Blogging Responsibly

You probably noticed by now, but things look a lot different around here! Plus my URL is now exilictheology.com—the whole look and feel is different! Why is that?

The Problem

If you know me, I’m highly interested in technology—not only the latest technology or productivity application, but how we use these things to make our life better, increase our impact, and, more importantly, how they shape us. It’s pretty niche, but it stirs up great conversations and thoughts.

Take a second and look around you—how many devices do you count? Like many, you probably have a

  • Tablet
  • Laptop (with multiple monitors)
  • Smartphone (which you’re probably reading this post on)
  • Television
  • Smart Speaker(s)
  • Security Camera(s)

All of these things are either

  1. gathering information and/or
  2. wanting your attention.

In seconds, you can have multiple devices giving you multiple different notifications, all wanting your attention. Most of us just coped with it, thinking this is how life was done.

But then coronavirus appeared on the global stage. The notifications started rolling in faster and faster: It’s in Wuhan. It’s in the rest of China. It’s in Italy. It’s in the rest of Europe. It’s in Washington. It’s in all of America. You couldn’t have paid me enough to turn off my notifications—serious things were happening almost every minute and it was affecting my life!

And then, nothing.

The neighborhood was quiet.

The road was quiet.

People seemed to talk in hushed tones (if they dared to talk to their neighbor).

And yet, our devices—unaffected by the virus—were still making noise, vying for our attention now more than ever. They almost seemed to know that they had our attention more than they ever had before.

And it was in that silence, hearing the dings from emails, phone calls, project managers, social media, Zooms, and texts that I had enough.

Something had to change.

The Idea

In this silence, during my studies and extracurricular research, I discovered a unique intersection I kept poking and prodding: Agency and Attention.

Agency

The one upside of an almost nation wide lockdown was that I now had serious time to dedicate to my studies as a theology student. “Commutes and events are gone,” I thought. “Might as well as bury my head into these books!”

At Covenant Theological Seminary, I took 3 classes in the spring and 2 of them were Covenant Theology and Christian Formation & Calling.[1] In these classes, we spent a good 3+ hours in lectures and Zooms (not to mention the readings) discussing agency. Essentially, agency is synonymous to the responsibility I have in my actions as a human being.

This term is often associated closely with the debate surrounding divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. However, I began to see a much broader application.[2] I saw that I have actual responsibility in all of my actions and choices and that what I do impacts the world around me, myself, and my relationship to God and he will hold me responsible for them.

Attention

When the lockdowns were initiated in Pennsylvania, I finally had the time and space to catch up on my reading list. On my list was Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. In addition to these 2 resources, Saundra and I watched “The Social Dilemma” recently.[3] What were all these resources communicating?

They were communicating how incredibly noisy and distracted our world was and how destructive our devices really can be—they’re not toys, they can be used as tools or weapons.

And most of these devices have 1 sole purpose with an ulterior motive: to get your attention, keep your attention, and collect more information about you. Essentially, they exploit real human vulnerabilities concerning addiction and prey on them. Once they get you hooked, they keep you hooked through “inhumane” practices.[4] They do this so they can make money off of you more and more by collecting any bit of data of information on you and selling it back to companies so they can more efficiently market their product or service to you. It seems bizarre and no, this isn’t some conspiracy theory—this is actually Google’s business practice!

Integration

So, why did these 2 topics lead me to change my blogging practices and personal life habits?

I realized that I had a responsibility fore my readers’ attention and, as a result, their information. More practically, the platform I was using and the means in which I was gaining readers was not respecting attention and information. The platforms were trying to grab attention and, in the process, collecting data and giving it to me so I could make my blogging more effective.

I wasn’t okay with that.

Something had to change.

The Solution

So, here’s what I did:

  1. First, personally I turned off notifications. And I mean I turned them off. I deleted apps off my phone that I didn’t use or didn’t need to use (Why do I need to read an email on my phone and write a distracted response, wasting mine and the recipients time? Why do I need to be scrolling when I wait in the parking lot for 2 minutes?). I went down to the bare minimum—calls, texts, weather alerts. That’s it. I did this because I should be modeling not only for my readers, but friends, colleagues, and students what it means to live an intentional life.
  2. Second, I made the anxiety inducing plunge—like when you’re ready to dive into a pool that you know is cold—and I deleted my Twitter. Even as I archived my data and typed in my password for that final time to confirm the deletion, I kept coming up with rationale after rationale on why I should keep it. And yet, deleting it was such a liberating decision for me! It’s one less app and feed I have to keep up on. It’s one less app garnering my attention. It was one less app collecting my information without me knowing it.[5]
  3. Third, I changed many aspects of my blog to encourage simplicity and focus. If I (and so many other people I talked to!) have been struggling with the proper use of technology, why shouldn’t I help out those who are reading my posts?

Conclusion

This post—although intentionally lengthy[6]—was needed to explain why I’m running my blog in a somewhat counterintuitive way.

In short, I shared my personal journey to achieve a more quiet and intentional life. Additionally, I shared how I grew in understanding of my agency as someone who is consistently writing for myself and my readers. Finally, I summarized the life changes I made as well as a rationale for why my blog moved.

I hope this post didn’t come across as a ranting Luddite (someone opposed to new technology). If you know me, I’m anything but a Luddite—working in online education wouldn’t be a good fit for me if that was the case. What I am advocating for is an intentional use of our technology and it begins with me.

I’m not calling anyone to make these changes. In fact, I don’t want you to—if you’re running your blog, ministry, organization in an effective way right now, then I respect that! In fact, a case can be made that a business should use some of these practices in order to run well.[7] What I am calling you to do, however, is to critically evaluate your practices to see if you’re respecting those who buy your product or interact with your service and brainstorm and implement changes.

May the Spirit, who enables us to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord and our neighbor and bestows grace when we falter, work in us a singular focus on our Savior and God.


End Notes

[1] Originally (so I’ve been told) these classes were actually required for every student and it was offered as a 6-credit, first year class. Unfortunately they’ve had to split it, but the content is still very complementary and overlaps extremely well.

[2] Thanks to my wonderful professors and pre-recorded lecturers: Dr. David Chapman, Professor Aaron Goldstein, Dr. Bradley Matthews, Dr. Jay Sklar, and Dr. Michael Williams

[3] I highly recommend the work being done at the Center for Humane Technology.

[4] Rather than iterating them all here, I’ll point you to the Center for Humane Technology, “The Social Dilemma,” Deep Work, and Digital Minimalism.

[5] This led to my Facebook and Instagram on the chopping block.

[6] I’m more and more convinced we need long-form blogs rather than 250 words (not that they don’t have their place). But this is a discussion for another day.

[7] This falls into the broader discussion under philosophy and ethics and “Business Ethics.”

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