In order to survive and even thrive in our information age, Andy Crouch believes the church must become more like a family, and the family must become more like a church. His recent book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place [review], explains how wise, discerning handling of new-media technology will cultivate wisdom and courage. The home, he says, must limit technology in order to delight in God, neighbor, family, and nature. The church, he says, will not enjoy authentic community unless it disciples Christians in countercultural living when it comes to our TVs, video games, and smartphones.
Crouch joins me on this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast to discuss his new book, published by Baker with new insights and research from Barna. For more than 10 years, Crouch was an editor and producer at Christianity Today, where I got to know him. He served as executive editor from 2012 to 2016 and is now a partner for theology and culture at Praxis. He is the author of several other books, including Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing [review], which won TGC’s 2016 book award in the category of faith and work. I spoke with him about parental peer pressure, family singing, Amish living, and more.
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Collin Hansen: In order to survive and even thrive in our information age, Andy Crouch believes the church must become more like a family and the family must become more like a church. His new book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place explains how wise, discerning handling of new media technology will cultivate wisdom and courage. The home, he says, must limit technology in order to delight in God, neighbor, family, and nature. The church, he says, will not enjoy authentic community unless it disciple Christians encounter cultural living when it comes to our TVs, video games, and smartphones.
Crouch joins me on The Gospel Coalition podcast to discuss his new book published by Baker with new insights and research from Barna. For more than 10 years, Crouch was an editor and producer at Christianity Today, where I got to know him. He served as executive editor from 2012 to 2016. He joined the John Templeton Foundation this year as senior strategist for communication. He is the author of several books, including “Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing,” which won TGC’s 2016 Book Award in the category of faith and work. I look forward to talking with him today about parental peer pressure, family singing, Amish living, Twitter shaming, and more. Thank you for joining me, Andy.
Andy Crouch: Oh, it’s such a pleasure, Collin. Thank you.
Collin: Right off the bat, in your book, the foreword from your daughter, Amy, really stood out to me. It’s quite an endorsement. A lot of people, I think, imagine restrictions on technology leading to a colorless life, but you’re calling for a better life. What makes your approach better than the way most Americans handle technology today?
Crouch: Well, I think the problem is most of us, you might say, accept the default settings of technology. That is, we just take our devices kind of with all the promises they make, and all the ways they offer to help us out and just assume that that will basically be good for us. And I don’t think that’s right. I think these devices are very good insofar as they’re part of culture. They’re part of human beings cultivating the world. And God said all of that was, at least in its original kind of former intent, very good. But I think we’re letting these devices take over without really reflecting on how we’re using them and without really asking or answering the question, are they actually helping us be the kind people we are meant to be? So that is what the book is about. And it is kind of beautiful that my daughter was willing to take a risk for her as a, you know, 16-year-old, write this foreword about the parenting choices and intentionality that she and her brother have been subjected to, which have been pretty different from the choices our neighbors were making or even our neighbors in church were making, honestly.
Hansen: Yeah. Was there any point where [inaudible 00:03:27] your son really just was like, “Mom and Dad, this is just too much?” I mean, was there a moment where they really pushed back? I guess, as a parent, that’s kind of what I’m imagining. Like, “I’m playing the long game here. There’s probably gonna be a time when you hate me. But you know what? Eventually, you’ll thank me.”
Crouch: Yeah. You know, on technology…I mean, I should say we are the furthest thing from an Amish home. I mean, we have had lots of technology around. I mean, I think I was the first person I knew to own a Wi Fi router. I was so proud of that thing. It cost like $300 or some horrible amount 20 years ago. So, it’s not like my kids have grown up, you know, with no technology or some kind of absolutist or we hope, at least, not legalistic kind of restrictions on it. At the same time, we were really intentional. But I don’t…you know, I think our kids…the only thing I remember them… I remember my son struggling with how to explain to his friends that he didn’t have video games, when he was eight or nine. That was hard for him. But I don’t think he thought we should have them. He just struggled to help his eight-year-old friends know what to do when they came over. So at least for us, partly because we got started on this so early and we were intentional all the way along…and because we didn’t just take things away, we had lots of things in place of technology, right? So, if you just try to remove stuff, that’s difficult. But if you add all these wonderful things you can do as a family, play games and cook and go for walks and go hiking, go for bike rides, the kids don’t necessarily miss it very much.
