Online Conversation | Living a Tech-Wise Life with Andy and Amy Crouch
On Friday, June 11th we were pleased to welcome author and cultural analyst Andy Crouch and his daughter, Amy Crouch to discuss their book entitled My Tech-Wise Life: Growing Up and Making Choices in a World of Devices. In it they explore how to navigate the possibilities and pitfalls of technology and its influence in one’s life. Andy and Amy believe there is a wise path we can walk with our technology, a different and better way to imagine our lives together. We hope you enjoy this conversation!
The song is “Sunrise” by Abby Gunderson.
The painting is Evening at Kuerners by Andrew Wyeth, 1970.
Special thanks to this event’s partners:
Transcript of “Living the Tech-Wise Life” with Andy and Amy Crouch
Cherie Harder: The author Annie Dillard once said that how you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life. And increasingly, it seems that we are spending our days and our lives online. Just a little over a generation ago, there really wasn’t much of a web to surf. But today we spend more than half of our waking hours online, even as time spent on traditional media forms such as television continues to increase. Teenagers, at least 84 percent of them, own a smartphone. And by some estimates, today’s adults will spend 44 years of their life online. Not surprisingly, such huge changes in how we spend our time and direct our attention has a deep impact, and some of those impacts tend to be unforeseen and perhaps even unwanted. For example, time online is correlated with an increase in depression, mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and sleep deprivation. It also affects our relationships. More than two-thirds of teens and young adults argue that electronic devices keep them from having real conversations and that they’re more distracted as a result. More than three-quarters of us believe that being a teenager today is a lot more complicated, and the main reason given is social media.
Of course, this is not to say that technological advances haven’t brought incredible blessings and benefits. After all, we’re meeting on Zoom and we will soon be re-entering embodied life because of incredible advances made in a vaccine and procured essentially in about a year’s time. So there’s so much to be thankful for because of technology. But it does reflect the fact that our technological tools have powerfully changed our lives in ways that we may have not fully anticipated or knowingly signed up for. Which raises the question: how do we master and control our technological tools rather than allowing them to master us? What’s the proper place of technology in our lives? And how do we cultivate the habits of the mind, body, and spirit that enable us to lead a tech-wise and abundant life?
Obviously, these are big questions, but it’s hard to imagine a duo who has wrestled with them with more insight, grace, creativity, or good humor than our guests today, a father-daughter duo who literally wrote the book on the subject, My Tech-Wise Life, Andy and Amy Crouch. Andy is a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and musician whose works have helped a generation understand culture, creativity, and the gospel. In addition to writing widely for Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and many other publications, he’s also written the books Culture Making, Playing God, Strong and Weak, The Tech-Wise Family, and of course, his latest, co-written with his daughter Amy, which I just mentioned, My Tech-Wise Life. Amy Crouch is a student at Cornell University, where she studies linguistics and English when she is not busy co-writing books with her father. This is actually the second one that she’s collaborated with Andy on, not only My Tech-Wise Life, but also The Tech-Wise Family. So, Andy and Amy, welcome.
Amy Crouch: Thank you!
Cherie Harder: It’s great to have you on. So I have to ask, this is the second collaboration between the two of you, both technology books. And Andy, I understand another book on technology is forthcoming. This is clearly a topic that is very important to both of you. So what led you to write these two books?
Andy Crouch: Do you want to start, Amy? You wrote the most recent one.
Amy Crouch: Well, I’m happy to go ahead, but I will say that writing my book really did depend on Dad’s book before me, because in some ways it felt like Dad’s book started a conversation that really needed to keep going. So Dad wrote this book about technology, really from the perspective of a dad, I would say. And for parents—although a few kids have read it.
Andy Crouch: A few kids have been made to read it, perhaps.
Amy Crouch: Perhaps, perhaps. But, you know, and that is so necessary, right? Like, parents need these tools. But at the same time, I think both Dad and I really felt we need to be talking to the kids, too, and also hearing from kids. I definitely, in my own life, I’ve seen how my generation, where, you know, we don’t really fit the stereotype of the sort of screen-addicted zombies. Yes, devices are a very big part of our lives. But I really see my friends and peers asking questions, feeling discontented with all of the expectations and the mediation of our devices, but just not quite certain of how to move forward and how to live healthily with screens, with technology. And so I would say I really wrote my book because—or our book, I should say—because I wanted to be speaking to people my age saying, hey, I know what it is like to be in this very screen-mediated world. And I think that there’s a better way than the kind of default that my iPhone or my laptop wants from me. And so I think this is really about saying there’s another way to live.
