The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. Baker Books. 224 pages. 2017
In this important new book, Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, draws on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, and shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. He takes readers beyond the typical questions of what, where, and when and instead challenges them to answer provocative questions like, Who do we want to be as a family? and How does our use of a particular technology move us closer or farther away from that goal? Anyone who has felt their family relationships suffer or their time slip away amid technology’s distractions will find in this book a path forward to reclaiming their real life in a world of devices.
Foreword: Amy Crouch
- I think the best part of tech-wise parenting, for me, has been its focus on “something older and better than the newest thing.” The key word is better.
- Tech-wise parenting isn’t simply intended to eliminate technology but to put better things in its place.
- Tech-wise parenting has added wonder to my life, though, and that’s enough.
Preface: The Proper Place
- This book is about how to find the proper place for technology in our family lives—and how to keep it there.
- If we don’t learn to put technology, in all its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.
- What it all adds up to is a set of nudges, disciplines, and choices that can keep technology in its proper place—leaving room for the hard and beautiful work of becoming wise and courageous people together. Indeed, becoming wise and courageous is what family is really about—and it is what this book is really about, too.
- The Barna team set out to document the role technology actually plays in American families and the concerns that both parents and children have about it. This new research is presented in these pages, with findings that are sometimes encouraging, sometimes unsettling, and always illuminating.
- Throughout this book you’ll get a picture, from the graphs, charts, and sidebars, of the current reality of technology and family life, and a vision, from the text, of what could be a better way.
- Figuring out the proper place for technology in our particular family and stage of life requires discernment rather than a simple formula.
- If there is one word that sums up how many of us feel about technology and family life, it’s Help!
- We love the way devices make our lives easier amid the stress and busyness that fill our days. But we also sense the precious days of childhood are passing by, far too fast, in a haze of ghostly blue light.
- Apple introduced the groundbreaking iPhone in 2007. An awful lot of children born in 2007, turning ten years old as this book is published, have been competing with their parents’ screens for attention their whole lives.
- I’ve heard more distress about our current technological addictions from grandparents than anyone else. There is a better way. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. This better way involves radically recommitting ourselves to what family is about—what real life is about.
- The very best of life has almost nothing to do with the devices we buy. It has a lot to do with the choices we make, choices that our devices often make more difficult.
- The main thing we all want you to know is that it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.
- Nudges are small changes in the environment around us that make it easier for us to make the choices we want to make or want others to make. Nudges don’t generally make us do anything, but they make certain choices easier and more likely. They don’t focus so much on changing anything about our own preferences and ability to choose well; they simply put the best choice right in front of us and make the wrong choice harder.
- The most powerful choices we will make in our lives are not about specific decisions but about patterns of life: the nudges and disciplines that will shape all our other choices. This is especially true with technology.
- Because technology is devoted primarily to making our lives easier, it discourages us from disciplines, especially ones that involve disentangling ourselves from technology itself.
- The ten commitments begin with three choices that are especially fundamental. The first and deepest is to choose character—to make the mission of our family, for children and adults alike, the cultivation of wisdom and courage.
- The second is to shape space—to make choices about the place where we live that put the development of character and creativity at the heart of our home. And the third is to structure time—to build rhythms into our lives, on a daily, weekly, and annual basis, that make it possible for us to get to know one another, God, and our world in deeper and deeper ways.
Chapter 1: Choosing Character
- We are living a life that even our grandparents never imagined and could not fully understand: a world in which the technological dream of easy everywhere has come true—is coming true—before our eyes.
- Family shapes us in countless ways. But I want to focus in this book on two crucial qualities that family forms in us. Family helps form us into persons who have acquired wisdom and courage.
- We need not just to understand our place in the world and the faithful way to proceed—we also need the conviction and character to act. And that is what courage is about.
- Family, for almost all of us, is the setting where we are known and cared for in the fullest and longest-lasting sense.
- The first family for everyone who wants wisdom and courage in the way of Jesus is the church—the community of disciples who are looking to Jesus to reshape their understanding and their character. And the church is, and can be, family for everyone in a way that biological families cannot.
- The church is the place we learn to become the persons we were meant to be.
