I have every book by Andy Crouch on my bookshelf. Each is underlined and scribbled with marginalia. There’s one part from Crouch’s 2013 Playing God, however, that I don’t have to look up to recall. Crouch talks about his regular practice of washing dishes before traveling for a speaking event. Up to his elbows in suds, Crouch tries to recover a sense of his creatureliness and makes good on his obligations to his household.
It’s not too far a stretch to say that Crouch’s most recent book, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World, expands on that soapy scene, inviting all of us to recover our embodied identities as humans and, as the subtitle states, reclaim relationship in a technological world.
The preoccupying questions of Crouch’s work remain very much the same in The Life We’re Looking For: What does it mean to be human, made in God’s image? How do the technological conditions of modern life inhibit our becoming more human? How do we nourish a Christian vision of flourishing that counters the wisdom of the world? What habits and practices sustain the creative, holy life?
The Life We're Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World
Our greatest need is to be recognized—to be seen, loved, and embedded in rich relationships with those around us. But for the last century, we’ve displaced that need with the ease of technology. We’ve dreamed of mastery without relationship (what the premodern world called magic) and abundance without dependence (what Jesus called Mammon). Yet even before a pandemic disrupted that quest, we felt threatened and strangely out of place: lonely, anxious, bored amid endless options, oddly disconnected amid infinite connections.
In The Life We’re Looking For, bestselling author Andy Crouch shows how we have been seduced by a false vision of human flourishing—and how each of us can fight back. From the social innovations of the early Christian movement to the efforts of entrepreneurs working to create more humane technology, Crouch shows how we can restore true community and put people first in a world dominated by money, power, and devices.
There is a way out of our impersonal world, into a world where knowing and being known are the heartbeat of our days, our households, and our economies. Where our vulnerabilities are seen not as something to be escaped but as the key to our becoming who we were made to be together. Where technology serves us rather than masters us—and helps us become more human, not less.
Shadow Side of Magic
The dinner dishes are an apt image for exploring technology’s two primary promises, as outlined by Crouch. To imagine not having to do the dishes—because a dishwasher does them for us—signals both the promise of “expanding human experience and capacity in some way” as well as being relieved of “toil, drudgery, stress, and for that matter, skill.” Like a siren song, technology lures with the tantalizing seduction of effortless power and deliverance from hassle. And who wouldn’t have a dishwasher rather than dishes? Technological efficiency rather than dishpan hands?
Crouch doesn’t reject dishwashers—or for that matter, automobiles, air travel, or Roombas. But he’s asking readers to consider what’s lost when we uncritically embrace these promises, failing to interrogate the hidden costs of every technological exchange. The question isn’t simply, “What use do I make of this device?” but, better, “What use does it make of me?” Those familiar with the work of Albert Borgmann won’t find these ideas new, but what readers will find important is how Crouch centers desire in his project, both as the diagnostic and the solution.
We can’t simply change our technological behaviors. We need our desires rightly ordered.
On the one hand, technology trains us to want more efficiency and fewer complications. It teaches us to call optimization “good.” And on the other hand, human relationships might be the least efficient dimension of embodied life. To belong to another is to suffer the contingency of connection. In confronting the widely perceived crises of rising social anxiety and loneliness, we can’t simply change our technological behaviors. We need our desires rightly ordered.
We must learn to want effortful goods. Like having dinner with friends—and doing dishes.
Heart of Technological Darkness
In The Life We’re Looking For, Crouch clearly names the demonic power behind technology’s “magic”: mammon. The dangers of digital life aren’t cataloged simply as shrinking faculties of attention, social disconnection, and crises of mental health, as other cultural critics might argue. The dangers are, plain and simple, about idolizing the kind of power that technology promises—power that’s effortless and impersonal, power that severs the bonds of mutual dependence and trust.
One important—and often invisible—peril of technological life is how autonomous we aspire to be. Our Faustian bargain might indeed be loneliness in exchange for ease. Mammon rules in a money economy, whereby we “get things done, often by means of other persons, without the entanglements of friendship.” To have money in our pockets is to relieve ourselves of the necessity of relying on other people. In other words, we don’t love money only for the nice things it buys us. We worship Mammon for the ways it affords us independence, the freedom to freewheel through life without suffering any interruption to our well-laid plans.
Sinner, Come Home
The Life We’re Looking For proposes that the road to flourishing human life is paved with embodied self-sacrifice and communal commitment. “Like anything really worthwhile, this is not easy,” explains Crouch. “Indeed, it goes against almost everything that magic and Mammon have trained us to want. To live in a household is to give up a great deal of autonomy and independence—the very things that make us desperately lonely but also the very things that we believe are our birthright as subjects of Mammon’s empire.”
The road to flourishing human life is paved with embodied self-sacrifice and communal commitment.
As a biblical word, household suggests a domestic arrangement more imaginative and inclusive than the nuclear family. It nods to the voluntary limits we place on our individual freedoms in order to belong to one another. Forming a household is a commitment to a radical, risky, regular “yes”—a commitment to knowing others and being known by them. As Crouch writes, “You are part of a household if there is someone who knows where you are today and who has at least some sense of how it feels to be where you are. . . . You are part of a household if people know things about you that you do not know about yourself, including things that if you did know you would seek to hide.” Maybe you know you’re in a household by the number of days you sometimes wish you weren’t.
Technological solutions are premised on efficiency—and Crouch’s household answer is anything but efficient. Grow like a tree, he suggests. Long for the mustard seed of the kingdom, “something negligibly small, even seemingly inert, that is in fact capable of growing into something capacious and beneficial for the world.” The choice, he says, is ours to decide “what we ask our technology to do, what we ask its designers to optimize, what we believe is the good life that we are pursuing together.”
To be sure, we can have a life that protects our quiet, solitary binge-watching. Or, we can have interruptions, meaningful connection—and a sink full of dirty dishes.