Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Digital Minimalism and Living in a New World

Written by: on March 21, 2019

This weeks subject matter, on the surface, is a much less controversial task for those who keep track of such things. On the surface, we are talking about something that 77% of the U.S. population carries in their hand a smart phone. [1] Drilling down a bit further 69% of those in the U.S. are one some sort of social media platform. [2] Just think if overnight everyone lost their ability to be connected via a smartphone or social media in general, you have a very touchy subject. In Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World he argues that in its beginnings the smart phone was just a way to “integrate your iPod with your cell phone, preventing you from having to carry around two separate devices in your pockets.” [3] I remember the first commercial for the iPhone I saw (for reference here it is):

Interesting how there is very little there about the phone, just an introduction. If you search for original iPhone commercials you can see all of them you ever wanted to…which is kind of the point to these things. In fact, one of the commercials I watched stated that you for all these years you got by without everything the iPhone offered and survived then asks the question but how? I have given you that video as well, if you do not want to watch all of the commercials skip ahead to the 4 minute mark.

This is the question asked by digital minimalism, can we survive without all of the added “benefits” that we get from our phones and social media. When I was a youth minister I would challenge our youth to fast from social media during the lead up to Easter, Lent is not something Baptists partake in, but growing up in a high church setting it was something I wanted them to do. Unfortunately only 2 or 3 of the students would take up the challenge and to be honest I cannot remember any one of them who finished out the fast.

I was fascinated in the discussion by Tristan Harris, his quote “This is a slot machine…every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see ‘What did I get'” [4] He goes onto talk about how silicon valley is not just programming the phone but they are programming people. We receive a shot of dopamine whenever we respond to the slot machine and it makes us want it more and more. I did a little experiment while I was reading for my post this week. How long could I go during my reading without checking my phone or playing on an app, the experiment did not go well for me. It just proved I need to take this book to heart. I am too programed by this dang piece of technology to even go over 15 minutes without feeling the interminable pull of my iPhone. I began to think back to this year and grew almost panicked when I thought about the time I have wasted just in the past 6 months on my phone. How much better would everything I do if I put this stupid thing down?

The discussion moved to the principles of Digital Minimalism: 1. Clutter is costly 2. Optimization is important and 3. Intentionality is satisfying. I want to focus on Newport’s discussion on number 3. He uses the Amish as an example for principle 3. He goes on to describe the Amish use of technology, far from never using technology he states, “When a new technology rolls around, there’s typically an ‘alpha geek’…in any given Amish community that will ask the parish bishop permission to try it out…The whole community will then observer this first adopter ‘intently’ trying to discern the ultimate impact of the technology” [5] The geek then decides if the technology has more to give than it takes and they make their decision based on this. What a great idea, does my phone give or take more, does social media give or take more, do the apps I spend my time on give or take more? This is the first step in trying to find if I can move down the highway to minimalism. 

Harry Wallop quotes Newport when he says, “”Attention resistance” also involves what he calls “analogue socialising”. Having hundreds of friends on Facebook is plain weird, he says.” [6] Wallop loves the idea of minimizing but also laments that it is much more than taking a weekend off. I agree, the idea of getting rid of all of my digital footprint is terrifying. Mike Jansen writes, “Newport calls us to act with intention when it comes to our digital technologies. If you have ever found yourself thinking that you spend too much time on your phone or social media, his book is well worth your time.” [7] 

In the end, I have to make the decision, just like anyone else. I cannot make the decision for my wife or even my children. I have to let them make that, and until I do, I cannot expect anyone else to do the same.

[1] “Demographics of Mobile Device Ownership and Adoption in the United States.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. February 05, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2019. https://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/.

[2] “Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. February 05, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2019. https://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/.

[3] Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life In a Noisy World. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019. 4.

[4] Ibid. 10.

[5] Ibid. 52

[6] Harry Wallop. “How to Be a Digital Minimalist the Rules; We Need to Resist Technology, Says Cal Newport. He Should Know, He’s a Computer Scientist. By Harry Wallop.” The Times (London, England), 2019.

[7]Janssen, Mike. “A Guide to Digital Decluttering: A Review of Digital Minimalism.” Digitalcollections.dordt.edu. March 09, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2019. https://digitalcollections.dordt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2052&context=faculty_work.

About the Author

Jason Turbeville

A pastor, husband and father who loves to be around others. These are the things that describe me. I was a youth minister for 15 years but God changed the calling on my life. I love to travel and see where God takes me in my life.