- If our families are to be all that they are meant to be—schools of wisdom and courage—they will have to become more like the church, households where we are actively formed into something more than our culture would ask us to be. And if our churches are to be all they are meant to be, they will have to become more like a family—household-like contexts of daily life where we are all nurtured and developed into the persons we are meant to be and can become.
- Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.
- Technology is only very good if it can help us become the persons we were meant to be.
- Technology is a brilliant, praiseworthy expression of human creativity and cultivation of the world. But it is at best neutral in actually forming human beings who can create and cultivate as we were meant to.
- Technology distracts and displaces us far too often, undermining the real work of becoming persons of wisdom and courage.
- We will have to teach our children, from early on, that we are not here as parents to make their lives easier but to make them better.
- Technological advances have dramatically impacted parents, kids, and the family dynamic. Yet few parents say these technologies have helped them with the character formation they so value.
Chapter 2: Shaping Space
- Fill the center of your life together—the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together—with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.
- If you do only one thing in response to this book, I urge you to make it this: Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you.
- This is the central nudge of the tech-wise life: to make the place where we spend the most time the place where easy everywhere is hardest to find.
Chapter 3: Structuring Time
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
- As technology has filled our lives with more and more easy everywhere, we do less and less of the two things human beings were made to do. We are supposed to work, and we are supposed to rest.
- Technology, which promised to make work easier and rest more enjoyable, often has exactly the opposite effect.
- If toil is fruitless labor, you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God. And crucially, it is the kind of rest that doesn’t give others the chance to rest.
- There is one thing most of us can do—and all of us are meant to do. It is to rediscover rest: real rest, in harmony with one another, our Creator, and all of creation. The biblical word for this kind of rest is Sabbath.
- Many of the Ten Commandments, the “thou shalt nots,” address the distortions of fallen humanity—our tendency to make idols, betray and lie, murder and covet, all rooted in our persistent human desire to have other gods before the true God. But keeping Sabbath, along with honoring our father and mother, is one of the “thou shalts”—one of the positive things we would have been called to do even if we had never fallen into sin. Like family itself, Sabbath is rooted in the loving and creative purposes that brought the world into being. Alas, of all the commandments, the Sabbath command may be the most persistently and casually broken.
- And just as work (or toil) follows us into our day of rest, so does leisure.
- There is a silver lining in the way technology has clouded our lives with nonstop toil and leisure—it gives us an amazingly simple way to bring everything to a beautiful halt. We can turn our devices off.
- Just as the Sabbath commandment expands to include not just parents and children but servants and immigrant neighbors, find ways to invite others along for the joy of refreshment and rest.
- Sabbathless toil is a violation of God’s intention for our lives and our whole economy. When we find ourselves in its grip, it means that we are slaves to a system of injustice.
Chapter 4: Waking and Sleeping
- Sleep is absolutely essential to human flourishing.
- Nothing about our lives at home has been so thoroughly disrupted by technology as sleep.
- We need a simple discipline: our devices should “go to bed” before we do. And to add a nudge to that discipline, it’s by far the best if their “bedroom” is as far from ours as possible.
- Find a central place in the home, far from the bedrooms, and park the screens there before bedtime.
- You slept and allowed God to be enough. Now, for at least a moment, wake and be still, letting him be enough for this day. Then you can say good morning to whatever the day brings.
Chapter 5: Learning and Working
- It could be that the proliferation of technology, especially screens, at earlier and earlier ages, may well be remembered as one of the most damaging epidemics of the twenty-first century.
- The last thing you need when you are learning, at any age but especially in childhood, is to have things made too easy. Difficulty and resistance, as long as they are age appropriate and not too discouraging, are actually what press our brains and bodies to adapt and learn.
- The biggest problem with most screen-based activities is that because they are designed to keep us engaged, we can learn them far too quickly.
- Even in the place where adults are specifically charged with helping children learn—in school—the easy-everywhere promises of technology are taking over.
- The truth is that our children, just like us, will spend far too much of their lives tethered to glowing rectangles. We owe them, at the very minimum, early years of real, embodied, difficult, rewarding learning, the kind that screens cannot provide. And that is why a family that cares about developing wisdom and courage will exert every effort to avoid the thin simplicity of screens in the first years of life.
- Until our children were ten years old, screens just weren’t a regular part of their lives.
- So legalism in this area, like any other, is unwise and unhelpful. But we can still radically limit the amount of time our children spend directly engaging with screens in their youngest year.
