Learning to Power Off

Learning to Power Off May 3, 2017

By Jonathan Storment

Part 3: Learning to Power Off, a reflection on Andy Crouch, The Tech Wise Family.

Remember when the internet wasn’t everywhere? Remember when it was someplace you had to actually “go” to, and it took work trying to navigate it?
Since Al Gore invented it, the internet has quickly expanded to being as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, it’s seen as a basic human right, it has created and destroyed careers, changed Presidential elections, exposed and created scandals and (more quietly) destroyed souls…yet it’s place in our lives is rarely checked or questioned.

So I’m in a series reviewing Andy Crouch’s great new book “Tech-Wise Family” where Crouch is trying to get us to step back and re-examine our relationship to technology. He wants us to ask “What if we could use our technology as tools and not as destinations?”

Technology as Very Good

One of the reasons I hope this book gets a lot of purchase, is that Crouch isn’t against technology. He sees all of technology creation as a fulfillment of the original commandment of God to humans to have dominion over the earth. We are creating, like the God who’s image we bear. But there is a difference between creating technology and mindlessly using it.

“Technology emerges from the amazing success of modern science, and the hard work of scientists, but it’s not like science at all. Science is hard. Technology is easy.”

Technology is great when it is used as a tool for another end, to create, to investigate or to learn, but too often we use it as a means to escape where and when we actually are. We use it to get outside of our human limitations and lose the joy in what those limitations might show us.

For example, when we are vulnerable and in need we can truly be cared for by another human. When our interior lives aren’t so noisy and frantic we can attend to the needs of other people around us. But when we are constantly plugged into the busy, charming but ultimately not real online world we lose the ability to see what is happening in our own cities, neighborhoods and homes.

I’m aware that you are reading this on a blog, on the internet, and that there is a certain irony here. But again, the internet isn’t bad, as long as it has it’s proper place in your life.

So to this end, what if you put some limits on the way the internet works in your own life?

Silicon Sabbath

I think it says so much about the devices we are so tethered to, that their creators don’t let their kids use them on a regular basis. As the father of five, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the amount of time my kids sit in front of a screen. And yet I’m also becoming self-aware that they learned much of this habit from me.

Technology, specifically the kind of technology that doesn’t ask anything of me, the kind that makes life “easy-everywhere” has always been enchanting to me. Growing up in the 80’s, my parents saved to buy me a personal computer (I found Carmen Sandiego many times as a child) and my dad was a T.V. repairman for much of my youth.

I love just about everything Apple makes, and my family owns more Kindles than I’m comfortable admitting. So I’m not against these wonderful inventions, and yet I find Andy’s observations ringing true.

I love my screens. Maybe too much.

So how do we navigate these times of great technological innovation while still trying to develop into the person God wants me to be? Andy suggests a novel approach that just happens to be thousands of years old.

Unplug from these wonderful devices regularly.

Here’s the big idea from Andy:

“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.”

This really simple, profound idea runs through the entire book. We should, like the Israelites before us, have a Sabbath on a regular basis from our tools. The Israelites were called to a rhythm of life filled with work and rest, and in one of the more compelling parts of the book, Crouch says we have replaced those with toil and leisure.

Toil, the kind of work that doesn’t so much create as it does just keep us frantically and fruitlessly rushing, and leisure, a poor form of rest that doesn’t engage your soul but only allows you mindless distractions.

Spend enough of your life in this kind of rhythm of toil and leisure and you will lose your mind if not your soul. Instead, and here’s one of the great benefits of the technology we all have.

They all have an off button.

Here’s how Andy says it:

“There is a silver lining in the way technology has clouded our lives with nonstop toil and leisure—it gives us an amazingly simple way to bring everything to a beautiful halt. We can turn our devices off.

Close the laptop. Slide the little onscreen button on your phone to the right and watch its screen go not just blank but black. For bonus points, unplug the power strip that keeps all your entertainment devices constantly listening, like hovering
ghosts, for the silent voice of the remote control.

Suddenly, with the flick of a few switches, you have left the world of technology—at least its most commanding and demanding forms—entirely behind. Your home is now eerily quiet—not so much aurally as visually. Nothing is glowing—you are back in the visual world human beings lived in for millennia, where almost all light was reflected rather than transmitted. Nothing
is blinking or buzzing at you, and for the next few hours, nothing will.

Now, consider your options. The wide world is outside your door. Maybe it’s time for a walk, a run, a visit to the park or the playground. (At the playground, with phones left behind, parents may have to actually play too, rather than
just hover at the edge tending to their devices while their children enjoy the fleeting years of physical engagement with dirt and grass and sky.)…There are books, some of them full of stories (leave the heavy-duty nonfiction for the rest of the week). Maybe it’s time to sit with one for longer than you normally would, or to read one aloud together.

Storment Family Day

So about 5 years ago, my wife and I realized that we didn’t like our relationship with technology. We had two young kids who were constantly feeling ignored, they were having to repeat themselves and, while we loved them very much, they often felt like interruptions to my larger unspoken commitments like re-watching Lost.

I was becoming more and more irritable with work stress and less engaged at home, and so we heard an idea from a family at church and stole it from them, and it’s not an understatement to say it’s changed our lives.

Every Thursday night, our family lights a Sabbath candle (my off day is Friday), and we bring all the mattresses out into our living room. And then I turn off my phone and the kids hide it until Saturday morning. We share a meal together, play some games, go on a walk and watch a movie (c’mon Andy, we’re not perfect!).

At first this small discipline caused a lot of anxiety for me. “What if someone really needs me? What if they need to make an important decision at church and I’m unavailable?” But over the past few years, I can’t tell you what a gift this has been to my entire family and my own interior world.

These days on Thursday nights when I slide that red bar to the right on my iPhone, the world immediately feels lighter. I’m reminded of my proper place before God and how unimportant I really am, and also in other ways, how important I am for the ones immediately affected.

On any given Friday you will find me reading Harry Potter or Narnia to my kids, or building Legos or playing football with my kids, fully present and fully resting.

We’re not perfect at this, when funerals or weddings happen on Friday I’ll do them (sans iPhone) and once a month or so when I travel to speak I have my phone on me for emergencies (but on airplane mode) and there have been more than a few times that my kids have forgotten where they hid it leading their dad to panic.

But if I was to give you the one discipline with technology that has helped me the most over the past few years it would be what Andy’s advocating for here.

Turn off your devices regularly, learn to explore the real world again. Andy recommends daily, weekly and annual Sabbath rhythm worked into your life. And if that sounds overwhelming, than I say start with whatever works for you, but start somewhere and start soon.

Technology is a great servant and a horrible master.

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