DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I’m missing the insanity. What’s wrong with me?

Written by: on March 16, 2019

This comes as less than my best reflection on a book. I find myself mired in a mass shooting that should never have happened on our unique shores. A man from another world came to kill refugees and migrants finding sanctuary from fear in Aotearoa, a land far from their own lands. It seems we could not offer the things they needed most, safety, freedom, hope. New Zealand hearts are broken – this is not us. In the midst of our wide mouthed bewilderment, we pause in the deep breath, bracing ourselves for the onslaught that is yet to come: blame, pain and the fear of recrimination. Lord have mercy.

Anyhow, the book. Being a reasonably intelligent and self reflective 50 something adult, I found myself cheering while reading Cal Newport’s book Digital minimalism. The book seems to come with different subtitles, but the material is the same. However, while I enjoyed the book, there was really nothing new and insightful. I’m not a luddite, but neither am I swayed by social media or Apps or computers. For me they are tools for work, not life. For my daughter however, it’s a very different story. Her digital device has a waterproof cover so it can go in the shower with her. I mean, really! Yes, she is addicted. But then, who isn’t addicted to something, and my daughter trots that argument out every time I raise it, along with the well-worn refrain, “It could be worse, Daaad”.

Cognitive life for many has been reduce to sound bites and video clips. Reasoned thought is reduced to ten-word slogans, and complex human meaning can be articulated through an insurance advert. None of this is new, of course. Prior to digital social media, advertising psychology was well on its way to inspiring hearts and minds to particular outcomes, whether it be marketing cars, hotels, insurance companies, cigarettes or churches. Rory Sutherland is one of the most influential advertising professionals in the world who specialises in the psychology of human perceptions. If you can’t bear the idea of reading his books, then a quick trip to YouTube and you can see him at work.[1] One of his most common observations is the inability for people to separate problems from perceptions – the idea being that a problem is only a problem when it is perceived as such, and that is determined by how people cognitively experience reality. He is well worth reading or listening to.

By nature, advertising wants to harness our perceptions in order to profit from a particular product and in recent years that has occurred through gripping our emotions rather than rational needs. Prior to digital media, analogue media was little different, but was confined to smaller constituent groups and geography. The mechanism of addicting people to certain brands as ‘status defining’ or ‘meaning giving’ were no different; everything from cars to cigarettes to fashion. To put it in biblical terms, humans ate that apple, and Gucci was born. Our identity is all too often shaped by perceptions of self and others; perceptions created by those who wish to profit from our changed thinking. And that’s precisely what social media outlets are purveyors of social meaning, for their own gain. Newport quotes Bill Mayer from his American TV show Real Time:

The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.[2]

However, unlike smoking, social media as a product won’t kill you. Newport goes out of his way to express that truth throughout the book. What we need to be aware of is the difference between a useful tool, the motives of the producer of the tool and the secondary unintended consequences of the tool. I have no belief that Facebook set out to addict people in such a way that it broke their lives, wrecked relationships and became a mechanism to suicide. The same goes for snapchat, Instagram and all those other App’s that leave me cold. However, once the wealth starts flowing, increasing the wealth of shareholders by harnessing unhelpful addiction makes those companies less than moral in their approach. But it’s a two-way street, consumers must be personally responsible for their behaviour. Consequently, Newport convincingly attempts to re-centre digital users toward personal control. Tools are tools, but when you take them to bed (or the shower), they become something else.

Face to face Human interactions are our normal way of interacting. Newport points out that our brains are biological wired for kinesthetic relationship.[3] These offline interactions are deep and rich because the involve complex sensory interactions. Digital media flattens the interaction and removes essential ‘human presence’ from the equation by replacing the real with little more than a digital projection of another self.

Asking my daughter about her perceptions of Newport’s Digital Minimalism ended in the expected question, ‘why?’ She could not see that there was much to gain, but plenty to lose. I then realized that Newport’s book makes sense to those of us in the second half of life, but not so much those in the first. First half people are on the journey of discovery, becoming and succeeding. They a grasping everything available and milking it for all it’s worth. In the second half of life we tend to let go and think about personal integration and the reflection upon our own deep connection with eternity and meaning – after all, there is more life behind us than there is ahead. Unless I missed something, Newport doesn’t address these powerful developmental aspects of life which affect our perceptions of the power of digital media.

Yet, I was moved. It’s Lent, so social media is taking a break (except for dminlgp9) and already the angst of navigating unbridled stupidity has lifted from my soldiers – the problem is, I’m missing the madness. What a wretched man I am.

Notes

[1] Rory Sutherland, “Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense,” (2019-05-07).

[2] Cal Newport. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better With Less Technology. Penguin, 2019), Kindle Edition 9 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDqoTDM7tio. 2017

[3] Ibid. 142

Bibliography

Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better With Less Technology. Penguin, 2019. Kindle Edition

Sutherland, Rory. “Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense.” (2019): 320.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

14 responses to “I’m missing the insanity. What’s wrong with me?”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Digby, enjoy your digital-less Lenten season. Hopefully your dminlgp comrades will keep the madness levels to a minimum.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      I shall enjoy the break. And, I expect the cohort will provide nothing less than sanity in the coming weeks; he says with tongue firmly in cheek.