12 responses to “Digital Minimalism and Living in a New World”

  1. Great read, Jason!

    Technology has become a normative habit that’s infiltrated every aspect of self. Cal Newport delves into this idea and suggests, “We didn’t, in other words, sign up for this digital world in which we’re currently entrenched; we seem to have stumbled into it” (Digital Minimalism, 7). I remember when Facebook first came out. There was an age restriction and you needed to have a college email in order to join the social media platform. However, over the years, the restrictions were lax, and the availability was given to all. It’s the same with any form of stimulant. For instance, what would we think if the drinking age was no longer enforced and children were able to walk into bars and have a beer? Availability to all has increased the psychological reactions because we haven’t considered how stimulants affect the brains of those without full brain development.

    You talk about encouraging youth students to abstain from social media to refocus. Do you think that youth are more prone to this addictive behavior because they’re being exposed to too many technological stimuli? Should we require an age restriction for smartphones and/or social media apps?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      Funny you brought up the age restrictions, I checked fb last week, was curious if they still required you to be 14 (not that it restricted you, I have seen may 85 yr old 12yr olds with an account) but now they have you put in your age so they can maximize your experience…ie we want to know the best way to capture your head. Your question about how we should look at age restrictions was a good question but I see just as many adults compulsive with their tech as I do kids. The scary thing is 30 years from now how the heads will be working with all this technology affecting it long term.


  2. Mike says:

    I work hard to keep my digital footprint low due to my vocation and ministry in hard to reach places. So, for me, it is not only intentional, but a way to keep you, my friends, and family safe. You think the AI world of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft is intrusive, just imagine the access to our social media that is actually out there. While I thought Newport’s book was ok, I was not impressed. I would much rather pray to the real God and seek wisdom and discernment than just start a 30 day digital diet because a blogger turned author says so. I searched his biographies, blogs, websites and could not find a connection to like-mindedness, but pray he is or will be some day. The book could easily be translated into like-minded ideas and leverage Scripture in many places.
    You are right, in the end we must decide what our digital diet and intake will be. Thanks for the Amish example. I have worked with the Hutterites in the farming communities and they are very “tech” capable when it comes to farm machinery.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I like the idea of taking these suggestions and carving them into how do I look at this same thing in relation to how I interact with God, good suggestion. I have worked with mennonites as well and found it very interesting.


  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    Good post Jason, great recap on the Amish. Such an interesting system they have to implement new things.

    I too have tried to have students do fasts from social media or their phone, and yes it had mixed results. A few students were able to do the full 30 day fast from social media and they always seemed to come out adjusting their ongoing social media habits.

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      What percentage did you see actually following through with the commitment. I actually tried this with a small group of adults as well and they were worse off than the teenagers. Found it pretty funny/sad.


  4. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jason!

    You: “This is the question asked by digital minimalism, can we survive without all of the added “benefits” that we get from our phones and social media?”

    NOPE. I lost my email provider for three days and I about had a coronary. People were getting undeliverable messages and I thought they would have a coronary.

    No technology? No electronic fund and credit card transactions, no heat in our homes, no reliable food delivery. America and most of the world would have a coronary!

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      Your comments hit home, I think the thing I am alluding to is not so much those things but the social media draw in my life. That is the thing I can give up but seem reluctant to do so, I might miss something!


  5. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jason,
    I was sucked in by your pictures lol! Your story of the Amish intrigued me. Ohio has a large Amish population – and little known to many people – there’s quite an underworld of Amish people accessing all the things they are denied. In fact, Amish have begun consuming so many “modern amenities” – they just pay people to access them. They hire people to drive them, see themselves as above many laws (ask Ron about hunting laws in Ohio), etc. I always appreciate your humble approach – when you state you would never ask others to disconnect from technology – it’s their decision to make. This is such an excellent approach to ministry as well. Your family and congregation is lucky to have you!

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I bet Ron has some crazy stories indeed, one thing you said caught my attention, they think themselves above the law. I have never heard it put that way but wow really seems like the opposite of what God call us to do. It seems pharisaical to pay someone to do those things your religion says you cannot do. I wonder what the founders of the Amish movement would have to say about where they are now…


  6. Dan Kreiss says:


    I think in some ways Newport has it a little easier as it seems he never permitted himself to be exploited by his devices. For those of us who have developed some addictive habits it is much harder to transform those into something more positive. This is similar to the argument regarding alcohol or gambling. It is much easier to never begin that to give it up once addicted.

    Now that we are fully addicted and the tech companies are targeting us to stay that way what will it take to change? It took an act of congress and long-term pressure on the tobacco companies for the tide to begin to turn on smoking. Do you think it will have to be the same for tech? And if so, do you think the government will ever have the wherewithal to pursue that line?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      That is a great point, I don’t think that the government wants to get into that crap storm to be honest with you. To much interest in finding out what we are doing as well. I wish I never started with social media but at the time it seemed harmless just like that first drink seems harmless….


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