Hansen: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, you say that by giving screens to kids to occupy their time, we actually make their boredom and discipline problems worse, another thing that I think would probably be counterintuitive to a lot of people here. Explain why you say that.
Crouch: Well, I think it’s true. I mean, I don’t know if I can prove it. But, you know, one of the ways we often turn to devices, or reasons we often turn to devices is when the kids are bored or squirming around or in a place where they need to be quiet. And in any given moment, the fastest way to get a child to quiet down and not cause any trouble is to hand them a glowing rectangle, right? The only problem is that what you’re doing basically there, first of all, you’re not so much solving the kid’s problem as the parent’s problem. It’s amazing how often we give children technology not actually to solve a problem they have, but to solve a problem we have. And you’re only solving it for that moment because you’re doing nothing to help your child and you really learn, how do we handle this boring situation, or this empty space or this confined space? Like sitting in a car seat in a car on the way to the grocery store or on the way to see grandma or whatever.
And if we always handle it by introducing a technological device, we actually never develop the sort of wisdom and character in both parents and children and, really, I’d say creativity, to not be able to be bored. So, the next time, you’re gonna feel even more bored and need the device even more. And it’s a vicious cycle as opposed to the virtuous cycle of, “Okay. I understand you’re a little bored right now. Let’s think about what you could do.” And now that will become part of your strategy next time, when you’re starting to feel this boredom, you’ll have something to do. And that’s a virtuous cycle that actually leads to more and more creativity, more and more real engagement with the world and with one another. But at any given moment, it’s more work, which is why we turn to all these devices because they tell us, “You don’t have to do the work.”
And I don’t know how to tell you it’s not a good idea today riding to the grocery store, but wouldn’t it be awesome if like the next five years of grocery store trips were full of conversation and full of singing and full of spotting things outside and making up stories about them, and all the creativity that can happen in even the most ostensibly boring environments? So, that’s what we’re missing out on.
Hansen: So, I would not hand my son a glowing rectangle, but I might hand him a paperback. Is there a fundamental difference between those technologies, or do they both have an equal effect in terms of just trying to get rid of boredom?
Crouch: Well, that’s a such a good question. And, actually, I think they’re a bit of…there are, in a way, on a continuum. Like, you know, we’re meant as human beings for full-on, embodied, three-dimensional engagement with each other and the world around us. I think that’s our primary mode of operation. That’s how we’re created to be. We’re meant to move through all three planes of action. You know, that is, move in all three dimensions. Kids are really good at this. They can somersault. They can jump up and down. They can sashay side to side. Like, they’re so physical, right? And we’re meant to be doing all this in constant relationship with each other. And I think it’s true that a book, you know, sort of corrals you into an imaginative world where you’ll be very still in order to engage in this act of imagination.
And I actually think, you know, my mom had, when I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of screens around because those didn’t exist when I was growing up in the same way. But sometimes, I would get too caught up in a book and my mom would have to say, “Go outside and play.” You know, so even the book can do that. But the book does involve your body in a way that the screen doesn’t. And we know this because we can actually study people’s memory and retention and attention with screens as opposed to books, and with glowing light as opposed to reflected light. And it turns out that there’s some kind of learning that happens with a book and an engagement of the imagination, I think for two reasons.
One is you’re actually, in a minor way but a real way, you’re using your body to engage with it more than you do a screen, because the screen these days, like a tablet, you pretty much just touch it with one finger or maybe two. Whereas the book has weight, it has depth. The pages present themselves to you as physical things as well as visual things, and your brain seems to interact with those differently. And there’s a lot of evidence that this is the case. And, of course, the other thing is a book does not fill in all the details for you. And so, a book invites a kind of creative participation that often our glowing rectangles don’t. Now, you could read a book on your iPad, and I’d suppose that’s better than watching a really immersive movie for developing the imagination and the creativity.
So, they are on a spectrum, but I think there’s a lot of reasons to give your kid a book rather than the tablet. And as kids get older, it turns out, this is one of the crazy things, they actually prefer books to screens for reading. And, in fact, it’s only older people, especially people like north of 50 who start to need to adjust type size and so forth, who really prefer the screens. The younger you are in America, the more likely you are to prefer reading a physical book rather than a screen. And so, it’s a really odd inversion of what we usually think where the young people want the technology. In this case, in the case of electronic reading, actually, it’s the older folks who appreciate it, but, actually, children really love reading books.