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    What’s wrong with you, is what’s wrong with us all, the deep need for connection is no respecter of persons and the digital world has given us a counterfeit to suffice when our schedules “don’t allow” for anything else. It also provides the possibility of going an inch deep and ten miles wide with a lot of people in a short amount of time.

    There may be a reason those of us in the second half have value. We have learned some things the hard way and I find a lot of young people who want to listen and learn.

    Praying for you and NZ and glad you’re there to care for those around you in these days.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Yes, I work with young adults too. They all listen – some learn. But most many learn the hard way. However, I wonder how much depth a person can learn without tangible experience? Information and formation are rather different.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Digby, I was so sad to read the details of the events that have transpired there. I am sorry and have been praying. And I will continue.

    I love what you are saying about the first & second half of life – that makes so much sense and helps explain my season and relationship with technology – I sense we are transitioning to the second half. This book is easier for me to absorb because of that. But my daughter and son, like your girl, that is different for sure. It adds grace to my conversations with them to consider what you have shared. Deeply grateful for you, Digby.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Yeah, I reckon my experience only has application to the younger mob when I have learned the art of communicating backwards. I remember a few years back navigating a serious conflict between the older and younger members of our congregation. I told the oldies that wisdom bends it’s long branches to the ears of the young – they can’t get wisdom from distant voices. Wisdom walks alongside those are yet to be wise.

  4. mm Sean Dean says:

    I worked for a newspaper publisher in the early 2000s that at a certain point started saying, “we need to start hiring laptop people and not note pad people.” Essentially he was saying that we needed to hire younger writers who understood how people of that generation did things. The ‘notepad people’ were no longer making arguments of substance to the laptop people. I kind of feel that way about this book. It’s written by a notepad person about mobile people. It makes sense to notepad and laptop people, but the mobile people don’t understand the argument nor do they care about it. I think that’s what’s happening between you and your daughter and what a lot of us are going to see with our kids as well. Thanks for your reflection.

  5. Mario Hood says:

    Praying for you Digby and all of your homeland!

    I like your understanding, “I then realized that Newport’s book makes sense to those of us in the second half of life, but not so much those in the first. First half people are on the journey of discovery, becoming and succeeding” but I think it is important for us to continue to help them understand the importance of not being defined by these things. The stats are overwhelming of the dangers and pitfalls it is causing young people because they are in that age of discovery.

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Digby, I have been praying for you and all of us. I pray you and all of your land continue to love your neighbor as yourself. We have so much to learn from you.

    You stated, “Tools are tools, but when you take them to bed (or the shower), they become something else.” While I am much further along the second half curve, you ask a great question relative to Newport’s impact. That is, like many opportunities/distractions, much depends upon where you find yourself on the curve.

    Many heartfelt prayers for you and yours. Yes Lord, have mercy.

  7. mm Mary Mims says:

    Digby, I agree that for those who are in the later part of our life, and did not grow up on digital media, the tools are not as vital to us. I do think the younger generations have it much more difficult.

    When I think about the fact that the crime committed there in NZ was aided by the use of a live streaming feature on Facebook, that makes the new uses people come up with for this technology more terrifying. We have to pray for the youth and young adults who are using emboldened by the anonymity and the lack of social connection of these tools! Lord help us indeed.

  8. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you digby for sharing. I am also wsorry for the shooting that ravaged your country and created a lot of fear in people. I agree with you that Newton is making sense to of us in the second half of life and not those ones in the first half. On the other have, the book gives an option to those in the first half of life to be moderate in the use of social media but not keeping off. The world is becoming more digitally complex than we its beginning.

  9. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    I am praying for you and your community, Digby! God bless you as you shepherd well.

    Your observations about the absence of developmental consideration by Newport are good ones. I work with many millennials, and find that they too are searching for ways to be present in deeper ways. Unfortunately, they do not usually connect their perceived absence with digital addiction, but they are searching nonetheless. Perhaps Newport gives us talking points to guide the conversations. They are important ones for sure.

  10. Thank you Digby, we share in the sadness for the senseless shooting of innocent worshippers in the mosque. We’re in prayer for the families and friends of the victims as we also pray for your country, we’ve had a share of this madness in our country and we know how painful it is.
    I like your perspective on the differential impact of technology on those on either side of the first half or second half of life, I have a similar experience with my young adult children and my teenage son. For the younger generation, they do not think it’s of such great concern for them at this point in their lives, for me it’s different because I think they need to be more concerned and I’ll still try to impress the same on them.

  11. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Digby, I’ll reflect just a moment on your blog, as I agree with your take on the book of Digital Minimalism – and especially the differences in our views later in life. But mostly, I just want to encourage you to take some time for yourself after this tragedy in your country. When tragedy happens so close to home, it brings with it a trauma that must heal within us. This trauma can lead vicariously to PTSD and other types of disorders if one does not care for themselves. There is a lot a processing that must take place….please take time to do so, my New Zealand friend. Covering you in prayer….

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