How Families Can Use Tech Wisely: A Book Review

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I recently learned that I am a “Xennial” since I was born between 1977 and 1983, and yes, much of my life was (sadly) lost using dialup. The technology boom, with all its wonder, presents you and me with numerous explicit and implicit choices that have a significant impact on our lives and the world around us.

For example, there are serious ethical questions to consider, such as sourcing the key ingredients (coltan) for our phones from places like the D. R. Congo. More close to home, we regularly endanger ourselves by falling into manholes or causing car accidents while texting. It is not an understatement to say that our relationship with technology is life threatening when it has no boundaries and we have no discipline or common sense.

At a more profound and formative level, technology also impacts us in less noticeable ways, ones that involve our posture towards others and our own formation. Before we go another day mindlessly using our devices, it is time to ask how we can safely integrate technology in our lives.

Enter, Andy Crouch and his Tech-Wise Family, available for under $10 on Amazon!

Point of the Book

To sum his book up in a simple phrase, it is this: technology is wonderful, useful, and most would argue necessary—so long as it is put in its proper place. The formative danger of technology is that it often nudges us in the wrong direction and exploits our weaknesses (p. 35). To counter this, The Tech-Wise Family suggests practices that reverses the direction of the nudge—not by removing technology but repositioning it.

So, the real question is not whether technology is in our lives, but how we let it in. Crouch reveals “the real heart of the paradox: 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” (p. 66).

With using a phrase like “almost almost Amish” (p. 28), I was worried that his book might lean in a legalistic direction, but he is clear and upfront that being tech-wise “requires discernment rather than a simple formula” and that the “proper place for technology won’t be exactly the same for every family” or even remain the same throughout each season of life (p. 19).

Layout of the Book

Following the introduction, Crouch makes his case for how to be tech-wise in a very familiar way: the 10 Tech-Wise Commitments. While his schema is inspired by the 10 Commandments, he is careful to distinguish his commitments from commands. Each chapter unpacks one commitment and concludes with a very brief “Crouch Family Reality Check” where he describes his own family’s successes and failures.

The 10 Commitments are arranged in the following two groups:

Fundamental Character Choices

  1. Develop wisdom and character together as a family
  2. Create more than you consume
  3. Live according to the rhythm of work and rest

 Further Nudges and Disciplines

  1. Devices “go to bed” before we do and they “get up” after we do
  2. No screens before double digits (age)
  3. Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone
  4. Car time is conversation time
  5. Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices
  6. Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others
  7. Show up (physically) for the big events of life

The 10 Commitments in Closer Perspective

This overview does not do justice to the book, so please consider getting the book and reflecting on it further. Also, while Crouch’s views are not necessarily my own, I don’t find much to criticize in what he has laid out. In fact, I’m attempting to lean in the direction of his nudges!

Commitment 1: Develop wisdom and character together as a family

Technology presents us with seemingly infinite knowledge and the ability to consume to our hearts desire. The family—and he allows this to include more than just the biological family—is ideally a place where we cultivate relationships that enable us to learn wisdom (i.e., how to use our knowledge in a healthy way). It is question of posture: consumption vs. relationships / knowledge vs. wisdom. Or better, it is learning how to consume and utilize the knowledge offered by technology in appropriate ways.

Commitment 2: Create more than you consume

The goal here is to shape our space so that the nudge of technology is not at our fingertips. The competing postures here include consumption vs. engagement or creation / cheap vs. priceless. That is, the nudge of technology makes us passive consumers of cheap entertainment instead of engaging in the hard work of creativity.

Commitment 3: Live according to the rhythm of work and rest

Most of us use technology to “relax” from our “work.” This is a deception, according to Crouch. Most people live in the cycle of toil (“excessive, endless, fruitless labor”) and leisure (“fruitless escape from labor” purchased from other people’s work), which is quantitatively different from work and rest. Rest is life-giving and does not depend on the labor of others (p. 87).

Commitment 4: Devices “go to bed” before us and they “get up” after us

Technology is especially dangerous when it comes to sleep—it is a nudge in the wrong direction. Not only does research show that screen time before bed interferes with our ability to fall asleep, but it also begs us to exchange sleep for more entertainment. To overcome this, put your devices to bed outside the bedrooms before you go to bed and don’t pick them up until you are ready for your day.

Commitment 5: No screens before double digits (age)

This will perhaps be the most difficult to adhere to, especially because families usually have children of various ages! The intent is not to justify unnecessary screen time so kids can become “computer literate” (p. 130). Since the best learning is embodied, encourage kids toward learning activities that involve their bodies over just their eyeballs. Crouch admits that this is, strictly speaking, impossible for most Americans, so if you can’t adopt a no-screen policy, at least put some sort of limits in place.

Commitment 6: Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone

The irony of this insight is thick: “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (p. 141). That is, screens do not address the larger problem, they only make it worse. In a nutshell, technology invents a false, overly vivid, alternate world that does not actually exist. More disturbing is that “our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted” (p. 146).

Commitment 7: Car time is conversation time

This is one commitment of Crouch that I can say from personal experience is dead on. Even on brief errands, my son who is otherwise not disposed to freely offer up the cherished information that parents seek will open up for deep conversation. This has even taken my wife by surprise since it has also happened to her. This is not to say that we always ban devices from the car, but often, we go without them.

Commitment 8: Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices

This commitment requires deep trust and vulnerability. Given our wedding vows and the other obvious ways that deep trust and vulnerability are required between couples, this should not be something difficult to do. While some may find this creepy, it is perhaps creepier that “30% of all internet traffic” relates to pornography; in fact, 62% of teens report having received nude images and 40% claim to have sent one (p. 169)! The rationale for this goes back to Commitment 1—parents need to both demonstrate great wisdom and courage themselves, but also to help their children grow in these areas because, Crouch warns, “if we build our family’s technological life around trying to keep porn out, we will fail” (p. 173). Although most of the chapter is framed against porn, other issues are assumed under the principle: “no technological secrets, and no place to hide them” (p. 177).

Commitment 9: Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others

Of all the chapters of the book, I found this one the oddest. Yet, his point is well taken. “In too many of our churches [and society in general], however, we have settled for a technological substitute for worship: amplification, which allows a few experts to do the worshipping on our behalf while we offer far too little of our own heart, soul, mind, and strength” (p. 192).

Commitment 10: Show up (physically) for the big events of life

The importance and value of this Commitment is beautiful; the remainder of it, which I abbreviated in the summary list above, concludes by adding, “We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms” (p. 197). The nudge here is that it makes decision about attending weddings, graduations, etc., easy and it places high value on events that matter.

Notable features of the book

A useful highlight of the book is the inclusion of numerous types of charts, graphs, and info graphics (18% of the book to be exact) conducted by the Barna Group that helps to frame Crouch’s discussions and connect them to empirical research instead of anecdotal evidence.

While there is not extensive research provided in the endnotes, which is the norm for non-academic books, Crouch includes insights from the fields of medicine, science, and psychology. Additionally, he includes a brief section called “For Further Reading” at the close of the book that offers Crouch’s advice on what to read next to dive deeper into the issues raised in the book.

Conclusion

In a world that is running headlong into more tech, we all need to take a moment (or several) to examine how technology impacts our lives. Crouch offers families an introduction on how to do that well, and one that is based on both his own family’s experience and research done by the Barna Group.

*This has been a review of Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).


Ben Snyder is the Editorial Assistant and senior Book Review Editor for Soul Care Collective.

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