Chapter 6: The Good News about Boredom
- Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition. The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been.
- The ones who used to be able to see this ordinary abundance in all its glory, in all its full capacity to delight and transfix our attention, were children.
- There is one result of our technology: we become people who desperately need entertainment and distraction because we have lost the world of meadows and meteors.
- We will stay indoors some days and evenings, yes, and enjoy the best art and entertainment that our astonishingly creative fellow human beings have created—but by enjoying the best, on purpose, rarely and together, we’ll become the kind of people who can also find the best in anything, wherever we are, even alone. We’ll become the kind of people who can never be bored.
Chapter 7: The Deep End of the (Car) Pool
- Car time can be some of the best conversation time of all—if we nudge ourselves in that direction.
- The author Sherry Turkle, who has done so much to help us realize the dangers to real relationship that come along with technology’s promised benefits, suggests in her book Reclaiming Conversation that most conversations take at least seven minutes to really begin.
- Something about the confined quarters and limited options of the car brings out the very worst in all of us at one time or another. Of course, that too is part of developing wisdom. But those same confined quarters can also, if we persevere with patience and creativity, eventually bring out the best in us.
- So set the pattern early: car time is conversation time. We’re on this trip together, and to make it to the end and gain wisdom and courage along the way, we’re going to need to talk, for seven minutes and more.
Chapter 8 Naked and Unashamed
- There is nothing in our society that has surrendered more completely, and more catastrophically, to technology’s basic promise, easy everywhere, than sex.
- Streaming into our homes and onto our phones—accounting, by the most widely cited estimate, for 30 percent of all internet traffic—pornography provides and portrays a world where sex is easy.
- An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.
- If you have teenage children, whether boys or girls, it is likely that they have already been exposed to pornography and that they have sought it out.
- The best defense against porn, for every member of our family, is a full life—the kind of life that technology cannot provide on its own.
- The truth is that if we build our family’s technological life around trying to keep porn out, we will fail.
- Parents who do not implement powerful filters on the data streaming into their home are foolish about both their children’s vulnerability and their own.
- It is astonishing how many parents blithely give young children smartphones that allow absolutely unfettered access to whatever the internet (and links from their friends) may serve up.
- If your family has a shared computer, arrange it so the screen faces the rest of the room and others who may wander in.
- Until children reach adulthood, parents should have total access to their children’s devices.
- Likewise, spouses should have one another’s passwords and should cultivate the complete freedom to ask one another anything at any time.
Chapter 9 Why Singing Matters
- Like so much of technology, there is no way to deny that this easy-everywhere abundance of music is a gift. And it has also caused us to forget and neglect what every other generation of human beings, in every culture, remembered and cultivated: the ability to make music on our own.
- The reorientation of our musical lives around consumption is robbing us of something deeper; it is robbing us of a fundamental form of worship.
- If you want to be wise, then, the most important thing you can learn to do is worship.
- Worship is also the path to real courage.
- At its best, worship transforms us, making us people capable of things we could never work up the capacity or courage for on our own: the ability to sacrifice, to love, to repent, to forgive, and to hope.
- One of the biggest threats to wisdom and virtue in a technological age is that we can so easily settle for something less than the best.
- Worship calls us out of the small pleasures of an easy-everywhere world to the real joy and burden of bearing the image of God in a world where nothing is easy, everything is broken, and yet redemption is possible.
- I believe the very best way to learn to worship, at home or in our churches, is to sing.
- Simply, singing may be the one human activity that most perfectly combines heart, mind, soul, and strength.
- To sing well—not in the sense of singing in perfect tune or like a professional, but in this sense of bringing heart, mind, soul, and strength to our singing—is to touch the deepest truths about the world. It is to know wisdom. And it’s also to develop the courage and character to declare that God is this good, that we are this in need of him, that we are this thankful, that we are this committed to be part of his story.
- In too many of our churches, however, we have settled for a technological substitute for worship: amplification, which allows a few experts to do the worshiping on our behalf while we offer far too little of our own heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- It is absolutely possible to learn to really sing. You may or may not be able to learn to sing on pitch, but you can learn to sing with heart, mind, soul, and strength.
- There are many things we’ve done poorly, belatedly, or distractedly in our family, but one thing I am most grateful we have done intentionally is sing together.