Before And After Digital Minimalism

I just don’t see things the same way anymore.

I gave it over six months now to sink in further, see if I just was going through something, a phase or a strong initial reaction.

But no, I am living firmly in the biggest before and after of my life.

It was a book that did it. Many people have had a similar experience after reading something. It gives the reader no option to continue on in life the same way they were prior to reading it.

Digital Minimalism, by computer science professor Cal Newport, provides this kind of clear demarcation in my life.

I had already caught on prior to reading the book. On the side prior to reading this book, I was already collecting information about the effect the digital world is having on the human psyche. The pastor at the church I attend was also giving a sermon series on the effects social media are having on people when this book was released.

Though Digital Minimalism released in early 2019, my first hard pause regarding this subject happened back in 2016. It was an article published by Andrew Sullivan titled “I Used to Be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.” I recall reading this and sitting back in my first state of shock going ‘wow, how did Sullivan get into my mind?’

As I sat down to read Newport’s book, stoked about the topic and ready to read, he opens the book by……referring to Sullivan’s article.

I’ll forever remember the airport bar I was sitting at when I read those first lines. My heart skipped a beat in excitement.

I was convicted. And I will get to that. I’ll get to it way in depth. In fact, this entire site will see an extended series all about it. I plan on releasing important observations about this book over time.

But first I must expound on how this book shocked me into B.D.M. (before Digital Minimalism) and A.D.M (after Digital Minimalism).


What Newport does in Digital Minimalism is take the hardest holistic jab at the new digital frontier. He holds no punches back, and it is all backed by research.

Remember. He’s a computer scientist. He’s enthusiastically pro-technology.

After reading this book I am convinced I fell deep into the cognitive, psychological trappings of over stimulation and abuse via instant access to the Internet, and very particularly, access to instant messaging (IM) capabilities. The former, social media and the Internet in general, were predictable; the latter, instant messaging, was the most surprising and most deeply convicting in terms of rebuke of either medium.

Stated explicitly, my approach towards addictive technologies and the social trending topics of our time (in combination with my intellectual curiosity) would lead to daily behaviors where I’d have 35 open Internet browser tabs, skimming social media for opinion after opinion, messaging five to six instant messaging chat groups simultaneously, while all of these inputs from multiple sources created an anxiety of unmet answers to strawman questions via trivial Internet feuds no one would even have in-person in the first place.

There were moments I paused while reading Digital Minimalism and for the very first time saw, felt, went back mentally, to pre-Facebook, pre-instant messaging David. Those were the most surreal moments.

Actually, they were scary.

There was the realization that I substituted in-person conversation (which was already hard for me in life) with instant messaging and texting. Mainly instant messaging. And I mean wholesale swapping out.

Consequently, I know I have operated below my God-given potential for a long time. My intellect, a brilliance reinforced several times over in meaningful deep conversations with mentors in my life, has had its oxygen supply significantly cut off. I realize my ability to hyper-focus is actually a gift and the object of that focus is the critical difference.

This book made me see I can’t focus anymore because I was never progressing in meaningful focus, term paper focus, only work-on-what’s-in-front-of-me focus.

More important than the loss of focus is how I’ve lost what little in-person communicative skills I once had. The tie into instant messaging though, I’m telling you, it floored me. Because it made so much sense.


This is merely a new beginning for me as I’ll return to this theme a lot on this blog. I’ll flush out more of what I just eluded to, what Newport laid out, references he cited, and more.

For now, I realize there is no escaping this theme, even in music.

I knew of the songs which were tackling the issue of the digital mess we’ve entered, but these songs started to churn inside me in a new way after reading Digital Minimalism.

Thrice’s Salt and Shadow provides such a glimpse. From their comeback album of 2016 titled To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, this song highlights how we are connected via our phones but are becoming deteriorated grey shells of ourselves.

We are connected, but not actually communicating the way our brains are wired to.

In an interview with guitarist Teppei Teranishi, on the topic of the album title’s ancient philosophical reference brought into a modern focus:

…with things like the internet and social media – everybody kind of staring at their phones and not being present…at all. So that was kind of the idea that resonated with us – you think about being on Twitter and constantly on your phone…you’re everywhere, but you’re kind of nowhere, you know what I mean?

I do know Teppei. I do.

As Salt and Shadow says:

“On the edge of a knife, it’s like you’re living your life on the stage,
You’re talking through glass, we’re just square photographs on a page,
Oh, we’re never alone but we’re each in our own little cage.”

Too Much Found His Mind

Most of my waking hours I am speechless, and I know some friends of mine won’t understand what I just wrote there. But most of the time I’m not saying much.

Or just saying surface level canned statements. You know:

The weather is bad,

Wow was the traffic a mess today,

How ’bout them Cowboys?

However, much closer to the forefront of my mind are deep analytical, historical, emotional and socio-political ramifications of you asking me “so how’s it going?”

How’s it going?! Well, considering both of us just heard a little about maintaining good personal finances, here are my thoughts on the history of the Christian Monastic Community and the distribution of possessions, successful and failed attempts at communal living, and the complete horror of the pervasiveness of the American Dream within our culture.

That’s what I want to respond to “how’s it going.”

Because I mean let’s just get frank and cut the small talk.


In mewithoutYou’s song Bethlehem, WV there is a line right in the beginning which caught my attention and gave me pause of everything I was probably thinking about at the time:

A stranger’s face appeared—
They say he lost his mind
(Or too much found his mind?)
I hear it all the time

Too much found his mind? 

