By Jonathan Storment
A year ago, I picked up Andy Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today to spend a weekend with the leadership at Highland, unpacking some of the ideas in his recent book Strong and Weak. [His new book, the subject of this post, is called The Tech-Wise Family.]
My wife was busy, so I picked him up in our minivan with 4 kids, and since I am a big fan of Andy’s work, I had hoped to make a good first impression.
I had given the kids the “Let’s be on our best behavior” speech, and I had made certain promises of cake afterward if they obeyed well.
But if you are a parent of young children, you know that the old carrot and stick forms of motivation only can work for so long.
In the words of Jim Gaffigan, driving with small children is a bit like transferring serial killers across state lines in maximum security.
So I hooked up the car DVD players and had them watching some Disney movie to make them into little digital zombies while I had a pleasant drive from the airport with Andy. About 5 minutes into the drive, Andy casually commented that his daughter loved G.K. Chesterton.
If you know me, you know that I’m a huge fan of Chesterton, and having a teenage daughter reading him sounds like my dream come true. So I asked him how in the world did he convince his teenage children to read so much and so broadly. That is when he told me it was because he and his wife never let their kids watch television when they were young.
Being Intentional with Our Tech
Turns out, of all the people in the world that I could have picked up that day with a car full of digitized younglings, Andy is the worst. He proceeded to tell me that he was currently writing a book called “The Tech-Wise Family” (that released today and is wonderful) about how Christians are called to a different kind of way to engage technology, one that requires and cultivates both wisdom and courage.
I have read this book, and my wife and I are seriously talking about ways to implement some of the radical ideas in our family’s life. Since this is such a needed and important book, I want to spend the next few weeks reviewing it and commending some of the core ideas to you.
Because c’mon, deep down, don’t we all know how much we need a better relationship with our technology?
Did you know that the average kid spends about 9-12 hours a day digesting some form of media? That is everything from surfing the web to playing video games. The large majority of that time is of course watching television. That is up quite a significant number from even five years ago. The stark truth is that we live in a world that is enmeshed in all forms of media, almost constantly.
The median Netflix subscriber watches over 24 hours a week (around 4 hours a day!) and that is just the content on Netflix. How do you feel after being unplugged from reality for that long? Recharged and Refreshed? How is your mind these days? Do you find yourselves constantly bored, easily distracted, and irritated?
Tyrannized by Technology
Dallas Willard says that the best way for a person to take inventory of how they are doing with God is by asking the question “Am I becoming more or less easily irritated?”
Despite all my Bible study, time in prayer, and church attendance, sadly I don’t like my answer to that question these days.
Maybe that is not enough to convince you to buy the book, let alone reconsider technology’s place in your life. Maybe you need to have Andy come take a ride in your van. But the thing that convinced me that I needed to at least hear him out was when he told me that his teenage daughter was writing the foreword.
Here is what she said:
Tech-wise parenting isn’t simply intended to eliminate technology but to put better things in its place. Technology promises that it can provide wonder. Take a picture with the proper filters and you’ll be awestruck—it will look better than real life! But this promise is deceptive. My iPhone’s wonder generators, from Instagram to Temple Run, turn out to be only distractions from the things that really spark wonder. Thanks to tech-wise parenting, I’ve discovered a world out there that is better than anything technology can offer—as close as our front lawn.
Tech-wise parenting has added wonder to my life, though, and that’s enough. The real world is so fantastic that getting a taste of it makes even the most jaded kid want more. Not only have I always known that wonder is out there; I’ve been taught how to search for it. No multitude of glowing rectangles will ever be able to replace a single bumblebee.
So back to Andy Crouch in the van that day. He told me that he and his wife realized this principle, and they wanted to form their children in certain kinds of ways.
Without an ounce of judgment, he went on to tell me that their goal was to keep their kids in the real world and the world of words before they were exposed to screen time.
They wanted them to see God’s good world as it really is, unmediated by photo-shop and filters, before they grew old enough to accept that a screen-based version of reality is anywhere near as good as the real thing.
Or in the words of Amy, Andy’s daughter:
“Wonder comes from opening your eyes wider, not bringing the screen closer.”