Andy Crouch: I might add, Cherie, that I think the very initial impetus for my first book, The Tech-Wise Family, was, first of all, just realizing there was, as Amy said, among her peers—but also among people who are beginning to parent and were raising families—a lot of confusion, fear, discontent, not just with what was happening for our kids, but what was happening for us as well. And that was actually true in my own life. I want to emphasize The Tech-Wise Family kind of comes from the point of view of the end of a journey that we were on as a family, that I was on with my wife, Catherine. And at the beginning of that journey, I don’t think I was actually very thoughtful at all about what technology was giving and taking away maybe in my life and my relationships. But parenting does force some of these issues. And this book is not just for parents or families, even, because it’s kind of just about the human dilemmas we’re facing. But it does force you to start realizing what’s going on in a little more intense way. And by the end of that journey, which is when I started to write the book, when our kids were old enough that we were pretty sure we hadn’t totally messed them up—because you cannot write, I don’t know anyone who could write a parenting book when you have 12- or 13-year olds. But when you have 17- and 20-year olds, you think, “OK, we didn’t completely mess this up. We’re actually seeing some fruits of this.” And there actually were some choices we had to make along the way that have led to really good news for our family and for other people who have tried these things. So it’s based both on the discontent that’s out there, but also on our sense that there’s actually very good news available and real life available in the midst of a technological world.
Cherie Harder: Now, I notice that with both Tech-Wise Family and My Tech-Wise Life, you worked with Barna. And so, Andy, I’m curious. Barna, of course, measures, focuses really, on people of faith, on Christians—their attitudes, assumptions, as well as behaviors. Did you see any significant difference in the way Christians either approach or use social media and technologies from, say, the broader public?
Andy Crouch: We’ve done two rounds of specific research for the two books, and Barna has done a lot of other research. And the research we did definitely included people of all faiths [or] none. But as you say, Barna is particularly interested in how people approach faith in the U.S. and around the world. I mean, the basic answer is there’s very little difference there. There’s little differences at the margins. In the latest research about teenagers, teenagers from Christian homes—Amy, you may be able to fill us in a little more with a little more detail—but their parents were slightly more likely to be involved in helping them think about kind of limits for devices, which I think is a good thing, although I don’t think limits are going to get us all the way there with any technology. I think parenting by limits is like the least fun kind of parenting. And I don’t really like to do it. And I don’t think it’s the way we should build our parenting. But really, on most measures, honestly, there’s not a lot of evidence in the data about the difference that faith might make in how people currently approach this.
Cherie Harder: Please, Amy.
Amy Crouch: Yeah, I’d just summarize the data as Christians are more likely to say that they have had conversations with their family about things like technology and also even other issues like patience and self-control. But when it comes to actual behavior and when you look at whether kids have TVs in their bedroom, how often they’re using devices, when they get a tablet or a computer, there are not very many differences that we see in practice between Christians and non-Christians.
Cherie Harder: I’m curious why you think that is—and Andy I’ll direct this to you—because you’ve written and spoken quite a bit about the spiritual disciplines, and, of course, the spiritual disciplines tend to focus on how we tend to use our time, our attention, and our resources. And, you know, new technologies and social media are, of course, incredibly effective at using up our time and scattering our attention. And presumably one of the more spiritually-disciplined people would be perhaps rather intrigued by that, aware of it, attuned to it. So what do you think accounts for the fact that we look so much like our neighbors?
Andy Crouch: I think there’s a couple of layers. The first is simply the whole wave of modern technology—unlike in certain important respects, the tools that human beings have used throughout the whole history of humanity—had a commercial imperative. And so they were sold to us with very particular promises. They didn’t just evolve out of a community’s need for something, they actually were—there are interests inviting us to join a platform or inviting us to buy a certain device. And of course, these things are sold. I mean, there’s basically two things all technological devices are sold with: “Now you’ll be able to do…” Something you weren’t able to do before. “And now you’ll no longer have to do something.” In other words, your life will get less burdened in some way and more capacious in other ways. And there is a very long history of human beings when something is presented to them and they’re told that it will be good to eat and it will make them wise and will relieve them of certain burdens and open up new possibilities—that goes back to very early in the human story, at least as told by the Book of Genesis. And we don’t have a great track record of resisting those promises. So, you know, the first thing is simply we invite these devices into our lives because we think they’re going to make our lives easier and we want our lives to be easier.