I immediately resonated and searched the lyrics to see if others caught it. Sure enough, too much found his mind proved too good a line to go unnoticed. It reminds one person of Nietszche’s madman metaphor.  To someone else, a possible reference of John The Baptist.

The metaphor of Nietzche’s Madman is about someone who is deeply perceiving a lot, too much, or perhaps all which needs to be perceived, in contrast to the masses asleep at their own wheels. I sense it is more about the person making connections with all which is finding their mind.

It speaks to a kind of ‘awareness’ of things. Awareness provides the opportunity to make pathways between seemingly unrelated items, a connection process of information more than a lack of perception of said items in isolation.

For example, John The Baptist was witness to the same information as anyone else of his time: socio-political movements, imperial occupations, and sacred scriptural promises of a coming liberating savior who will tidy everything up when the time is right. It’s just while others are giving their attention to individual portions, only a few pieces, or woefully unaware of anything not involving only themselves, John was preaching the way he was preaching because he was putting a few pieces together.

When I am looking to add to a conversation I often find myself wanting to take someone straight to the implications of what we are really talking about. How does this connect to events of the past? In what ways is our discussion more about selfish ambition versus growing yourself and challenging your own thoughts? How did you feel when that happened or this news came to you?


I began sharing a little more here and there to others in the above manner. Instead of maintaining surface level, I’d go where I am residing presently. Speaking directly of the things which I was constantly connecting and what I found worthy of actually sharing.

As if I had forgot or discredited what my grade school teachers would always say of me, a few individuals paused me in recent years because they saw the 10,000 foot view of what I was doing. In the middle of conversation they would say “wait, you’re reading all these books right now and connecting what’s in them?” Or “not everyone is still enough in a moment to capture the thought you’re expressing.”

These were long lost encouragements I had stuffed away or discarded entirely a long time ago. I was hearing them afresh from encouraging people.


Perhaps I was sharing more readily again because two things finally started kicking in.

One was leaning completely into what happens to me within certain environments. So much finds my mind just sitting at a coffee shop, looking out at the sunny day outside, wondering about the old man in the corner of the shop and his long contemplative look. I guess at his hopes and dreams, the life he has lived, and the regrets he has faced head on or is still running from. The next thing I know I have jotted down some lines of poetry without anticipation. Poetry helps condense volumes of things finding my mind into digestible portions. And it comes when I am surprisingly at rest.

The other helpful practice for me is discerning what continually rests on my mind. Daily journal practices of writing anything and everything that comes to mind is an excellent sifting exercise. Once on paper or on computer screen, we see what is taking up unneeded space.

We don’t ask for some of the things which find their way to our minds, but we can do a fantastic job of filtering down what matters most.

Too much on our minds can be made into a blessing.

Lovers, Not Thinkers

When we place the entirety of our value on how well we can store and recite information from our minds, we miss out entirely on who we are. We miss out on how we are actually constructed. There is an entire part of ourselves found within our hearts we, and others, end up discrediting because of the lack of interaction with our own inner-heart.

We are lovers. As in, we are beings worthy of love.

My natural tendency is to construct logical arguments based on volumes of facts and ideas I have circulating in my mind. What’s great about the culture I grew up in is how it applauds and rewards thinking. School reinforces my value as a thinker for 25 years, because I can remember facts for a test and can construct a term paper by creatively combining ideas I lodged in my brain over the course of a semester.

I’m a thinker, and I’ve been rewarded as a thinker. Even in church.

Within the confines of Western society’s tendency to favor memorization and regurgitation over experiential and relational, the church is rewarding thinkers as well. The mediums we engage in clearly favor an earnest note taker like me who records volumes of sermon notes from the lecturer who stands on the pulpits speaking to the class. My N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis books sit highlighted on my shelves. My blogroll continually feeds me daily on things currently happening in church culture.

But if instead I am primarily constructed as a lover, if I am worthy of love, where do I experience this? In very personal one-on-one times with God? In a prayer closet tucked away inside my home? At an awkward social-media-length distance from friends?

Silent Planet is quickly rising to the level of my favorite band. Ironically, they are named after a C.S. Lewis book. And the lead singer Garrett Russell is no ordinary metal-head screaming lyricist. Garrett is a deep thinker who is extremely well read and profoundly poetic.

In the following interview, Garrett starts off by describing why he refers to his fans as lovers:

We call our fans lovers because we believe that human beings are not so much primarily thinkers as we’ve been taught to believe in Western society . . . but instead that we are not thinking beings but relational beings and that our true identity is found in our relationships that we have.

Garrett is speaking profound wisdom. We are not thinkers only. There of course is tremendous value in being good at thinking. There is true worthiness of learning as much as we can with the abilities we have been given.

But at some point…at some point we can’t just hang our hats on what we think we know. We have to place everything on the line with Who we know.

If we know Jesus within the context of relationship then the dynamics begin shifting. We realize our volumes of books can only go so far. We realize our notes can only be studied over so many times. We even realize our bibles can only be underlined to the point of breaking through the pages.

As primarily relational beings we need to be willing to get real with ourselves and with each other. As images of God, either broken or restored, we have to be willing to plumb the depths of our relational selves. It is how we will connect with each other. It is how we will heal with each other. It is how God created someone right next to you, in community with you, to show you how they overcame a terrible situation you thought only you went through.

How beautiful it is Silent Planet calls their fans lovers. It allows me to take that little step more towards realizing I am loved.

It helps redefine my true self as primarily someone to be loved rather than someone to be thought about. It gives me permission to enter further into relational community with others knowing my words will only go so far. My thoughts can only carry our relationship to a point. But it will be seeing us all as lovers, all broken and scared images of God, which will strip away mere thoughts.