• Justin Myers

Every Day Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Kids learn to drive from their parents. If a parent doesn't drive safely or train their child to do so, it is a sure sign the child will grow to be an unsafe driver. But a wise and careful parent will prepare a child to get behind the wheel on their own one day. We parents should think about our phones, computers, watches, and TV's in this same way. Screens aren't inherently evil, but our obsession with them has not left family life unscathed.

This is the problem Andy Crouch addresses in Techwise Family: Every Day Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Though the title is "Tech-Wise" family, it may better be titled "Screen-Wise" family, since its focuses largely on the "glowing-rectangles" we carry around in our pockets or have set up in our living room. Crouch describes and defends 10 commitments his family made regarding technology, providing personal examples and reflection. He argues persuasively that families need to intentionally put screens in their proper place.

Forming Persons

The purpose of family is "about the forming of persons" (52). Our families should ideally be the closest relationships we have and the context in which we see and mutually help each other grow into mature persons. The home should be the place where we learn to talk to others, to love others, to celebrate joyous seasons and to grieve the hard.

I would add that parents must lead the way. In Scripture, parents are commanded to not only worship the One true God, but to teach their children to do the same (Deut. 6:1-4). Parents are told to tell the next generation of his works and commandments (Ps. 78:5-8), and to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Even in a screen-filled age, parents are responsible for this child formation.

I think Crouch has these things in mind as he says the family forms persons by cultivating wisdom and courage in each other--more specifically, parents encouraging these things in their kids. We don't want our families to just know a lot, but to have the wisdom to apply what we know to our lives correctly and the courage to act and live faithfully even when it is hard. It would then be necessary to "make every major decision, and many small decisions, on the basis of these questions: Will this help me become less foolish and more wise? Will this help me become less fearful and more courageous?" (68). These are admirable questions. At the very least, they drive the reader to consider what the purpose of family is for them, and on what basis big and small decisions need to be made. Personally, I prefer the ideas of wisdom and godliness.

Enter Screens

Technology can be a tool or a barrier for the family's purpose. While this is true of technology in general, again, Crouch is mainly focused on the technological screens we use every day. Some technology and screen use is what we use as tools to help us do hard work or connect with people we otherwise wouldn't be able to. But the technology and screen-use Crouch critiques here is the "easy-everywhere" technology that does all the hard work for us, makes us mere passive consumers, and falsely promises happiness and life. It is this second kind of screen time that is a barrier to maturing persons in the home.

In order for screens to be an asset for the family rather than a hinderance, Crouch says we need intentional disciplines and nudges. A discipline is something like, "every night for an hour at dinner, we will not be on our phones, but spend uninterrupted time as a family." A nudge is something that would help the discipline, such as having the family put all screens in a different room during dinner. The "nudge" makes it easier to push through the discipline. Another discipline might be, "I will not be on my phone between when I get home from work and when we put the kids down for bed," and the nudge might be turning my phone off when I walk in the door. The bulk of the book addresses Crouch's 10 disciplines, or commitments, for Techwise families with ideas for "nudges" weaved throughout.

Screens will be a hinderance to the family that hopes to cultivate wisdom and courage and ultimately godliness in the home. I do wish that Crouch addressed the heart more, as we can all fix our habits on the outside and still have a bad heart on the inside. We need the Spirit of God for true change in our lives. Still, the Spirit of God gives us wisdom and grace to implement things like "nudges" and "disciplines" that will lead us to greater godliness.

Shaping Space

The overarching takeaway is that we need to shape our space and time when it comes to our glowing-rectangles.

Shaping our space means choosing where screens will be in the home. Crouch suggests to "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" (79). If the purpose of our family is to form persons, then the space we spend most time in should aid us in that purpose. We need to shape the space to cultivate wisdom and godliness.

The temptation is to let our screens shape the space instead. We put our TVs front and center in the living room (where we spend the most time), and we carry our phones with us wherever we go, even to sleep with us in bed at night--and we lead our children to do the same. The screens themselves aren't inherently bad, it is how we use them that can be harmful. Screens take the place of being creative, having deeper conversation, and doing hard work. Crouch says, "Children, in particular, are driven to create--if we just nudge them in that direction... but too often, and with the best intentions, we fill their world with technology instead--devices that actually ask very little of them" (80).

