What are the dangers of Smartphones for those who experience same-sex temptations?
Ed: Smartphones can be dangerous to anyone, but I think they are more dangerous for somebody who experiences SSA because a smartphone gives almost immediate access to damaging material. Dating apps can be installed, offensive photos can be shared, multiple conversations can be had at once and it is much easier to maintain a regular social media presence with a smartphone. Of course, all this is possible with a traditional desktop computer or laptop, but a smartphone is designed to be carried everywhere and to have a constant power source. This means when temptation comes on somebody struggling with SSA, they will have to fight the urge to feed that temptation using the smartphone that is within arm’s reach.
Jonny: Compared to the internet more generally, I think the biggest added danger of Smartphones is the extra level of privacy. Often what's on your screen is only seen by you. And so we can kid ourselves into thinking that because nobody else can see, what we're looking at doesn't matter. Or we can easily persuade ourselves with some really dodgy reasoning that actually what we're looking at is OK.
Why is an accountability app necessary for you?
Ed: An accountability app is necessary for me because my on-going battle with SSA can cause a deep sense of loneliness. In the past, this has caused me to spend a lot of time in anonymous online chat rooms. The sense of validation and acceptance I used to get from other male users of these chat rooms was a toxic remedy to my loneliness. In some cases, I would build an emotional attachment, which eventually lead to a short-lived relationship that forced me to accept that I couldn't blend Christian beliefs with a gay lifestyle. Since using an accountability app, I've discovered a secondary need: the internet is my default behaviour when I want to avoid doing something productive or when I just can't think of any other way to occupy my time. I love watching endless funny videos on YouTube, browsing everybody's holiday photos on Facebook and stocking up on useless Harry Potter trivia, and while none of these things as addictive or potentially dangerous as online chat rooms, I was using them to an extent that my concentration at work and my friendships were suffering. An accountability app helps me to avoid these addictive behaviours.
Jonny: It means I have to use my phone in a similar way I would use my laptop in the shared kitchen of my (busy) house. An accountability app means that there are people around to make me think "Is what I want to look at really helping me to live as God would want? Is this really good for me?". It forces me to have to be able to justify my actions out loud to someone else.
How do you go about installing an accountability app and how does it work?
Ed: I use Covenant Eyes, but the process will be similar for any accountability app. First, you make an account on the CE website. The account will hold your payment details and the email address of your accountability partner (you can have multiple accountability partners and they don't have to be current users of CE). Next, you need to install the accountability app from the App Store (or equivalent) on your device (or devices) in the same way as any other app. The app is designed to look and function as an internet browser. Every month, your accountability partner will receive a report of your browsing history, including a list of sites visited, search engine queries, the times of internet use, and other usage statistics. CE will flag report entries that it finds in its database of known sites containing explicit content. However, the accountability report will never include the actual explicit content of these flagged entries, and using internet banking does not mean that your accountability partners will see all your financial information! If you install the app on more than one device, then all the usage information is collected into one monthly report.
Jonny: With the one I use, I just signed up on their website, then installed the app on all the devices I had. You then sign in to your account on all your devices, and then in future it automatically signs you in when you start the device and runs in the background. An accountability app works by making a note of everything you've done to do with the internet. It then periodically sends a report summarising what you've been viewing to you and at least one person you've chosen. It's then up to you and that person/people to chat about anything that's come up. Accountability apps on their own don't block any pages on the internet - that's what internet filters do. You can choose between filtering software or an accountability app, or some services provide both in one package.
What do they cost?
Ed: Covenant Eyes currently costs $10.99 per month for an individual account. There are other accountability apps that are less expensive but won't usually offer the same level of features or reliability. I personally think that financial cost should be pretty low on the requirement list of a prospective user. For almost the same price as a burger meal and a McFlurry, I can use a service that has become my most powerful defence against temptations that threaten to significantly damage my Christian walk - what price can I put on that?! Of course, there is the cost of voluntary surrender of my internet freedom. But that is just one of the many costs that come with following Jesus, who trades my internet freedom with freedom from guilt, shame and slavery to an addiction that tempts and tantalises but cannot satisfy.
Jonny: The one I use costs $10.99 per month. Slightly painfully, this usually works out to be more than I pay for my actual phone contract - but it's worth it.
Have you tried various apps and which one would you recommend?
Ed: No, Covenant Eyes was specifically recommended to me by a fellow user who became one of the recipients of my monthly accountability reports. There are other accountability apps out there, but they all offer the same basic functionality of monitoring internet usage and communicating that usage to selected recipients. There may be differences in the additional features which may appeal to others that struggle with internet usage in different ways. For example, some apps take the "walled garden" approach, in that ALL internet content is inaccessible except for a specific list of approved websites. Some apps work in real time, which means that accountability partners will be immediately notified when certain content is being viewed. However, CE has the features that are useful for me, has never failed and would need drastic measures to circumnavigate.
Jonny: I tried a few free internet filters on my computer and I got what I paid for - they did everything on the spectrum from nothing whatsoever, to blocking the internet entirely. I ended up paying for Covenant Eyes and, in comparison, it has worked like a dream. They either provide an accountability service, or that combined with an internet filter.
?How has the app helped you to remain sexually pure?
Ed: Knowing that somebody can see what I've been doing online is a huge blocker to the temptation to let myself be drawn into my old online habits, which are highly likely to cause behaviours that would damage my sexual purity. It's also helped to foster a close friendship with another Christian, with whom I share accountability. I've found that there is a deep power in being able to be open and direct with what's going on in my life (not just SSA-related). It really helps me to keep things in perspective and to see things from an outsider's point of view, which means I'm far less likely to reach for my smartphone for false solutions.
Jonny: It's not a magic wand. I've still clicked on things I wish I hadn't, and dwelt on ideas that I shouldn't. Nevertheless, it has very often stopped me from searching and/or clicking on things which I know I would not find helpful. Just thinking through how I would actually justify it puts me off - because I realise my thinking just doesn't stack up. But it's also provided a reason to talk about the internet with my friends who receive my reports. Even if nothing particularly has come up in the reports, it's still been great to have an excuse for that conversation about how I think my use of my Smartphone is going.
Ed is a member of TFT who lives in Scotland and works as a software developer. He can usually be found writing Java code while listening to Britney Spears, and hopes to start learning to play the flute soon.
Jonny has finally got round to getting a "boring office job" doing a mixture of admin, marketing and events management. Whilst he still doesn't quite know what his company does exactly, he does know that he's having a blast getting to know a fab bunch of colleagues.
A shorter version of this article was originally published in the Winter 2017 edition of "Ascend", the TFT newsletter.