Hansen: No, that’s definitely counterintuitive. And like I said, you know, there’s so much of that kind of counterintuitive wisdom in your book. We’re talking about “The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.” By the time my son hits his teenage years, I shudder to think about what in the world is gonna be going on then. But that’s where you live now. That’s what your…
Crouch: It will be implants.
Hansen: Yeah, that’s…I mean, it’s…oh, goodness. I don’t even wanna get into any of that. We’ve got enough to deal with today. But here’s the question that seems to me to be among the most pressing, your book does not dwell primarily on sex-related things. That was a really interesting thing. That’s what a lot of parents are thinking about and, certainly, we know that it’s a major factor. I think you cite the statistic of, like, 30% of all web traffic or something like that is related to pornography.
Crouch: Yes, it’s porn. That’s right.
Hansen: Absolutely amazing and horrifying. But to me, this is the bigger issue, and I’ve been talking with youth pastors about this, why do so many Christian parents, Christian parents, continue to give their children smartphones with apps such as Snapchat when they know their kids and their peers are viewing sexually explicit images, including ones of their own classmates and friends?
Crouch: Yeah. Sixty two percent of teenagers have received a nude image on their phone, and 40%…when you ask them. I mean, I don’t know what the…the number might be higher. But when you ask if they’ve had this experience, 62% say they have and 40% say they have created an image like that. So this is…the thing is, Collin, I don’t know…the problem is nothing you can…there’s no single thing you can take away to prevent this and that’s why I don’t make this the focus of the book because I actually think we need a different frame around the picture to actually help our kids make better choices. Because if you take away Snapchat, they’ll use another app. I mean, kids are really, really inventive. Teenagers…
Hansen: That’s not new. That’s not new.
Crouch: That is so not new, right? And in some ways, I think of this as the moral air pollution of our time. It’s like living in a city like Beijing that is just so polluted. The reality is, you are going to breathe some of this in and your kids are, too. But that doesn’t mean you don’t filter the air in your house and doesn’t mean you don’t wear a mask when you go outside. And so, there’s ways to cut down on just the volume of pollution coming into all of our lives. But the more important thing is to give kids a much more comprehensive kind of guidance, let me say. Rather than trying to filter it out, which you’re never gonna be able to do, I think the more important thing, and I have a friend who does this in a really serious way with his four boys between the ages of 12 and 19, he says to them, “While you’re in my house and I’m your dad, while you’re my boys…once you become men, you’ll now be responsible for this. But while you’re my boys, I’m your dad and it’s my job to know more about your life than anyone else in your life. And among things, that means I can pick up your phone anytime and see anything on it.” And he will. He’ll just pick it up, go to any app he wants, look at the last few text messages, say, “Hey, what’s this conversation about? What do you think of this?” And that is, I think, almost essential for parenting. If your kids are going to have these all-access devices, even with filters, that give… By all access, I just mean connection to other kids. I mean, that isn’t gonna get filtered by any filter invented by a human being so far.
Hansen: Yeah. Well, and even then, of course, there are ways that, you know, some things disappear, some things can be deleted. I mean, I know there are ways and programs and things like that that can trace different things like that. But, I mean, I appreciate your overall perspective there. I think at one point you said in the book something to the effect of, “At least they will know that they have transgressed some kind of moral and religious boundary.” Something like that.
Hansen: You know, that’s kind of the best we can do is make clear that this is a really big deal and that this is a really important part of who we are as humans and as Christians and as a family, and just basically say, at least they’ll know. They won’t stumble into that as if they’ve never been prepared for it before.
Hansen: But I think, one of the things that you talk about regularly and it might be the biggest factor here in all this different stuff, but how are we supposed to deal with peer pressure from other parents? Not the other kids, from the other parents who are less restrictive about their technology, especially when those parents are in our own churches?
