My shop teacher in middle school was famous for always uttering the phrase “you gotta be smarter than what you’re workin’ with.” This was supposed to remind us whenever we were working with powerful tools that we must use them wisely, lest it cause damage to the bird box we were making, or even worse, cause damage to ourselves. The shop students would succeed in the project they were making if they understood how each tool worked and how it would help them complete the task at hand.
Gone are the days where we can say that we are smarter than what we are working with. Technology is now usually smarter than us. In his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch posits that people have moved beyond using technology as tools, which he defines as something that helps us complete a task. Rather, technology has advanced exponentially that it does most tasks for us: “It just works”, Crouch says (p.49). A broom is no longer needed to sweep a floor, a robot can do that now. We can press a button and our dishes are clean. If you have a question, you can type it into google, or better yet, ask Siri. Again, “it just works.”
Before you start thinking that Crouch is a technology curmudgeon, he actually thinks technology is a good thing. It is good to see humans “discover and develop all the potential in God’s amazing cosmos” (p.63). However, the problem that we face with technology as a society, Crouch submits, is using it in ways that helps people grow into who they are supposed to be. (p.63). And this concern is why Crouch’s book is unique and helpful on the relationship between the family and the ever increasing use and availability of technology.
Crouch begins by helping us understand that if we are to put technology in its proper place we must make three key decisions. The first decision is deciding on the role of the family. Family, as Crouch defines, “is about the forming of persons” (p.52). Unlike God, people are in the process of becoming. Though from birth we are actual human beings, there are capacities inside each and every one of us to grow into our personhood (p.52).
Wisdom and courage are two main ways that families help people grow into personhood. Wisdom helps each individual navigate through this complex world and asks questions like, “what is most honoring toward God and my neighbor?” Courage then enables the person to take a step forward in seeking to honor God and neighbor. However, wisdom and courage are swept under the rug and into the closets of our homes as they’re replaced by the ease of technology. Crouch says it this way: “In the most intimate setting of the household, where the deepest human work of our lives is meant to take place, technology distracts and displaces us far too often, undermining the real work of becoming persons of wisdom and courage” (p.66).
The second and third decisions we must make as families is to create space and time for forming persons. As people who are made in the image of God, we are meant to cultivate and create. Do the spaces in your home that your family occupy the most promote space and time to create and cultivate, or do the spaces allow easy distraction and consumption of technology? Crouch paints a vivid picture of this as he invites the reader inside his own home to explain how to create a space for cultivation and creativity.
What about time? Work and rest are the rhythms of life that we follow (p.83). What I found most helpful and challenging in this chapter were the distinguishing marks between leisure and rest. Most people think of leisure as rest, but Crouch reminds us that leisure is more about consumption than fostering the formation of persons. It lacks the restoration that rest provides (p.87).
After Crouch sets the foundation for what families need to move forward as a tech-wise family, he then moves into practical ways these decisions might play themselves out in our everyday lives. One chapter that I found particularly interesting was chapter 6: “The Good News About Boredom.” The journey through everyday life presents many opportunities for boredom. Whether it is standing in the line at a grocery store, smelling the delicious aroma from the kitchen waiting for dinner to be served, sitting in an airport, or riding in a car, these times of boredom are almost always “resolved” with technology. The phone is pulled out, and we aimlessly scroll through social media. The television is turned, and we amuse ourselves with our program of choice. People are increasingly losing the ability to enjoy and delight in the awe and beauty around them. It’s not to say that we can never scroll through our phones or watch television, but Crouch proposes that we should have a goal for the use of media: “We simply have to turn off the easy fixes and make media something we use on purpose and rarely rather than aimlessly and frequently. So when we do sit down in front of a TV screen, it will be for a specific purpose and with a specific hope, not just of entertainment or distraction but of wonder and exploration” (p.149).
Crouch ends the book by stating what matters most. What will you and your kids remember about growing up in your household? Will it be all the times that everyone was sitting in the living room staring at their phones, or will it be the evenings that everyone is singing songs to God in praise? In the big events of life, whether it’s the birth of a child, the vows at a wedding, or when death is near, what matters most is presence and relationship. When a friend is taking his last breaths, you are not going to be scrolling on your phone, but you will be joined around the bed in conversation, prayer and song (as Crouch describes his last moments with his good friend).
As we think about what matters most, we should strongly consider the charge that Crouch leaves: “We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us – above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now” (p. 205)?
Editor’s Note: The Tech-Wise Family is available on Amazon.