“The Tech-Wise Family”

Thoughts on a book I really needed to read.

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It’s hard to communicate just how much I love technology. I feel like I’m living in the future every single day, and everything’s changing so fast that there’s always something new to be amazed by. And I don’t just love what I can do with technology, I love the way it makes me feel. Even using something as mundane as Google Docs gives me a strange feeling of happiness. We are connected all the time; connected to each other and to our things and to any piece of information we might be interested in at the moment.

And yet.

And yet I feel addicted, addicted to my phone in the very same way a smoker needs a cigarette. I check my phone when I’m bored. When I’m working. When I have a notification. When…it’s been five minutes. I look for that hit of a new notification or interesting photo, and then I check again just in case.

In short, I don’t like the person I have become with that always-connected technology.

This isn’t news. I’ve known this about myself for a long time, and it drives me crazy. Instead of thinking on my own, I let others do it for me. I’m always connected to other people’s noise and never to my own silence. I willingly sacrifice my brainwaves to advertisers and my own creativity to other people’s Facebook rants. I spend more time reading about cameras than I do using them. How much might I actually create if I wasn’t so focused on consumption?

And I don’t like what it’s done to us as a society. Phone calls take precedent over real-life conversations. “Playing with the kids” means staring at your phone while the kids play. Dinner together means we all look at our phones and occasionally share a viral video. We are, as Sherry Turkle puts it, alone together.

When Justus came along, all of this was on my mind. I wanted him to know me, not the back of my phone. I thought about all those parents at the playground poking around on their devices while their kids scream, “Dad, look at me! Dad! Look! Dad! DAAAAD!” I didn’t want to be that guy. And before Justus, I was resolute in my conviction that I wouldn’t be.

And yet.

And yet it was so convenient to be able to pull out my phone during all those early morning feedings to help pass the time and keep awake. But Justus really liked to stare at me. He would watch whatever it was I was doing, and if I looked at his face we would lock eyes for a very long time. I realized that these were the foundational moments of him piecing together who I am in his life, and I was forming habits that were leading me exactly to where I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want my addiction to ruin who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be half present. I wanted to be all there. For him, and for me.

Around that same time, I stumbled across an interview with an author who had just published a book about the intentional approach he and his wife took in regard to their kids and technology. One of the rules they had in their house was that their kids had almost no screen time at home and at school before the age of ten. In today’s world, it sounded so extreme. I was intrigued.

“We are continually being nudged by our devices
toward a set of choices. The question is whether those choices are leading us to the life we actually want.”

The book is called The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. I ordered a physical copy of the book (because an ebook felt too ironic), and I devoured it in a matter of a few days. It was so, so good.

The book lays out ten commitments he and his wife decided to make about technology in their home and within their family. They laid out their values as a family and adjusted technology’s influence accordingly. For example, they decided it was more important to create than consume, so they took the “easy everywhere” tech out of the living room and put it into another part of the house. “Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you. Move the TV to a less central location—and ideally a less comfortable one. And begin filling the space that is left over with opportunities for creativity and skill, beauty and risk.”

The author isn’t a Luddite in any way. He doesn’t believe technology is inherently evil, but he and his wife recognized what can happen if we are not keeping a very close watch on it. The moment we start letting the TV, computers, and phones take the lead is when we’ve lost control.

“[Technology isn’t] just good—it’s very good. But does it make me the kind of human being who could contribute something of lasting value to my family, my neighbors, my society, and our broken world?”

The book is written to families, but the thoughts presented challenged me on a personal level. The book was, first and foremost, good for me. It has started conversations Katie and I needed to have, and it’s led to taking action in several areas. We keep our phones completely out of bedroom now. They stay off the dinner table. No TV while we eat. We actually turned our entire living room ninety degrees counterclockwise so that the point of our living room wasn’t to consume media.

I’ve noticed two things from the small changes we’ve made. First, I still often wish I could zone out and watch YouTube while sitting at the table, or check the day’s headlines before getting out of bed. That desire has not gone away. But what I’ve also noticed is that I never regret the time I’ve chosen to be present—with myself, and with my family.

The other day we left the house without our phones and—even more shocking—without my camera. There was so much desire to capture a moment on video, or to share what we were doing with family on Marco Polo, and I really missed my camera. But when we didn’t have either of those things to go to, we had…each other. And that—that—is something I want more of.

“We use screens for a purpose, and we use them
together, rather than using them aimless and alone.”

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to spend their time doing anything other than what Facebook wants them to do. And the point isn’t so we can all be just like the Crouch family, but it’s a way to force us to think about things we don’t think about enough, and to work on areas we know we’re weak in. It’s for anyone who, like me, has sensed that their interaction with technology is not the healthiest. And of course, as the name would imply, it’s for anyone with kids.

Read it. Seriously.

To close, I’ll leave you with a few more quotes from the book that really stood out to me.

We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.

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.

“We are not bored, exactly, just as someone eating potato chips is not hungry, exactly. But over consumption of distraction is just as unsatisfying , and ultimately sickening, as overconsumption of junk food.”

“… the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get”

“Car time is conversation time.”

“…never entertain your children with anything you find unsatisfying, just like you shouldn’t feed your children with anything you don’t enjoy eating yourself. Feed them with food that is both tasty and nutritious—and entertain them with movies, books, and stories that are both tasty and nutritious too”

“…eliminate ‘passive’ screen time at home—television or videos playing in the background with no one even really paying attention. Then reduce or eliminate “unaccompanied” screen time—the games and videos that substitute for individual play and reading. Then take the more challenging steps of reducing ‘social’ screen time, figuring out how to challenge children to play together in tactile, creative, self-initiated, and self-sustaining ways.”

“So the best defense against porn, for every member of the family, is a full life—the kind of life that technology cannot provide on its own. This is why the most important things we will do to prevent porn from taking over our own lives and our children’s lives have nothing to do with sex. A home where wisdom and courage come first; where our central spaces are full of satisfying, demanding opportunities for creativity; where we have regular breaks from technology and opportunities for deep rest and refreshment…”