Crouch: Well, it’s so hard. I mean, there’s no easy answer to this. I think… I don’t know that I say a lot about this in the book, too, Collin, because I think we have to have really clear standards for our family. And our kids need to know what they are and they need to sort of instinctively know, when they go over to someone else’s house, like when there’s a boundary cross that they know exists in our family that apparently doesn’t in this other family, they need to at least know it’s different in our family and my parents think it’s better and here’s why they think it’s better. How you handle the relationship with any given other adult, and this a…it’s a huge problem because even if we are as careful as we can about how we sort of guard and guide our kids with whatever devices they have access to whenever they have access to it, other parents do not do this. It’s the reality, at least not right now. It takes a lot of diplomacy. I think it takes knowing when to be really firm and knowing when to be a little flexible. I think we have to be…maybe here’s the deeper thing. We have to be prepared to be weird, honestly, and different. I think every kid should hear from their parents from day one, “Our family is different,” over and over. So, when they hit adolescence when being different is hard, that’s just so ingrained, like, “Yeah, it is hard, but our family is different.”
And in loving ways and in ways that aren’t legalistic or judgmental, we have to try to hold to some boundaries and explain to other parents why we have those boundaries, why we’re not sending our daughter to her sleepover with a cellphone. Because she doesn’t actually need to call home. And if she needs to call home, she can borrow the parents’…
Hansen: Anyone else’s, yeah.
Crouch: It’s just gonna take…it takes, honestly, a level of courage. And that’s why…you know, you said in the intro, I think church needs to become more like family and that we need to be more deeply involved in each other’s lives to help each other with this stuff. And family has to become more like church in the sense that we have to become more honest that we are about forming disciples who are different from our neighbors and, to some extent, even from our neighbors who may be part of our churches but aren’t thinking this through. And that’s hard for kids to hear and it’s hard for parents to enforce. And we’ve tried to do it as gently as we could at different moments, but sometimes you have to just be really unusual and stick out. And I just think 10 years from now, everybody involved will be grateful that you were different. The kids will be, you will be, and so forth.
Hansen: And maybe even some other parents who were [crosstalk].
Crouch: And maybe some other parents. I think that’s right. I think that’s right.
Hansen: Yeah. We’re still early in on this stuff. I mean, I feel like we are on a certain end of this spectrum where we still have a lot of people who did not grow up in formative years with a lot of these technologies. And so, they don’t really…they’re not involved with them necessarily, they don’t really understand them. And I think that includes, still, some parents.
Crouch: Oh, yeah, a lot of parents. And a lot of them, they just think of it in terms of it helps them solve problems. “My daughter can call. If she is feeling bad at the sleep over, you know, she’ll be able to reach me.” And, you know, there’s these very simple kind of convenience explanations for why we give these kids these devices that then open them up to all kinds of other things. And it’s not even just the bad content. It’s the distraction from real life. It’s the inability to form relationship and conversation. And you’re right, I really think…I’m actually very hopeful about all this because I think we are going to realize, to some extent at least, a large part of our society is gonna realize, “This is not working.” And rather than being intoxicated with or infatuated with these devices, we’re just kind of the early adopter kind of response. The people who watched the 2007 Steve Jobs iPhone keynote address. There’s going to be… My kids, my son, who got off Facebook at the end of senior year of high school because he’s like, “Dad, this is ridiculous.” Like, it is not helping anyone be friends with anyone. You know, so he and his friends have made totally different choices, and that’s quite normal among college students now, to be much more intentional than even 5 years ago or 10 years ago.
Hansen: Yeah. A common thread of your book and what we’re talking about now is that a lot of these things that we say are for our kids are actually for us as parents. And so, really, I think that’s appropriate. This is not a scolding book at all in any way, but the people who need this message are the parents.
Crouch: Oh, it’s us. It’s so not about the kids. They just do what they see us doing mostly, and they want help with these things and they know when they get kind of over addicted to them. The problem is they see their parents bingeing on Netflix or not able to stop answering emails. I mean, when you ask teenagers, “What would you like to change in your relationship with your parents?” the single most common answer from teenagers is, “I wish my parents weren’t on their phones and would just talk to me.” That’s what the kids want, right? And it’s all about me. I mean, I’ve struggled with all this stuff which is why I tried to make this not a judgmental book at all.
