Reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World this week could not have come at a timelier spot. Thirty years ago, in March, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who at the time was working at CERN, invented the foundation for the World Wide Web after he took hypertext and connected it to the internet. The intent for Berners-Lee was to find a way for scientists to quickly and easily share their research, but according to @googleartsculture, he quickly realized that the WWW could “be a universal and free ‘information space’ to share knowledge, to communicate, and to collaborate.” From these humble beginnings, the internet (the ability to be connected at all times) has fundamentally shifted the way humans interact with each other. Enter Newport’s digital minimalism philosophy as a clarion call to bring us back to reconnect with our humanism.
Digital minimalism, as described by Newport, is “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” The thing I appreciate the most about this philosophy is that it does not discount the benefits of technology nor is it blind to the fact that at this point in history we rely on some technology to live. At the same time, it also challenges us to see where in our lives we are wasting our lives on technology instead of being connected to our lives and the lives of others offline. Newport philosophy rests on the three cores principles of:
Principle #1: Clutter is costly. Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation. Principle #2: Optimization is important. Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology. Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying. Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
As mentioned above, this reading assignment was timely in the fact that it occurred during the 30-year celebration of the technology that laid the foundation for this book even to exist. It was also timely in the fact that this past Tuesday night at church we talked about this very subject as this article came out stating that the future of the church will be all online. It is true that studies show we consume more screen time now than ever before, but other studies also show the adverse effect that is having healthy and overall wellbeing. During our church service, I quoted Miller’s consuming religion when he writes,
“Consumer desire is similar in form to traditional religious desires. It resembles more profound longings for transcendence, justice, and self-transformation enough to be able to absorb the concepts, values, and practices of religious traditions into its own forms without apparent conflict” moreover, applied it to the idea that people and especially Gen Z have made the desire of connection greater than actually connecting. Social media fuels this pretense thus greater a generation that is considered the loneliest generation ever.
So, the question becomes how do we as leaders do something about this because the day after our church service a young lady decided to shoot herself at her high school only 10 minutes up the road from our church. I think Newport provides part of the answer in his conversation-centric communication philosophy. Borrowing from Turkle he writes,
Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. Turkle agrees with our premise that conversation is crucial: Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.
While I do not agree that all church will be online because that is where the new community is, we do need to start thinking how can we change or allow for space for people to interact face to face, for people to add to the conversation and not just one-way communication. We are trying this now as mention in our Tuesday night services where we have a round table discussion and then open the floor for Q and A.
 Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.
 Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, 28.
 Ibid., 38.
 Fottrell, Quentin. “People Spend Most of Their Waking Hours Staring at Screens.” MarketWatch, Last modified August 4, 2018. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/people-are-spending-most-of-their-waking-hours-staring-at-screens-2018-08-01.
 McGregor, Jena. “This Former Surgeon General Says There’s a ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ and Work Is Partly to Blame.” The Washington Post. Last modified October 4, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/10/04/this-former-surgeon-general-says-theres-a-loneliness-epidemic-and-work-is-partly-to-blame/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ac9ee2030392.
 Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum International, 2003), 144.
 Facts & Trends. “Gen Z Is Loneliest Generation, Study Finds.” Facts & Trends, Last modified May 4, 2018. https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/04/gen-z-is-loneliest-generation-study-finds/.
 Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, 144.