Like I mentioned on Wednesday, the question of how to manage technology in our families is consuming the thoughts and conversations of many parents right now. I talked about three simple tips for cutting back on the media consumption in a child’s life, but the bigger question still remains—how do whole families put technology in its proper place? Austin Gohn has written a helpful review of The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, a book written specifically to answer that question ::
Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family (BakerBooks, 2017)
by Austin Gohn
I am a digital native. And, in a few months, I will be the dad of a baby digital native. Neither of us will have ever known a world without digital technology.
Born in 1989, my first screens were a square television, a black-and-white Gameboy, and a Gateway desktop computer with an 800mb hard-drive and dial-up internet. In junior high, my sister and I shared a cell-phone with a monthly limit of fifty text messages and enough battery life to play Snake for about an hour. When I was thirteen, my cousin introduced me to A.I.M. (AOL Instant Messenger) and told me “jugglingdude101” was a great idea for a screenname. By the late 2000s, I had registered for a Facebook account and had wasted countless hours playing Halo. And a few years ago, I bought my first iPhone.
This is the cultural moment into which my first child will be born. While both of us are digital natives, the landscape is radically different than it was twenty-seven years ago. From day one, my child will be surrounded by personal screens, streaming apps, and social media. When I consider all the changes, (almost) everything in me wants to do what Viggo Mortensen did in Captain Fantastic and move my family to a forest in Washington state.
As my wife can attest, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family (BakerBooks: 2017) arrived just in time. Backed up with new research from Barna and twenty years of real experiences from his own family, this book is “a ruthless guide” for those of us who have no idea how to navigate the digital age.
Crouch builds the book around ten commitments concerning the use of technology, which are intended to be starting points for discussion rather than unbending commandments for family life. Each chapter includes biblical theology, data from Barna, practical ideas, and a “Crouch Family Reality Check” so that we can see how these guidelines actually played out in his own family. The first five commitments are:
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- 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.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
Together with the other five, these commitments form a constellation of “nudges” and “disciplines,” a liturgy of sorts, intended to shape both parents and children into wise and courageous people. While commitments like these can become legalistic, Crouch help us avoid this pitfall by situating them within a vision of what family life can truly be like. If a rule ceases to be helpful in moving us toward fullness of life, we have the freedom to adjust it or even throw it out completely.
While legalism is a real danger, the greater danger is making no guidelines at all and simply hoping for the best. In Crouch’s words, “If we want a better life for ourselves and our families, we have to choose it.” No one can drift into a better life. They have to decide into it.
In some ways, this book feels like a practical commentary of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which was released a little over a month earlier. Dreher argues for “undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life.” That’s exactly what The Tech-Wise Family is meant to help families do in the arena of technology. If Dreher makes the argument, Crouch gives us practical next steps.
While the book was helpful for me as a soon-to-be-dad, I wish Crouch had included a section for single adults, who were born in the eighties and nineties. As a young adults pastor, I have seen many twenty-somethings begin to feel more and more like digital refugees than digital natives as they begin to long for the life that growing up around digital technology has taken away from them. It’s possible that the best time to prepare to be a tech-wise family is as a tech-wise single.
Although some of his suggestions (like getting rid of your television or taking a two-week break from technology) feel extreme or even impossible, they become easier if we focus less on what we are giving up and more on what gain. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a man who found a treasure in a field and “in his joy” sold everything he had in order to buy that field (Mt. 13:44). In his book, Andy Crouch show us where to find the treasure in the field. And after catching a glimpse of the treasure, selling the TV on Craigslist feels less like a chore and more like an easy trade for what we will experience in its place.
One of my close friends recently read through The Tech-Wise Family with her husband and they have been incorporating some of the “commitments” into their family life. She remarked on how the book is helpful for cutting back on a parent’s media consumption and how important that is for setting a healthy example to children. This is something I’ve been needing to do and I’m especially inspired by Gohn’s idea that giving up technology could actually be gaining something so much more valuable.
What about you? Have you read The Tech-Wise Family? What are some issues you see when it comes to technology and your family? What are some principles or practices that you have found helpful in finding balance? Please share! Also, check out Austin Gohn’s Twitter account for more thoughts on the subject.
(Photo by London Scout)