Hansen: Yeah. No, we’ll get to more of my problems as we continue with this interview, so we’ll switch into the counseling session here in a few minutes. And you’re not calling us to be Amish, but you say that we need to become more Amish than we might expect, as is certainly consistent here with what we’re talking about here. It’s pretty radical. But here’s a sentence that really motivated me to follow through on your advice. You write, “If you don’t have people in your life who know you and love you in that radical way, it is very, very unlikely you will develop either wisdom or courage.” It made me wonder, Andy, do you think digital technology is the, or at least a reason, a major reason why many Christians today don’t enjoy that kind of radical community with one another, especially the kind of radical community that they say that they want out of churches from each other?
Crouch: Well, it’s got to be part of it. And I think it’s because it actually provides a more effective simulation of real life and real friendship and real engagement and real communication and lots of other things than we had before. And so, you’re able…you know, I think, in a way, we’re more bored than we’ve ever been, but we’re more easily able to pretend we’re not bored. And I think it’s the same thing with deep relationships where we’re more lonely and disconnected than we’ve ever been, but there are these glowing rectangles that will give us a kind of simulation of a kind of connection. And it gives you…it’s like, you know, I don’t know, French fries or cotton candy or something, you know, that’s not really very nutritious, but you eat…or potato chips, right? You eat them and you kind of feel full and you aren’t necessarily hungry for something more meaty or substantive, but you’re actually gonna feel even hungrier later and less well. And I do think that’s happening at a relational level with all these devices and the simulations of friendship that they give us.
Hansen: Well, many children today, another thing that you write about in the book, don’t see their parents working. And part of that, it’s just because of the nature of it happening outside the home, or what they see is actually, like, them working but it’s just…it all looks the same.
Crouch: It looks like actually what the kids do, right?
Hansen: Exactly. Just sitting in front of a screen just…
Crouch: Looking at a screen.
Hansen: It doesn’t look any different. So, as such, it just kind of all runs together. One of the only things that parents see or kids see their parents do is consume. Consume media, consume food, but not actually work. And I’m wondering, how does that shape attitudes about work and respect for parental authority?
Crouch: Oh, man, I think this is huge. And it goes back before the screen era. It really begins to happen with the industrialization, in the industrial era where work starts to move, especially paid work and especially men’s work, starts to move out of the home. And then you introduce the labor-saving machines into the home so that the mother’s work now is less…well, it’s less physically demanding, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also more mechanized, more automated, more device-like. And the home over time, in the industrial age, becomes a site of only leisure and consumption rather than creation and cultivation of the world, which is what it was in almost all pre-modern, pre-industrial homes. This is just I think amplified in the screen age. And I think, you know, what you said, has a very profound effect. Children do not grow up seeing their parents doing difficult, admirable things. And it used to be the case that you would watch your mother cook a meal from scratch. And she would bake a cake and it would start out as these raw ingredients and then out would come this beautiful thing and tasty thing out of the oven, right? Or you’d walk out to the garage with your dad and back when cars…even when we had cars, which are, of course, technology, but cars used to be, you know, you could service them as a grown person could, you know, with the right knowledge and tools. And you’d watch your dad work on the car and fix it and it wouldn’t work and then it would work.
Well, once all this stuff is outsourced and once we’re in the kind of fullness of the device era, children never see their parents doing something that the children couldn’t do. So, I can push a button on a microwave, but so can my three-year-old. Like, you know, what’s different about that? And we were joking before we started recording that, you know, now, what can a dad show his child to do with the car? Like, “Okay, well, son, let me show you how to refill the windshield wiper in here. It’s this big blue thing.” Like, there’s not…you know, what? There’s nothing to show. And so, why would you admire your parents?
And I do think it really does disrupt that transmission of not just technical knowledge, which was important, like skills and just basic knowledge about how to get a cow to let you milk it or whatever, but also the deep wisdom that came alongside that and all that you learned also from watching your parents struggle with difficult things, right? So, your dad would be trying to fix the car and it wouldn’t be going well, and you might hear language that you never heard before, but you also might see him persevere and overcome it. And now, when we all are just consumers and the biggest battle in the house is who gets the remote control, except we don’t have to battle anymore because we all now have our own screens, we all stream Netflix simultaneously, like, you’ve removed all the moments we used to see our parents as figures who really had something to offer us and teach us. And I think that’s a huge loss going all the way back to industrialization but really amplified in the screen age.