The second layer, I would say, Cherie—that maybe gets maybe slightly more specifically to the interesting fact that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference in how Christians purchase from others—is another thing interesting— It’s interesting that it’s sold this way at the same time as these are sold as things of great benefit—is the idea that these things are neutral. The technology is neutral. That it’s neither good nor bad. I hear this a lot. And it’s an understandable thought that people have or an understandable way they approach it. “Well, you know, the smartphone can be used for bad uses or good uses, but it’s basically neutral.”
And maybe I’ll couple with that something even more specific to evangelical Christians in the United States—if I can pick on my own people here—which is that we tend to be very attentive to the message delivered by media and culture, but not as attentive to the form and the kind of practices that are enabled or enhanced or diminished by a certain kind of culture. So the idea arises that, well, this is just kind of neutral. And as long as you use it for good things, it’ll be fine. I think that’s actually deeply wrong because I actually think the basic Christian conviction about any new cultural innovation should be that that culture has the potential to be very good, not just neutral. The human activity of discovering the possibilities of the world and creating things based on those possibilities is very good. But we also have these categories of idolatry and justice, the abuse of creation, the misusing of creation. And so I don’t think there’s anything in culture that’s neutral. I think it either turns out to be very good for us or quite damaging. And I think we often haven’t been aware of those stakes as we’ve added layers of technology to our lives and especially to our homes, our schools, and our churches, the most formative environments for human beings.
Amy Crouch: Yes. And, you know, I would follow up on that idea of technology being branded or sort of the messaging being that technology is neutral. I think the other thing that we find is that the belief is that technology is necessary. I think it has gotten to the point where it seems so impossible to live a life without our devices and without our screens that it almost feels like there’s no choice. And I can’t read the minds of every Christian or every non-Christian who’s pondering technology. But I would say that a lot of people—who don’t set any kinds of disciplines about technology—I would say that a lot of people just cannot even imagine a way that you could make choices about technology, because this world of screens has so dictated to us how we are supposed to mediate our relationships, our communities, and our sort of personal private life. And so I think that it’s gotten to the point where we almost need to be reminded that we do have a choice and that these devices are not these sort of eternal and impossible to change parts of life but, again, an aspect of our lives that should be treated with discipline and with a desire for patience and wisdom.
Cherie Harder: There’s so much to unpack there. Let me ask, Andy, just about one point you made, which was essentially that about technology’s not being neutral. And, of course, there have been several thinkers who have made that point. I’m thinking of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman who essentially argued that the form in which we get a message very much affects what the content of that message will be. You can’t do philosophy by smoke signal. And it’s also very easy to do sexting by Snapchat. Certain media predispose themselves toward certain kinds of content. And having written the book Culture Making, about the importance of creating and what we make, kind of reflecting both God’s image as a maker, but also kind of remaking our world, how do you see our culture-making being affected by our increasing immersion within certain forms of social media?
Andy Crouch: Well, that’s a profound question. So all culture comes with meaning attached. There’s no—and this is another way in which no culture is made in a meaning vacuum, in a kind of neutral way. And to step back just for a moment, I think the basic driving story of the last hundred years of technology—and this is really in a way quite recent in the human story—is that easy is good, and easy should be everywhere. So I think the basic promise of technology is “easy everywhere.” And this goes back to very early devices that we introduced into our homes, the labor-saving devices, or even something like the move—and this is from another philosopher, Albert Borgmann—from the fireplace or the hearth to the furnace and the thermostat. We used to have to tend fires. We had to pay attention to the fire. The fire was at the center of the home. Over time, most of us who live in cold climates have a furnace that sits in some neglected corner of the house and just easily provides what we want. But it doesn’t require anything of us.
