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Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family (Andy Crouch)

forneyThis is Scott Forney's review of The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, written by Andy Crouch (Baker Books, 2017, 224 pages). This book is available online or in the bookstore.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 3.00.30 PMWhatever your family status, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch has much for all of us to consider. This smallish book (picture a thick iPad mini with an orange cover) pulls together ten commitments meant not so much to put detailed clamps on the aforementioned Apple device, but rather, as the subtitle suggests, to provide “everyday steps for putting [it] in its proper place.” So, instead of a critical book about technology and the endless ways it is unknowingly warping us as individuals and society, Crouch has provided an imminently practical and positive read that, chapter by chapter, focuses on the good affections fostered within a family where screens have their “proper place.”

Starting With the Family

Where does Crouch start in this foray into navigating our tech-heavy world? Surprisingly, not on technology itself, but on the family. (It caught me off guard, too, until I remembered the title.) This emphasis on family is never forgotten as he weaves us through the various commitments in very much an autobiographical manner, complete with a foreword by his sixteen year-old daughter and sections at the end of each chapter called “Crouch Family Reality Checks.” These peeks behind his family’s veil help keep his commitment explanations and justifications from being prescriptive and formulaic (read potentially legalistic). As well, you feel well shepherded by someone who’s been through the fray before and understands how these decisions greatly influence the mission of the family and its daily life.

Developing Family Commitments

What are these commitments you might ask? (Or, rather, the deeper question you might be unknowingly asking is how radical and painful are these commitments, and could I ever pursue them?) In Crouch’s own words from the introduction, “you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” . . . Wait! Don’t throw out his book! He’s not coming to the technology table as a Luddite from the land of horse buggies and long-bearded men (though he does live in Pennsylvania). On the contrary, Crouch is presently senior strategist for communication at the John Templeton Foundation, was both a campus minister at Harvard and editor/producer at Christianity Today for ten years, has led musical worship for congregations of 5 to 20,000, and is a self-described technophile with collectively more than ten Apple devices and a “pretty sweet TV” populating his four-person house.

So, no, he’s not a 21st-century Rip Van Winkle calling us back to the pre-Internet days replete with stamps, long-distance telephone bills, and only three broadcast TV channels. Rather, he rightly sees the technology of the day for what it is, while caringly calling us to a life and “choices that our devices often make more difficult.” His commitments therefore are always toward the positive, e.g. families are for forming and nourishing human capacity, with technological distractions and displacements pushed to the periphery; our days, weeks, and year deserve technology fasts so that we can rightly interact with the medium; children learn best not by the “easy everywhere” that screens provide, but through embodied interaction with the creation and culture’s un-pixelated tools.

Applicable to All Ages

These commitments and the others are applicable to all ages and family statuses, so don’t relegate the book’s audience to a 30-ish couple with 2.4 children. Nevertheless, with the raising of children clearly in his sights throughout the book, parents (and grandparents) with children of all ages will benefit. Those of us with older children will be confronted over the evolved habits of our family life that need alteration, but nevertheless with hope and vision for change; those with younger children will benefit from the direction provided and the opportunity to walk in a wise path going forward. And all of us will benefit from considering the nudges toward a richer, fuller life, not from a reaction of fear and helplessness concerning the ubiquitous present screendom, but rather out of a right response to God’s call to live in this culture we are part of and make.