The point of the book
Crouch’s book can be summed up in a simple phrase: technology is wonderful, useful, and most would argue necessary—so long as it is put in its proper place. The critical danger of technology is that it often nudges us in the wrong direction and exploits our shortcomings (p. 35). To address this, The Tech-Wise Family suggests practices that countermand this downward influence of the nudge—not by removing technology, but by offering practical wisdom to use it intentionally and constructively.
So, the real question is not whether technology is in our lives, but how we let it in. Crouch reveals “the real heart of the paradox: Technology is a brilliant, praiseworthy expression of human creativity and cultivation of the world. But it is at best neutral in actually forming human beings who can create and cultivate as we were meant” (p. 66).
Andy Crouch doesn’t take us in a legalistic direction, but he is clear and upfront that being tech-wise “requires discernment rather than a simple formula” and that the “proper place for technology won’t be exactly the same for every family” or even remain the same throughout each season of life (p. 19).
Layout of the book
Crouch builds his case for how to be tech-wise with his 10 Tech-Wise Commitments. While his plan is inspired by the 10 Commandments, he is careful to distinguish his commitments from commands. Each chapter reveals one commitment and concludes with a very brief “Crouch Family Reality Check” where he describes his own family’s successes and failures.
The 10 Commitments are arranged in the following two groups:
Fundamental Character Choices
- Develop wisdom and character together as a family
- Create more than you consume
- Live according to the rhythm of work and rest
Further Nudges and Disciplines
- Devices “go to bed” before we do and they “get up” after we do
- No screens before double digits (age)
- Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone
- Car time is conversation time
- Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices
- Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others
- Show up (physically) for the big events of life
The 10 Commitments in Closer Perspective
This overview will hopefully encourage you to get the book and reflecting on it further. I find his book offers a much-needed voice for parents who want to guide their families with wisdom and courage.
Commitment 1: Develop wisdom and character together as a family
Technology presents us with seemingly infinite knowledge. But what about wisdom and courage? The family—and he allows this to include more than just the biological family—is ideally a place where we cultivate relationships that enable us to learn wisdom. In our families, we are known (even the worst about ourselves) and we find self-understanding and a sense of our calling to be wise and courageous. If we are not careful, technology can distract us and take us away from the real work of becoming an authentic person (capable of real connection and caring).
Commitment 2: Create more than you consume
The goal here is to shape our space so that the nudge of technology is not at our fingertips. The goal is to avoid becoming passive consumers of cheap entertainment. Crouch writes, “So if you do only one thing in response to this book, I urge you to make it this: Find the room …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…” (p. 79). He urges the reader to create tech-free zones.
Commitment 3: Live according to the rhythm of work and rest
Most of us use technology to “relax” from our “work.” This has negatively impacted our ability to live out the observance of the sabbath according to Exodus 20. Most people live in the cycle of toil and leisure. The need is urgent for us to be more intentional about our use of technology. He suggests that “…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” (p. 83).
Commitment 4: Devices “go to bed” before us and they “get up” after us
Technology is especially dangerous when it comes to sleep—it is a nudge in the wrong direction. Not only does research show that screen time before bed interferes with our ability to fall asleep, but it also beckons us to give up sleep for more entertainment. To overcome this, put your devices to bed outside the bedrooms before you go to bed and don’t pick them up until you are ready for your day.
Commitment 5: No screens before double digits (age)
This will perhaps be the most difficult to along with, especially because families usually have children of various ages! It is significant as he writes, “So it could be that the proliferation of technology, especially screens, at earlier and earlier ages, may well be remembered as one of the most damaging epidemics of the twenty-first century” (p. 127). Kids will, no doubt, spend untold hours chained to “glowing rectangles.” “We owe them, at the very minimum, early years of real, embodied, difficult, rewarding learning, the kind that screens cannot provide” (p. 131). Crouch admits that this may be impossible for most Americans, but if you can’t adopt this commitment we need to at least put some sort of limits in place.
Commitment 6: Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone
The irony of this insight is deep: “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (p. 141). Most believe that technology will release us from boredom, but it is actually making things worse. More and more, people are turning to purposeless distractions. The constant pursuit of “entertainment” is also undermining “our ability to enjoy what could be called the abundance of the ordinary” (p. 143). More disturbing is that “our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted” (p. 146).
Commitment 7: Car time is conversation time
This is one commitment of Crouch that is highly recommended for all parents. A lot of time is spent in running kids to various activities. Many families surprisingly report that some of their best conversations take place in the car. We can do some things to nudge ourselves in this direction. The tragedy of having so many devices today is the frequent interruption of good and open conversation. Considering how dangerous it is to drive and use such devices, how better to use this time then to communicate with your kids?
Commitment 8: Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices
For most of human history sex has been confined to a lifelong marital relationship. All of that has changed and technology has played a monumental role. Marriage is now a separate matter, and sex is found everywhere. While some may find this hard to believe, it is perhaps unsettling that “30% of all internet traffic” relates to pornography; in fact, 62% of teens report having received nude images and 40% claim to have sent one (p. 169)!
Parents need to both demonstrate great wisdom and courage themselves, but also to help their children grow in their capacity for healthy sexuality and marriage. Crouch warns, “if we build our family’s technological life around trying to keep porn out, we will fail” (p. 173). Although most of the chapter is framed against porn, other issues are assumed under the “no technological secrets, and no place to hide them” (p. 177). The evidence is compelling that the younger a person uses porn, the less capable they will be to sustain healthy relationships (p. 171).
Commitment 9: Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others
Of all the Commitments, this one may seem odd to many. Yet, his point is well taken. “In too many of our churches [and society in general], however, we have settled for a technological substitute for worship: amplification, which allows a few experts to do the worshipping on our behalf while we offer far too little of our own heart, soul, mind, and strength” (p. 192).
Commitment 10: Show up (physically) for the big events of life
The importance and value of this Commitment is beautiful; the remainder of it concludes by adding, “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” (p. 197). The nudge here is that it emphasizes living and being present in our families at such key moments such as weddings, graduations, and funerals.
Why? Our desire is to “…put love into practice in the most profound possible ways, by being present with one another in person at the great and most difficult moments of life” (p. 203). It isn’t likely the technology will ever replace the significance of our being there for each other in person and in real time.
The world is moving at a fast pace today and in large measure due to the impact of technology. We need to take the time to stop and reflect on the impact technology is having on our lives. Crouch offers our families an introduction on how to do that well.