These are wise words. Our home is a tool for person-formation, if we shape it to be so. It may look different for every family, but for the Crouch's, it means having books, a craft table, and musical instruments in the rooms they spend the most time in. And it even means all the time spent in the car (as an extension of the home) together is reserved for conversation rather than screen time. When technology shapes our space, our families become mere passive consumers of content. But we can shape the space to cultivate relational and creative, wise and godly, mature persons.

Shaping Time

Shaping time simply means putting healthy boundaries on the amount of time we consume and use technology. This begs the question, "how should we be using our time?" Crouch points to the Bible's teaching that our days should have a healthy rhythm of work and rest. Just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, so should we work six days and dedicate a day of rest to the Lord. I would add that we are to "redeem the time for the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16), and that we are to do whatever we do "to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). We must use our time wisely for God's glory.

The temptation is to turn work into fruitless toil and rest into fruitless leisure. Our screens give us the ability to have work on our mind even when we are out of the office, or they tempt us to mindlessly binge-watch or binge-scroll, or binge-whatever-the-next-tech-invention is. The home should be a place for fruitful work and fruitful rest, not for the toiling and the binging. For the Crouch's, this means putting boundaries on screen-time. They commit to putting their phones "to sleep" an hour before they go to sleep. They take an hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year to be completely "unplugged" from screens. These are helpful suggestions, again filled with wisdom, that any reader can take or modify for themselves.

It is not that boundaries are divinely authoritative, but they can be good inasmuch as they help cultivate wisdom and godliness in us. When screens threaten wisdom and godliness, it is good to have prayerful disciplines aimed not just at outer acts, but at the shaping of a heart. While Crouch doesn't mention this heart piece, I trust he has it in mind.

Interestingly, Crouch says the English word "boredom" does not appear in history until the 1850's. Only a hundred years earlier did the word "bore" (as in, "he is such a bore") start to be used. This means that before the 1700's, at least in the English speaking world, there was no word for the frustrating and uncomfortable feeling we have when standing in line, waiting at the airport, or have an open Saturday with no plans at home. And while you would think the increase of technology that can entertain us--like our screens--would decrease our boredom, it seems it has increased our boredom. Why? Because constant access to screens and videos with highspeed and ultra-colorful entertainment has made us numb to the real world where such visual delight is rare, and the mundane is common. It takes work and waiting to see something like a meteor shower with your own eyes.

This is the toughest for parents, who feel they just need time for their children to be occupied, so other responsibilities can be taken care of. But, Crouch says, "the quest to cure boredom with entertainment actually makes the problem worse. But it works the other way around as well. The less we rely on screens to occupy and entertain our children, the more they become cable of occupying and entertaining themselves" (133). The answer then, for for parents themselves and for their children, is to embrace the boredom and fill it with something other than a glowing screen.

Behind the Wheel

My takeaway as a father overall is that screens are like driving. Whenever I am behind the wheel I must ensure I am using the car safely for myself and for those traveling with me, as well as the others on the road. Each time I put my hand to the wheel, I need to be sure I can use the car properly. In the same way, when I put my hand to the phone or to the remote or to the keyboard, I need to be sure I am using the technology properly, with wisdom and godliness.

And further, Emmett (20 months old) and Jane (1 month old) should not drive themselves for a long time. They need to grow up seeing me and Kasey drive with wisdom and care. Then, when they are old enough, they can begin to practice driving under our close watch. One day, when they have had proper instruction and training, they will be able to go out and drive on their own. In the same way, our children need to see us and hear us talk about how to use technology wisely (we are not off the hook to have bad habits ourselves!). They need to get a chance to "get behind the wheel" while they are under our close watch. And one day, when we as parents have done all we can to instruct and train them to properly use technology with wisdom and godliness, they can have the keys to their own screen.

Crouch addresses much more that I haven't here, such as the detriment that screens are to the learning and development of young children, and the danger and reality of pornography and the ease with which it is accessed or texted to children. In all, this books is a useful resource for families and individuals to implement practices in their life that promote wisdom and godliness.

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