The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place


Some books on technology/technique, like Jacques Ellul’s or Sherry Turkle’s, analyze and expose truths of great importance. Other authors, like John Dyer or Arthur Boers, utilize insights from others and add their own, but put much more emphasis on the “what to do?” question. Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family is in the latter category, but has an even stronger practical orientation than Dyer or Boers. Andy Crouch is a gifted thinker and communicator and a man of sincere commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus. This book has the strength of many how-to books—relatively short, engaging, and many practical suggestions. And it avoids the weaknesses of many how-to books: he writes with humility and nuance; he roots the how-to principles in thoughtful analysis; he does not pretend it will be easy, nor does he present his suggestions as the one right way.

Crouch is a technophile, that may help some readers to be more accepting of his radical suggestions. He does not say, “get rid of your devices as I did.” He loves them; is fascinated by them; he uses them. He writes, “Technology’s fruits are to be celebrated and delighted in” (65). A phrase from the subtitle is key: putting technology in its proper place. He begins the book with seven observations about its proper place, such as: “Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to one another” (20). The final observation is that technology does not stay in its proper place on its own. Reflecting on his family’s practices he observes, “We haven’t eliminated devices from our lives by any means, but we go to great lengths to prevent them from taking over our lives” (30).
Yet, the book remains a radical one. Because, as he states, to keep technology in its proper place will require choices “that most of our neighbors aren’t making” (29). It is radical not just in the action steps advocated, but also in its observations—two examples: “We often give our children screens not to make their lives easier but to make our lives easier” (130). He acknowledges that technology has made our lives easier, but he asks: are our lives better overall than our grandparents? (64).
This points to his definition of technology. I, following Ellul, define technology in terms of efficiency. Crouch defines technology as that which makes our lives easier and is everywhere. Humans have always used tools; they have aided us in work, but until recently have not done work for us. The technology Crouch writes about are tools that are easy—they work on their own, or are very easy to use. They ask too little of us, make the world too simple, and they are everywhere (think of landline phone vs. mobile phones). Just as I say that “efficient” is not synonymous with “better,” Crouch writes that “easier” is not synonymous with “better.”
The heart of the book is the ten commitments his family made to seek to keep technology in its place.
1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
3. 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.
4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home [ten years old].
6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
7. Car time is conversation time.                                        
8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
10. We show up in person for 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.
One could say, “now that you have given me the list I do not need to read the book.” Please, read the book! A chapter is dedicated to each one of the ten commitments. They include thoughtful analysis of why the commitment is necessary and concrete examples and suggestions on how to put them into practice. Each chapter ends with a Crouch family reality check. He describes how they have actually done on the commitment over the last two decades. He includes his children’s perspectives. He writes with humility and honesty. They have done better at some than others.
Those reality checks go a long way in keep this from being a judgmental book with an accusing tone. In addition, although there are many observations about the negative impact of technologies on our lives, Crouch writes more of the richness that flows from keeping technology in its proper place. The book does not scold, it invites us to something better. It is a book full of promise and possibility.

Posted on March 3, 2018 .