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

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Written by: on March 22, 2019

It was refreshing to read another Cal Newport text this week – Digital Minimalism.  His premise of ‘technology as distraction” resonates with me.  In fact, I want to shout out PREACH IT CAL!  I agree with almost every technology concern he raises in his writing.  I have been/still am concerned about the role our phones, smart watches, tablets, laptops, desktops, etc. play in our day to day life.  Notice I say “our”.  I’m not exempt.  The struggle is real and logically I know I need technology balance in my life.  Many [users] – the term I will use throughout this blog to refer to consumers of technology – are addicted to the immediacy of “notifications”, i.e. a blinking light, ping from the phone, vibration, colorful banner of words that emerges (from social media, text message, email).

“Smartphones are really hard to put down. The buzzing of push notifications, the nagging red bubbles on apps, and endless feeds create the perfect storm of distractions. They keep us constantly engaged with the device. And that’s kind of the point. Our apps and devices have been carefully designed to hook our attention for as long as possible… Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris who recently co-founded the Center for Humane Technology raises that question. He has become one of the most outspoken critics of how devices are intentionally made to hook users at the cost of their time and comfort.”[1]

There is certainly personal and professional harm that can come from overuse of technology in our everyday life.  But the reality is technology is here to stay.  I work really hard to not be “that old” person who is talking smack (negatively) about “today’s world”.  I hear, and sometimes engage in, conversations lamenting about the good old days before technology, the evil of present technology, and the fears for the future generation. And yet, these same people, including myself, check our smartphone when we’re done chatting.  One grave concern, besides generalized distraction, is the change in relationship interaction via technology with family, friends, coworkers, customer service, etc.  Relationships have been redefined by social media.  As a member of Facebook, I suddenly have 500+ friends (some I barely know) who, according to Mark Zuckerberg, are supposed to be interested in my mundane daily activities or impressed by my amazing vacation photos.  Sometimes I might even throw out a political ranting – assuming of course my 500+ friends care about my political view!?!?  In 2017, the average technology user spent approximately two hours/day on social media.[2]  TWO HOURS.  That accounts for only a fraction of the average eleven hours of “screen time”/day per person (TV, computer, phone, etc.).[3]  How ironic that one of the main complaints of people in today’s world is “there is not enough time in the day to get things done”.  Enough said.

All the lamenting in the world will not change the fact that technology is here to stay.  Even though we recognize its potential harm, we also need to acknowledge its value. I’m not naive enough to believe that completely abolishing technology is the answer to our broken world – we’ve been broken all along with or without technology.  It has pushed us (especially Christians) to face new and different temptations and distractions, but it has also provided more access to resources and connections (i.e. Bible app, books, blogs, journals, online groups to connect).  We can go about the business of discipleship more efficiently.  Speaking of discipleship, my research focus on Somali refugee resettlement and resilience in Columbus, Ohio, has been impacted by technology.

THE GOOD:  For the non-refugee, technology offers access to immediate information, statistics, opportunities to donate and volunteer, and resources.  You can find pros and cons to the refugee crisis and form your own thoughts and opinions simply via Google.  As a refugee, access to technology is imperative.  It helps the refugee access resources, connect with loved ones, learn to navigate the resettlement experience, and learn about your new culture.  THE BAD:  There is evidence that technology also helps to dehumanize refugees’ all the while instilling hate and fear. “These studies suggest that the media may not only promote dehumanization of immigrants and refugees through depictions that highlight potential threats to the host society, but provide ready justifications for the dehumanization and consequent outcomes. Esses says that the resultant dehumanization of immigrants and refugees may appeal to members of the public, serving to justify the status quo, strengthening boundaries between newcomers and established residents, and defending against threats to the established residents’ position in society.”[4]  And then there’s …THE UGLY:  The reports states: “There is a tendency, both among many politicians and in sections of the mainstream media, to lump migrants together and present them as a seemingly endless tide of people who will steal jobs, become a burden on the state and ultimately threaten the native way of life.  “Such reporting is not only wrong; it is also dishonest. Migrants often bring enormous benefits to their adopted countries.”[5]

So there you have it.  There’s no perfect answer to balancing our use of technology, but I believe Cal Newport’s prescription is pretty close.  Personally, I already began the digital decluttering process approximately one year ago.  I removed Twitter and Snapchat accounts and began disengaging from Facebook and Instagram – with the idea that relationships aren’t nurtured through social media (and that the toxic political rhetoric and hateful banter profoundly impacted me).  However, all these “step-backs” haven’t spurred increased face to face relationship connection.  I especially want to commit to Newport’s take on reclaiming leisure.  “Doing nothing is overrated, cultivate high-quality leisure to replace low-value digital distractions and avoid falling back into old habits. Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption. Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.  Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.”[6]  Oh, and by the way, I’m looking forward to the day (less than a year away) when we finally reclaim our leisure time…now consumed by Facebook, computer, electronic books, and the blog site.  Target in sight!