And technology says you should make that trade whenever you come upon it. Whenever you get a chance to reduce friction, reduce burdens, that will be good for you, your household, your quality of life. So this then comes to the question of how we arrange our social worlds, like how should I communicate what matters to me, to the people who matter to me? And social media says we’re going to make it so low friction to disseminate your thoughts, your ideas, pictures of your puppy, news about your family. And we’re going to make it extremely easy to connect to people that either you have some connection to already or maybe you can actually experience something that only celebrities experienced in the past, which is a kind of mediated fame, where lots of people know you without actually knowing it. And this is going to be great. Well, it’s not all bad. And I think there are ways to use this reductively. But the more we use social media like a device that just effortlessly amplifies our presence and message in the world, I think the less healthy it is.
And we could have taken a different turn at the very beginning of the history of technology, Cherie, I think. And I think it’s interesting that we didn’t. Which is we could have said, I actually don’t want my life to be easier. I don’t want the process of getting my thoughts into the world to become less friction-full. I actually want technology that helps me do better at communicating, develops my skill at being a person. And the word I might use for this is using technology as an “instrument” rather than a device. An instrument like a scientific instrument that has to have a lot of skill to be used. An instrument like a musical instrument that you have to actually learn how to play. But the whole way technology is sold is you don’t really have to figure this thing out. It’s so easy. And if you say something to me that I—if you share some good news with me in person, I have to come up with at least some creative way to express my shared enthusiasm. But Facebook gives me this incredibly easy way, which is just hit this little thumbs up button. Hit a “like” button. And it’s taken all that empathy, all that effort, all that learning, of how to really be with you in your joy, and just turned it into a “like” button. And by the same token, there is no—I think they added a sad-face button recently—so that when you share sad news, I can somehow express. But it thins everything out.
So our culture-making—to get back to your question, sorry I went on a little long—it’s getting thinner and thinner because it’s easier and easier, but easy doesn’t form us. Easy doesn’t change us or shape us. And in the end, we don’t have that much to offer each other because we’re not actually becoming someone different, someone ideally better, more wise, more courageous, more mature. Because easy is never going to make you wiser, more courageous, more mature.
Cherie Harder: I want to get to what we then do about it, but before that, Amy, I have to ask you about loneliness. I think I told you earlier that your chapter titled “Scrolling Alone,” I think is one of the most clever chapter titles I’ve heard in quite a while, a play off of Bob Putnam’s book. But you make this sort of fascinating argument there about just the relationship between our virtual connection and sense of relational disconnection, and also note that we have this strange tendency to say that we want to spend more time with people than online. We want to spend more time outside than inside online. We want to spend more time with our family than online. And yet we consistently choose to do what sabotages our deepest desires. I’d love just to get your thoughts on why is it that our technologies, which promise to connect us, often leave us more disconnected than ever?
Amy Crouch: Yeah, well, I think the short answer is really what Dad just said, which comes back to easiness. Real deep and fulfilling connection with people is not easy. And so if we turn all of our relationships into the kinds of very flattened, kind of reduced to a few pixels, mode that especially social media demands, we’re going to get easy and that is not going to be deep and fulfilling. So I would say that’s the short answer. I think maybe what I would add to it, though, is that I think the additional challenge with social media and communication technologies is that they can provide a really good illusion for a long time. You know, a relationship that’s formed by text messages or the hundreds of people who will like your Instagram photos, for a certain time that can feel real, right? That illusion can be very strong and maybe can be feel really fulfilling, can feel really like, “Oh, I have so many people who care about me.”
And I wonder if part of what is so difficult, and makes us really so lonely on social media, is that the more power that illusion has over us, the more incredibly painful it will be when it comes crashing down. Because I think every one of us has had many moments in our lives when you just realize that all of the sort of acquaintances in your life who will, you know, like an Instagram photo or send you a text when they see that something nice has happened, they cannot support you through the deepest abysses, really, that you can fall into as a human being, and you need something more. And so I almost wonder if we can see loneliness as being just a result of disillusionment and having gained a little taste of what it would be like for hundreds of people to care desperately about you and support you, but then realize that all they did was double-tap on a screen.
Cherie Harder: Go ahead, Andy.