Hansen: I think there’s actually another factor here that I can’t remember if you talked about, Andy, but your “technology favors the young.” So, actually, kids…
Crouch: Yes. Yes. It comes [crosstalk] doesn’t it?
Hansen: Kids are ahead of the parents. So, actually, it’s the kids who are in the driver’s seat with all these things?
Crouch: They become the experts.
Hansen: They become the experts all of a sudden. What does that add on all this? Not only is there no opportunity for the parents to pass along wisdom, but that wisdom that the kids are being raised in in their schools and with their peers and all this, the wisdom is is that your mastery of these devices, is what’s going to lead to your own prosperous future, and, therefore, you have an advantage over your parents who are just kind of oafs or doofuses when it comes to this stuff.
Crouch: Yeah. And I get a little tired of the language of digital natives and that kind of stuff because I think it overplays the intergenerational differences because, actually, we’re all swept along by this in many ways. But the way it is actually a beautiful metaphor is when you talk to people who did arrive as children, as immigrants to the United States, and their parents, you know… adults struggle to acquire a brand new language like English, right? But children acquire very easily without even trying. And so, you end up with kids who are able to speak a language that their parents don’t and it’s the dominant language of the U.S. and when you talk to kids who grew up that way and they had to translate for their parents. I had a friend both of whose parents were deaf, and he was hearing and so, as a child, he was always interpreting to his parents. And the way that inserts the children in positions of knowledge of things that otherwise wouldn’t have to be communicated through them and of authority because they can sort of shape how the conversation goes, it’s a tough thing. And we know how disruptive and challenging it is for multi-generational families who immigrate. And, in a way, a lot of us are going through that with certain kinds of digital transitions, too. And it’s just a tough reality for families.
Hansen: Yeah, that clearly communicates. That makes a ton of sense. But I think it’s clear just in general here of what you’re saying. One thing you talk about in the book is that, you know, “Evangelicals are hardwired to reject legalism.” You know, it’s like, “No. Any rule is legalistic.” You’re pretty clear in the book that you don’t think there’s really much risk of that at all today. We certainly see them on the continuum closer to licentious. But help me to apply this in one specific way here. And, you know, there’s kind of been a push of like, “No, don’t talk about quiet times and stuff like that because that’s too legalistic and stuff like that.” But I wonder, help me with this, how does waking up to my iPhone shape my view of God?
Crouch: Well, I mean, your iPhone is there waiting for you to look at it and, you know, the new ones now, they know when you pick them up. They’ll wake up just by being picked up. You don’t have to, you know, turn them on. And all those notifications will pop up on the screen if you have it set that way. I think what it short circuits is, you know…you specifically mentioned waking up, and I would say going to sleep and waking up, these are the most vulnerable moments of our human days on a given day. I mean, there’s other very vulnerable moments in human life, but in a routine way, every night I fall asleep. And, in English, we use that verb “fall” and with all of it sets of who’s going to catch me? What’s going to be at the bottom? You know, and those are the moments when, for generations, for millennia, Christians and Jews and prayerful biblical people have trained themselves to practice the presence of God. That as I’m falling asleep and as I wake up, I fall asleep to a God who isn’t going to sleep, who’s going to care for me and I wake up to a God who has cared for me and who will provide for the day to come. And I need to practice that because I am naturally self-absorbed. I’m naturally gripped by anxiety at both of those ends of my day. And if I have this little distractor device that will maybe lull me to sleep with distraction until my eyes just are so heavy that they close and will wake me up with all these notifications about things I need to know about and things I need to do, and what’s my schedule for today, and what’s the weather like, I’m going to miss the quiet in which I’m going to discover how to depend on God.
So, you know, honestly, I will say, this is one thing that changed my life because I wrote this book, is I was not doing it. I was waking up with my device. And friends of mine said, “Oh my gosh, we don’t even let those things in our bedroom. Why would you do that?” And the answer was, “Well, because it’s an alarm.” And I realized I have an alarm clock that is sitting there that could be used. And so, more and more I’m leaving it far from our bedroom. And, more importantly even, when I get up in the morning and I make my tea, which is my first act of devotion in the day, I’ve decided I am going to go outside before I look at my iPhone. And so, I’m gonna make my tea, I’m just gonna open the door, and even for 30 seconds or 10 seconds I’m going to step outside and just be in the world rather than jump into this virtual world. And I was not doing this until I wrote that chapter about how we wake up and how we go to sleep. And I just want my life to have this space in it where I acknowledge that I’m human, that I’m created, that I’m part of creation, that I’m in a relationship with a gracious creator, before I immerse myself in the distraction and anxiety that the day will bring.