[1] https://www.vox.com/2018/2/27/17053758/phone-addictive-design-google-apple

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/

[3] https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/time-flies-us-adults-now-spend-nearly-half-a-day-interacting-with-media.print.html

[4] https://phys.org/news/2013-09-media-role-dehumanizing-immigrants-refugees.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/dec/17/where-media-fails-on-the-reporting-of-migrants-and-refugees

[6] https://www.digitaltidying.com/digital-minimalism-book-summary/

About the Author

Jean Ollis

9 responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Mike says:

    I wish Cal could preach it too! I looked at all his biographies, pulled reviews, looked at blogs, and I just could not find the Christ factor with him. Too bad too, because he could easily write a sequel to this book for like-minded people.
    My heart goes out to your Somalian refugees who are making new lives, new futures, and a new country for themselves. Wow, praise the Lord they have servant leaders like you to clear the way for them. We are a country of 2nd chances, and I pray your new friends have their chance too.
    I pray some find Christ and one day, either them or their descendants will get to take Christ to their home country.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

  2. Great post, Jean!

    Cal Newport touches the surface of reform but doesn’t eradicate the poverty of our cultural mindset. You write, “…we’ve been broken all along with or without technology.” Brokenness has always existed. Even Christ said, “The poor will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11 NIV). Reading Cal Newport was like reading about the Good Samaritan. We can either see technology as a way to distract us from the needy or a way to reach the needy. It depends on perspective and motive.

    How have you seen technology serve as an informative presence? The A21 Campaign has raised awareness and made changes because of their presence on social media. Also, Let My People Go, has closed down countless massage parlors in NYC that were used for trafficking all because of their presence on social media. You mention the good, the bad and the ugly in regards to refugees. Would you recommend specific social media sites that are presenting refuges in the correct light and serving to educate and reform people’s belief on migration?

  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    perfect last line haha. Yeah I think I keep seeing a lot of saying things like, “yes this sounds great for me to do, AFTER I finally graduate…”

    Its interesting you deleted snapchat. I m anot on snap chat now, but when I was on it, it was much less mindless scrolling a alot more real conversation or notes like texting.

    instagram and facebook for me are much more mindless.

    I do like Marco Polo a lot too

  4. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    I especially liked your emphasis on “reclaiming leisure”! In fact, I need to come over to Ohio and hunt or trap or fish with Ron!!

    I agree on looking forward to finishing the DMin degree, just for the fact of being able to deep six Facebook, and digital declutter more thoroughly.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this program! But I have noticed it cuts in on even my Sabbath rest. You?

  5. I loved your application of this week’s book Jean. I agree, technology is here to stay, and as much as we want to complain about it, it can play a helpful place in our lives as long as we remember that face to face human relationships are most important. The problem is our culture has moved away from nurturing this type of interaction and we have all become pretty isolated. Like you, I look forward to the day when Messenger is not pinging me all the time, I don’t have to blog and respond to blog comments, and I am not living on my Kindle and computer. I can think of a thousand things I could fill that time with. 🙂 Blessings to you my friend.

  6. Great post, Jean. Yes, the ONLY reason I still have a Facebook account is because of this program. That will be the first thing to go when we graduate!

    But… I will still read (digital) books. I love REAL books, but I live in 800 sq ft and live the life of a Nomad, not to mention the fact that getting books in English is not easy. This is an area when technology has been highly useful to me. Digital books fall into the “good” category for me!

    Like you, I’ve begun the purge process, but this book helped me to see how far I still have to go. I’m thankful for a husband who is with me in this. It’s become anew pet project for us–something to do together, both the digital declutter, and the refilling with other activities.

  7. Dan Kreiss says:


    I find it interesting that your declutter that began a year ago has not resulted in increased F2F relationship opportunities. Why do you think that is? Is everyone else too engaged in their own digital world to notice that you have stepped back? Are we that isolated? Perhaps something else has filled the space that the apps once filled. If so what is that thing? (Likely this program 🙂

  8. Greg says:

    You crack me up as I too try not to be the “old person that talks smack about the world.” That is such an easy place to land when we see the differences in generations. Easy to see the world through what we value rather than recognize that value in every generation. (Preaching to myself here).
    I did say to someone this week that this was such a first world problem. I do wonder if that is true. I look at China and still see the farmer plowing a field with his ox on a smart phone. This country has made these phones affordable to most socio-economic groups. Have you found this is the case for most that fall in the refugee class? I mean does social media play a role in where people seek refuge? Do they see certain countries more idealistic because of perception than others? I too am looking forward to what next year’s freedom will bring.

  9. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean…I want to start off by thanking you for causing me to hum the theme tune from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly…I’m sure it will stay in my head all night long. All good though; love that movie!

    Second, great job connecting technology to your dissertation. I wonder how much of a technological culture shock many of the refugees are experiencing from our country’s over indulgences of electronics.

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