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Monday, September 11, 2017

"The Tech-Wise Family" (Andy Crouch)

TITLE: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place
AUTHOR: Andy Crouch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (226 pages).

Whenever there is anything latest and greatest, not only will there be hype, there will also be concerns about how it will affect relationships both present and future. Some would harp back at the "good old days" and dismiss the vogue of the day. Others would do the reverse, committing the error of what CS Lewis has called as "chronological snobbery," where the newest trends are deemed better than the past. Both are poor responses to changing cultural forces. The way forward is neither abandonment or careless acceptance. It is wisdom. This wisdom includes the appropriate ways to work with rather than abandon technology. It means putting technology in its proper place instead of letting it set our pace. It is knowing about what the new movements are, what are the sources, and how best we can respond. In Culture Making, Andy Crouch critiques the two conventional approaches of culture. The first is unwitting acceptance while the second is unnecessary rejection. He then argues for the path of creative culture making. This book follows up on such a mindset. Instead of totally embracing or rejecting technology in our digital world, we need to learn to be wise in our use of technology. In a survey of parents with regard to the difficulties of modern parenting, technology tops the list of parenting concerns.

Crouch writes:

"Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care. If there's one thing I've discovered about technology, it's that it doesn't stay in its proper place on its own; much like my children's toys and stuffed creatures and minor treasures, it finds its way underfoot all over the house and all over our lives. If we aren't intentional and careful, we'll end up with a quite extraordinary mess." (21)
With intention, there is purpose and direction in the way we use technology. We can be so infatuated with what technology could do until we forget what we ought to do with our daily lives. This intention is crucial in knowing our place. Even as Crouch points out the need to put technology in its place, it is more important to know our place, our own tendency to be distracted and to let things come between us and the more important things in life. This brings us to the next point, care. Having technology as a tool is useful. When we fail, we let it become a master over us, which is terribly unhelpful. How do we go about doing this? Crouch gives us three ways to be 'tech-wise.' The first is choosing character over commodity. This is because technology is not so much the things out there but what is inside us. Just like knowledge is easy to come by but not the skills and wisdom in using it, technology hardware is easy to get but the software is not so easy to keep pace. In the same way, using technology is easy but discerning its use requires a whole new level of maturity. Wisdom means knowing which are the more important things and deciding on prioritizing them. The second point is a crucial one: creativity. Ever since the invention of the iPad and touch-screen technology, consumerism have risen considerably. People are consuming eBooks, e-based periodicals, and e-shopping like never before. The success of Amazon is a case in point. Like any zero-sum game, when a person is consuming, he is not creating. If he spends more time as a consumer, he sacrifices that same time as a creator. Can they do both? Not many could do that. Crouch proposes the expanding and shaping of this creative space. This can be facilitated through a reward system in which creative work can be recognized. Having plants in the house means a responsibility to care for them. Keep the books that are worth reading and re-reading. Have a musical instrument around so as to create and enjoy music without depending on MP3 players to do the creative work for us. Artwork too can trigger creativity. Crouch's third point is an important one: How do we structure time in a technology infatuated world? He points us to the nature of work and the need to have a healthy rhythm between work and rest. He advocates the practice of sabbath and refresh our understanding on the nature of work. Being Tech-wise essentially means keeping work in its place. The rest of the book deals with practical things like:

  • How to manage technology before we go to sleep?
  • How can we establish healthy limits to the use of technology?
  • How much time is enough? 
  • What is the purpose of boredom? Are we letting boredom dictating our use of technology?
  • How can we recover conversation time without the need to involve technology?
  • Defending our family from the temptations of pornography
  • Recovering the need to sing and not depend on our technologies to sing for us
  • How can we be more human in an increasingly technological world?
  • ....
We are entering new cultural terrains even as technology continue to speed ahead with new gadgets, new advancements, and new ideas. They supplant old paradigms with new. They are turning the world we know upside down. There have also created new paradoxes of life. Paradoxes such as technology could bring people far away closer, they could also alienate people close by; how technology speeds things up but the learning process slows things down; and how technology connects as well as disconnects relationships; etc. It is disconcerting to see that many people are so skilled in using technology but lack the wisdom to discern its usage. In fact, one would assert that with the rise of technology comes a need for greater guidance. We are living in a world where paradigms are inverted. Solutions are looking for problems. Technology is predicting our needs, and words are being fed into our minds. There is a real danger of falling prey to the distractions of technology and losing grasp of who we are, what we need, and what we ought to do with our life. Crouch speaks with a wise voice to remind us that technology must be treated like fire. It can be a powerful slave but also a terrible slavemaster. We must watch out for the dangers of addiction, of uncritical acceptance of everything the technology titans throw at us. Beware of the continued temptations of individualism, consumerism, and materialism. Thankfully, Crouch is joining a growing chorus of voices to caution us not to be blindsided by the technological tsunami. Be wise users. How? Perhaps for some of us, this book is a great start. 

Andy Crouch is executive editor of ChristianityToday and the author of Playing God and Culture Making. He lives with his family in Pennsylvania.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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