Hansen: Yeah. And I think, Andy, that’s probably gonna be the biggest change that comes from me on this as well. I’ve noticed like I don’t drink coffee, which a lot of people seem to be very disturbed by, that I don’t drink coffee. But I’m like…but I realized the last couple mornings, I’ve been trying to do this after reading your book, I realized like, I can’t wake up. Well, why can’t I wake up? Because my phone is what I was using to jerk me into attention. That was my coffee. That was my jolt, [inaudible]. So that’s not a very good thing. But I will say this. I think after reading your book, my tendency to read my Twitter mentions before going to sleep is probably the opposite of what I should be doing, especially because those Twitter mentions tend not to be very positive. So, I’m guessing lying late at night in the dark by myself reading lots of nasty things people are saying about me is probably not the best way to spend my time. So, anyway, I’m learning some things. Like I said, we’re entering into the confessional at this point in the podcast.
All right, I just have a few more questions. Let’s say, Andy, somebody is not ready to buy into your full program. What then would you say is the single most important practice you’d tell that person to immediately implement? And I’ll give you first what I would suggest, okay? You can tell me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I would suggest. I’d vote for singing together, which you talk about in there. You talk about in the book. We love the hymnal, which is crazy because we don’t go to a church that sings the hymnal and we’re some of those evangelicals who left all that stuffy stuff behind. But my two-year-old requests “Amazing Grace” and “Come Thou Fount,” which you can sing, both of them, hymns 92 and 93 in our old United Methodist hymnal. So, he calls it the hymndal but, you know, whatever. We’re getting there. That’s what I would suggest. But what do you think? What’s that practice that you would recommend, the first thing you’d say?
Crouch: Well, first, I just love your own take on it. It’s not what I would have said, although… I think I wouldn’t have said it because I wouldn’t wanna make…you know, the reality is some families, it’s sort of like language. If you didn’t grow up with music at all, especially producing music like your son fortunately is doing, if you don’t grow up with it, you do sometimes just…you’re missing the sort of cognitive apparatus to produce music, to sing. And you might love music, but producing it, you can’t. And I hate to make a family feel like somehow, you know, if we aren’t musical, we have to do this. And, frankly, if you told our family we had to go out and play, like, pickup basketball, it would be so awkward because we’re not very athletic, honestly. And so, I get that different families are different. Although, I do think you’re onto something. And what you’re really onto is, “Let’s fill our lives with the best things we know to create that actually call us to do something, rather than just consuming, right?” So, fill your life with creating rather than consuming. And, actually, I’d be totally up for a family making a pickup game in the backyard or in their driveway. That’s probably just as good as singing, almost as good, almost as good as singing.
What I would have said is probably the Sabbath because it is, after all, a commandment. And the Sabbath principle is that one day a week, we lay down everything that gives us provision for ourselves and significance, apart from God, where we could somehow provide what we need. Our sense of significance, identity, physical and material provision, and so forth. And for our family, that’s meant, and this is what I would really recommend is actually not just one day a week, but on a daily basis, one hour a day, and on a yearly basis, one week, a year. So, one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year, turn off the screens because that will serve as a kind of circuit breaker on the power of these things to keep us engaged 24/7.
And, actually, what you will then find yourself having to do is have a conversation, sit down and sing some music, play a game, go for a walk. The Sabbath opens up space to do these human things that the world of work will never give you permission to do. And the problem with these devices, these devices are really good at helping us work better in the world. I think that’s what technology is for, is to help us actualize our potential in the world. But that’s work. And there’s this other thing we’re meant to do, which is worship, and in the context of worship, relate to one another and be present to one another and to God without having to provide for ourselves. And devices are a big hindrance for that. So, I’d put in place some rhythms of disengagement and then some rhythms of engagement like singing together.