Andy Crouch: Well, so the thing is, it’s sold [that way]: “Now you’ll be able to communicate with all these people.” And you’ll no longer have to, you know, send out Christmas cards at Christmas, where you handwrite their names. Just send them a broadcast update. But there are two other things that happens with technology, is along with “now you’ll be able to” is “now you’ll no longer be able to.” There are things that actually get foreclosed out of the possibility of human experience. And then there’s also a kind of compulsion: you’ll now have to. So it’s not just that it relieves you of things you had to do. There’s a new set of things you have to do. And I think that shift accounts for why, at the beginning, these technologies often seem quite liberating. But we look at their actual effects at the conscious-level of what we can perceive about ourselves, but also at the kind of trend-level of our society and what seems to be happening to people’s emotional lives, social lives, trust of one another. And we’re not seeing the benefits that we wanted or we imagined because they’re actually foreclosing on some things that are very essential to living a full, rich, human life and community.
Cherie Harder: So I’m sure that most of our viewers are now thinking, “Well, what then do I do? How do we live the tech-wise life?” And one thing I thought was so interesting about your book is it really seems to be less a series of tactics or suggestions and more really an offer of liturgy of certain embodied habits and practices that essentially take one in a very different direction. And I wanted to ask you both about particular ones that you mentioned. But, Andy, maybe we can start with you, and you could just sort of talk about liturgy a little bit more broadly. But I also wanted to ask you about one small liturgy that you apparently practice every day, which is to always go outside before you turn on your phone, why you do that and why it matters.
Andy Crouch: So this is a recent thing in that it actually started while I was writing the book The Tech-Wise Family, and I was writing about these rhythms. I think one of the most damaging things about many devices is their “always on” character. We’re not—human beings aren’t meant to live 24/7. We’re not meant to be always on, but our devices like to be always on. So we have a bunch of suggestions in the book about, you know, bedtime and dinner time being times when we turn them off, and then you use them at other times of the day in a different way because you have this rhythm. Well, I was working on the book and noticing that my pattern had become—now we don’t have phones in bedrooms in our home at all. They all live in the kitchen at night or sleep in the kitchen. So I would get up. I’d go down, I’d start making my tea in the morning, which is one addiction I will not give up. It makes a lot of things possible in my life. And what would I do? Well, I’d pick up the phone from its little charger and start scrolling through notifications, through happy news, through outrageous news, and adrenaline would start to rise even before I’d actually finish steeping the tea. And I thought, “This cannot be the best way to start a day.”
And so what I started to do is leave my phone blank and plugged in, unaware that I was up, finish making my tea, and walk outside. I walk out my front door. We live in a home in a just sort of ordinary Philadelphia suburb neighborhood. I walk outside and I just stand there, sometimes for ten seconds. This morning it was raining. I was only outside for probably 10 seconds. Sixty-seven degrees. Other days it’s humid, other days it’s frigidly cold, you know. And I just feel what it’s like to be a creature, a little creature, because my phone makes me seem really big. Everything on that screen is selected to be important to me. I walk outside; the birds are doing their thing. I know what phase the moon is now. I think there were years where I had no idea what phase the moon was. And it is almost embarrassing how dramatic a spiritual difference this has made in my life that I just begin my day intentionally, every day, wherever I am in the world, outdoors, even if it’s just for a moment.
Maybe I’ll tell you one more thing about that, which is that for the first two weeks I tried this, you would not believe, it’s so embarrassing, how difficult it was to actually leave the phone untouched. It was like a spiritual battle to get out the front door. And I’m thinking, “Well, how much power does this thing have over me that I have this compulsion to reach for it?” And roughly two weeks into the practice, it was like a switch flipped. And whereas for the first two weeks, it had almost felt like this phone were whispering to me, “Don’t you want to look at me? You need me. Don’t you want to hear what I have to tell you?” And I’d have to be like, “No, no.” And two weeks in, I heard the little whisper, “Don’t you want to check me?” And instead of feeling attraction and compulsion, I just felt like revulsion and “No way. Why would I start with you rather than starting as God’s son out in the world?” And I’ve never felt the temptation to check it then again since. It’s been years now, I’ve been doing this. These little like liturgies of resistance actually change your relationship with the whole thing: the rest of the day, the rest of the week, the rest of the year.
Cherie Harder: Wow. Amy, you wrote about not a little, but a fairly large, liturgy of resistance: Sabbath. Maybe you could say a bit about that.
