The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Baker Books (April 2017, 221 pp).
When it comes to being a fan of art, I have two different modes: casual and obsessive. As a casual fan of artists like Anne Lamott or Coldplay, I have no problem picking and choosing the bits and pieces of their catalog that I like and forgetting about the rest. I don’t feel an urgent need to catch up on what I have missed and I am perfectly fine to not pick up the next album or book if it doesn’t strike me.
On the other hand, there are a few artists about whom I obsess. I will buy every Andrew Peterson album that ever comes out. I will pre-order the craziest package with the behind-the-scenes photos and videos and recipes for the cookies they ate in the studio. I will read the liner notes and memorize who is singing background vocals or playing the guitar solo on each song. Artists like Andrew are the reason why I have to have a very specific line item for personal spending in our monthly budget.
I am an obsessive Andy Crouch fan. I devoured his three previous books (Culture Making, Playing God, Strong and Weak) and plan to read everything else he puts out from here until Jesus comes back. That being said, even if you don’t find yourself in this camp, I would highly recommend giving his new book, The Tech-Wise Family, a read, particularly if you are a parent or ever desire to be one.
The Good and the Quotable:
Generally speaking, I would call Crouch a framework thinker. He is interested in organizing the large ideas that govern our everyday lives into a simple framework of understanding that helps us understand how concepts like power, injustice, idolatry, vulnerability, and now, technology, interact and shape the way we view and act in the world.
That being said, The Tech-wise Family is also an immensely practical book. In the preface, Crouch identifies the core problem:
“…the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it. We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made” (17).
After a thoughtful introduction setting up the need for families to address the elephant in the room that is our collective addiction to technology and a helpful explanation of nudges and disciplines as tools that can help us wean off our devices, the rest of the book is structured around what Crouch calls “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” that his family keeps to maintain a healthy relationship with each other and with technology.
Sprinkled throughout the book are findings from a recent massive Barna survey of parents and kids about the use of technology in the home. At the end of each chapter, Crouch gives a “Reality Check,” where he shares where his own family has succeeded and struggled (often both) with each of the ten commitments. Between Crouch’s heartfelt stories, the practicality of each of the ten steps, and the large-scale findings of the Barna survey, this fast-reading book feels like the exact right tool to give to parents, would-be parents, and anyone else who fears their devices are beginning to (or long ago managed to) encroach upon their relationships.
As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes to entice you to buy this book:
“But if there’s one thing our children need to hear from us, over and over again, it’s this: ‘Our family is different.’” (19)
“Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet” (20)
“Our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations…They are meant to be places where the very best of life happens” (29)
“Build your life around not having a TV, and when you finally do have a TV, almost nothing will change” (31)
“Family is about the forming of persons…But while in one sense a person is simply what we are as human beings, we are also able to become – to grow in capacities that are only potentially present within us at first” (52)
“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.” (71)
“The more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (141)
“The home is the place where worship of the true God starts: the place where we remember and recite God’s Word, and where we learn to respond to God with our heart, soul, strength, and – as Jesus added when he called this the greatest commandment – with our mind as well” (190)
This book was written to be immediately applicable so much of it could be quickly transferred into the life of the reader. Personally, I found the stories of how Crouch’s family had incorporated the commitments in their home to be some of the most stirring transferable elements. In the chapter on Sabbath-keeping, he shares that their family has a Sunday afternoon tea tradition in which they (kids too!) prepare a simple meal that is easily shared with friends and neighbors allowing their community to fully rest after church on Sundays and share time together without worrying about the work going in or coming out of the meal. I love this idea and could easily imagine implementing it in our family as my daughter gets older.
Who Should Read This:
This is one of few books that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. It might be most meaningful to parents but Crouch does a wonderful job of not making it feel alienating to those without kids. It really is an immensely practical and insightful book and one that I feel everyone should read.