Hansen: And it seems to be that hour a day, you seem to, or at least practice yourself or recommend maybe around that dinner hour. Is that right? You think that’s where it’s gonna commonly become?
Crouch: I think dinner time is good for families with older kids. I think bedtime is a great hour for families with small kids. You know, we don’t tuck our teenagers into bed and so bedtime is a less important moment, but dinner really is important for our family. And, man, if we can have an hour where we’re maybe preparing the dinner. We don’t really sit at the dinner table for an hour. We’re Americans. That’s an un-American thing to do, right? That would be like French or something. So, we don’t sit there that long, but in the preparation of the meal and getting the table all ready, and then sitting down and praying and eating, and having plenty of time to talk and none of that with these glowing things, that’s a really healthy…
Hansen: Yeah, don’t bring the devices to the dinner table. Is there any hope for me, Andy, as I support my family through online publishing, social media, and podcasts? Okay, I ask this genuinely. Can my faith in God survive this medium as somebody who’s doing this for the sake of God?
Crouch: I don’t wanna be glib. I mean, I think we…it would be so glib to either say, “Oh, it’s all going to work out fine. Why are you so worried about it?” Or to glibly say, you know, “Flee and become Amish.” And having said that, two counties over is the largest community of Amish in the United States, in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, from where I live. And the way they live together is extremely admirable and creates beautiful land and animals that are well-cared for and families that are intact and love one another and stick with each other. I mean, it’s a little dangerous to make that the foil when so much about their lives is actually very faithful. I think there is a way, though, to do it, and it’s the way that I and my family are trying to do it, which is to build your life on things that are not digital, that are not virtual, to live in the real world a very significant chunk of your life beginning with this rhythm of Sabbath that anchors you in who you really are and who you are really connected to, both God and family and neighbor. And then, to have disciplines in our lives that serve as circuit breakers for all the ways that technology can amplify our own propensity to be self-providing, right, and be self-justifying, really.
I will say, I feel like I’m able to do it. I think I’m being honest here. I live a lot of my life with a screen in front of me. I mean, I wrote this book on a screen. I am on Twitter a lot, actually, though maybe I don’t take the risks that I should and so people don’t get mad at me in the way that they would if I were being, I don’t know, using it more thoroughly or something. But I feel like, by the grace of God, I’ve been given just enough real relationships with real people who are my three-dimensional friends who grounds me, and then my life has just enough quiet and just enough beauty in it that doesn’t appear…that doesn’t glow. It’s possible to do this.
And I will say, the only reason I felt like I could write this book at this point is I have this 20-year-old and almost 17-year-old who are living beautiful… I mean, they’re teenagers, right? It’s difficult, it’s awkward at moments, but beautiful lives and they love us and they love each other. And they know how countercultural they are. And they’re on…you know, they use Snapchat and Instagram and that stuff to connect with their friends, but they’re not owned by it and they’re not defined by it. And they have…we’ve seen these two little human beings grow up into people we really, really admire. So, I guess I would hold on hope that if we support one another and are the church for one another and call each other to real life, that there is a way to do it in a healthy way.
Hansen: Well, that is not glib. That is encouraging. And I think, Andy, that really summarizes for all the listeners the kind of perspective that they’re gonna get in the book. This is not a head in the sand book. This is not a “Run, flee, become Amish” book. But it is a call that if we want to pursue the things of God, we cannot pursue at the same pace or the same direction all the time where the rest of the world is going.
Hansen: That should be obvious to us as Christians, but I’m not sure that is obvious to us as Evangelicals, in particular, who define ourselves as being culture-affirming in many ways. I mean, going back to a lot of your influential writing over the years. And so, you know, we’re a culture-engaging people. Evangelicals tend to be the early technological adopters, and we know there’s a lot of wonderful things out there. And I wouldn’t have this job and be able to do the good things that I can without this technology. And yet, I do sense the same thing you do that we are at the early stages of a revolution that we have not yet fully understood in its implications. And that if we’re not very careful about fleeing some things in order to pursue the best things, then we’re gonna end up in rough shape. And so, I’m thankful for this book and for you.
Again, I encourage people to pick it up, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place coming out from Baker. I also want to thank people for using that technology to listen to this podcast today and sharing it with others.