attention. They want you to look at the content on them, and they want you to then come across ads they think are relevant to you while looking at the content. They want, and because of their shareholders, they need you to constantly be engaged in commerce and worldliness—even on the Lord’s Day and even when you’re trying to do private and family worship. Six days a week isn’t enough for them; they want it all.

In addition to that, your friends who don’t agree with you about the Sabbath—whether because they aren’t convicted of the doctrine or because they aren’t Christians—they also want your attention. They want to chat about the meat packaging industry in Uganda, or show you a funny cat video, or ask you to drive them to the airport next month—all stuff that’s fine on any other day, but all stuff that you’d prefer to talk about on any of those other days.

Your phone is a tool for these people and companies to break into your edifying discussions, your prayer meetings, or even the preaching of the Word, all to steal your attention. They might not intentionally be trying to take God’s place, but you know the net result is that it makes your obedience harder than it needs to be.

Maybe you’ve tried to take drastic action, like leaving your phone in a drawer at home. That can work. But what if your aged relative tries to call? What if you drove separately and your spouse tries to call after getting in an accident?

Thankfully, there is a non-nuclear option.

Focus Modes (on iOS Anyway)

I know a lot of people don’t like Apple. They are quick to take your money—and they want a lot of it. Personally, I prefer to give my money to someone who is a bit greedy and wants to directly take a known quantity of my money. That’s more appealing to me than working with someone who is greedy and wants to collect all kinds of data about me (sometimes data I don’t even know they’re collecting) and sell it to the highest bidder. We each, I suppose, choose our own poisons.

So this post is about iOS, but my understanding is that you can do similar things on Android.

Focus modes are a feature in Apple operating systems that let you control things like: your homescreen, what contacts can notify you, and what apps can notify you. They effectively let you turn you phone “off” to certain people or companies during certain times.

Blacklisting vs. Whitelisting

An important concept to understand before you can make full use of this is Blacklisting and Whitelisting. I’ll define them below:

  • Blacklisting: Allowing everything, except those things which you put on a a list of forbidden items.
  • Whitelisting: Forbidding everything, except those things which you put on a list of allowable items.

When Focus Modes first came into existence, they only allowed whitelisting. That limited their usefulness significantly.

The list of people and apps you choose to let through will be unique to you, different from mine. I’ve found that whitelisting is the most effective way to use focus modes for a Sabbath, and I suspect most users will be similar—but if (for example) you are in an emergency service role where many people may have reason to contact you, you might find the blacklisting approach to be more useful. That way, you can say, “allow everyone through, except these people I know cause unwanted distractions.”

My Sabbath Mode Filters

I’m not an officer (or the son of an officer) in my church, but I am the chairman of the A/V committee. That means that if something is wrong with the sound board or recording computer, the A/V worker will likely contact me. I also might be contacted with special requests by my session or deacons. So my list of people to whitelist (allow through) looks like this:

  • My wife
  • My deacons
  • My session
  • Anyone on the A/V committee at church.

Your list, will, of course, look different from mine. For example, I imagine if you were taking care of an elderly or sick relative, you may want to include them and/or any relevant medical staff.

I also find it helpful to allow notifications from my todo list apps (Due and Reminders), my Calendar, and… that’s about it. You might need to add more here, but my advice is to keep it minimal. If you do add Calendar and todo list apps, be careful about having recurring reminders for worldly things that don’t need to be done on the Lord’s Day.

Lastly, there is an option to disable the little red badge that shows on app icons to indicate how many notifications that app has. I’ve chosen to disable this because I find it also to be an unnecessary distraction.

My Sabbath Mode Homescreen

Focus modes also allow you to choose which of your homescreens are visible, so I’ve created a homescreen with the apps and widgets I’m most likely to need on the Lord’s Day. That way I’m not bothered with Outlook or Facebook when I’m trying to open Relight. Anything I don’t put here can be found by swiping to the App Library.

My advice is to try to put anything you might need on this page. If you end up needing something and it isn’t here, you’ll need to swipe over to the App Library, where you’ll be faced with icons for all the distracting apps you don’t need. You want to avoid that as much as you can, so if you put even apps you won’t usually need (but might need) on this homescreen, you can avoid being faced with all the apps you definitely won’t need. Just try to avoid putting apps in here that you know will encourage distraction. If you need to, you can create a second homescreen for your Sabbath mode, so don’t feel like you have to be stingy.

My homescreen is mostly things that serve the purposes of edification, but you’ll note I also have the weather here and info about device charging states. Even though the Lord’s Day is practically heaven on earth, I still need to know if I need a jacket and when I can take my Apple Watch off its charger for the day.

My Sabbath Mode Naming and Timing

When I initially created this focus mode, I called it “Lord’s Day.” But I realized quickly that the mode could also be used during daily private and family worship. I renamed the shortcut to Sabbath because those times are a bit like a Sabbath rest in the midst of the week.

I’ve set my Sabbath mode up to automatically be on all day every Lord’s Day. I’ve also set it up to automatically turn on after I stop my alarm in the morning, and to stay on for an hour. You also have the option to toggle the focus mode manually, but I definitely find it nice to not have to remember to do it most of the time when I want to use it.

Tutorials for Using Focus Modes

Honestly, a text-heavy blog post is not the best place to provide a tutorial for using Focus modes. For this reason, I’m linking to some articles and videos on how to use Focus Modes. They’ll go over how to implement each of the things I’ve talked about.

I mentioned that Android does seem to have focus mode support. As I’ve looked into it, it seems that (as usual with Android) different devices and versions of the Android will cause your configuration options to vary significantly. For this reason, I’d suggest just going to Google and searching for “focus modes” and then the name of your particular device.