The Tech-Wise Family (Book Review)

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As a new Student Pastor, one of the first things I’ve gotten the chance to do is visit the local schools and see some of the kids during their lunch period. I spent a lot of time observing the students, trying to pay attention to how, and why, they do what they do today. As I saw students flow into the cafeteria, I was awestruck at the presence of technology. The last time I was in a high school cafeteria (as a high schooler myself), technology was still being kept at bay. We were instructed not to have our cell phones out, under any circumstances. There was no eating while watching YouTube together. We had our own technologies, for sure. Many had iPods to listen to, and some had iPhones, but not everyone.

But now, a decade and change later, smartphones saturate the environment, and everyone’s doing it together. Smartphones are facilitating connection among these students. I look across the walkway, and see a table for “iPad insurance.” I believe this is for the students to purchase for their school-issued iPads, on which they do much or most of their learning and assignments throughout the day. I remember the overhead projector, a technology that today’s high school freshman would point and laugh at.

Point being, our society is becoming more than ever a world driven by devices, and it’s not just the younger generation. This has major implications for the nature and function of the home, and the family unit. Because, technology could really positively impact us, or it could really negatively impact us. There is a sense of overwhelmed uncertainty, as writer Andy Crouch calls it, about where technology will indeed bring us all. “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).

Statistics don’t lie about this overwhelmed uncertainty. 65% of parents, according to Barna Research, believe the number one reason for parenting difficulties today is related to technology and social media. Parents cite discipline, time management, helping their children develop good moral character, and monitoring technology/social media use as their four highest areas of challenge in parenting their children.

Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place, makes a compelling point that will drive the momentum for the rest of his book: “The most powerful choices we will make in our lives are not about specific decisions but about patterns of life” (37). So, when it comes to technology, it’s not a question or have or have not. It’s a question of how to have. What are the patterns of life that we, especially as parents and leaders of homes, can begin to set into place for the sake of our family’s body and mind and soul?

In The Tech-Wise Family, Crouch has put together ten “tech-wise commitments” that he believes can put technology in the place it belongs – not as our overlord, not as our vice, not as our enemy, but as a humble, subservient companion who doesn’t have attachment issues. Here is a sampling of those commitments:

  • We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement (41).
  • We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do (41).
  • We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone (42).
  • Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices (42).
  • We show up in person for the big events of life. 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 (42).

What follows over the next 150 pages or so marries together beautiful vision and honest reflection, a “peering into” the mind of a man and his family that is pursuing these principles. That’s perhaps the greatest strength of The Tech-Wise Family. This is not just some cold researcher trying to invent concepts that are untested or irrelevant; these are words that have been informed by experience, by trial and error. These are practices that Crouch has attempted in his own home, and brilliantly, Crouch lets us see behind the curtain how each of these ten principles has fleshed itself out with his own family. Sometimes, he admits victory, other times, defeat. Crouch’s vulnerability in how his family is working through these things is sure to help leaders of the home see that this book’s wisdom is within reach. And if even Andy Crouch makes a mistake a two in these areas, we can give ourselves a bit of a break.

Supported thoroughly by Barna research, Crouch is melding together data with experience to offer families a new way forward when it comes to technology, particularly within the family unit and the home. This is, after all, the primary place where we make disciples. God has entrusted children to parents, spouses to each other, and children are commanded to honor their parents. The relationships in the home are in every direction a chance to pursue Christlikeness, even when it comes to how we use technology.

My wife and I don’t have children, but this book has already sparked half a dozen conversations about the practices in this book, and ways we are becoming more aware of technology’s good, and its bad. Whether you are single, married with or without kids, even empty-nesters, The Tech-Wise Family has the potential to help save familial relationships from technological ruin.

Devices aren’t simply going away. They are a part of our world. We have the opportunity to reshape patterns of life, rooted in the gospel way of living, that will help our families recover the life together that they had always hoped for. This commentary on faith and family and character in a pixelated world is going to prove necessary reading. I plan on using this resource with many parents and students, and even trying to let it inform how I live at home day to day. Many thanks to Andy Crouch, Barna Research Group, and Baker Books for making an immensely important work for our times.

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