Amy Crouch: Yes, please. Well, I think—so I like to say that I think the Sabbath is the greatest gift that maybe my family has ever given to me. Every Sunday since I can remember and I assume as early as I was born, my family has taken off every single Sunday from work and also from kind of technological distraction and sort of mere “scrolling alone,” as we might say. A day of rest every single week. And that has not been perfect every single week. There all sorts of ways that we ended up having to do a little homework or, you know—but it was this core commitment of our family that every single week we would rest and we would live apart from screens for a day. And I am now in college. I’m a senior in college, and I still do this. And I actually even, I would say, became more strict with myself about keeping it when I left my family. And so I think that a day of rest every week, both from our work and also from the technological world, can just completely transform us. First of all, when you take a day away from screens, you realize just how much you depend on them. Right? Any time you take away from some kind of influence like that, you realize, oh, my life has been completely oriented around my phone. And so every week you’re getting a little reset where you realize, OK, I can live without this, but I have not been living without this.
But I think even more important than that is the amount of humility that the Sabbath gives you. Dad kind of mentioned this earlier, but the incredible thing about a day of rest is you are completely unable to depend upon your own strength and your own work. I’ve had Sundays where the next day I had a final exam and I had to completely forget about trying to cram, trying to basically believe in my own brain, being able to get me through that exam. And so taking a day away from our work and also taking a day away from the screens, which, as Dad said, treat us as if we are the most important beings in the universe, it provides this beautiful gift of humility and this beautiful opportunity to remember. I am, as Dad said, I am a creature. I do not need to depend on my own strength to get through the day or to realize my goals. And I am a three-dimensional human being who lives outside of the world of pixels. So I would commend taking a Sabbath to absolutely everybody. It is not easy. It’s not easy everywhere, but it is one of the most absolutely transformative disciplines I could have imagined. And I am so grateful that it was a gift that my family gave me.
Cherie Harder: Thanks. A lot there to unpack. So I know we have a lot of questions that are already lined up. And just as a reminder, if you’re new, you can not only ask a question, but you could also “like” a question. And that gives us a better sense of what some of the most popular questions are because, sadly, we will not be able to get through all of them, but we’ll do what we can. So one question, which comes from Meredith Tiel. Meredith asks, “How do we strive for a virtuous technology while still remaining relevant in the technology world so that we can relate to a younger generation?” Amy, maybe we can start with you for that one.
Amy Crouch: Yeah, well, I would say, Dad mentioned earlier this distinction between instruments and devices. And also we talked about this idea of technology being not neutral, but able to be used for good and bad. And so I would say that there are ways that we can use—to remain “relevant”—there are ways that we can use technology as an instrument. A way that can kind of be an opportunity, a platform to share more thoughtfulness, more wisdom with the world rather than leading into its kind of worst inclinations of reduction. And so I think that we don’t need to say that the virtuous way for technology—I don’t think we need to say that it is no screens ever. But I do think that there’s an opportunity to say, what if we treated devices and especially the Internet and social media as an instrument that could enable us to communicate about virtue and about living wisely?
Cherie Harder: So our next question comes from Bruce Vate, and, Andy, I’ll toss this one your way. He asked, “How should churches think about technology and particularly in regards to meeting arrangements?” He said a tech loving friend of his asked, “Can the church even afford in terms of reaching people to push back and not adopt technology?”
Andy Crouch: Well, here’s how I think about it. I think technology is very good when you’re trying to be productive. So to the extent that you are in the business of scaling, of spreading, of distributing, technology can be very helpful. But it is not very good at being formative, that is, forming persons. So to the extent that you’re in the business, let’s say, or the enterprise, of actually shaping how human beings live and go through the world with one another and with God, I don’t actually think “easy everywhere” is helpful at all in that. So are there elements of church that involve producing things, distributing things, getting the word out about things, even communicating certain messages to people we might not have a direct relationship with, kind of mass communication? Maybe that’s part of your church’s work, and sure, use technology for that. But for the formative work, which I think is 90 percent of what a church needs to be about—and this is why I put together home, church, and school because home, church, and school are the most formative environments for most people. I think they each are good environments that we’re meant to have. A family community and a kind of induction into the culture that we’re part of, that’s education. And then induction into the family and mission of God, that’s the church. These are meant to reshape us. And in these environments, you have to be extremely careful that you’re not thinning out and flattening down the formation of persons. So, you know, using it in kind of ancillary ways for communication is OK. But that’s not the main business of the church. So I would be wary of introducing technology into environments where we’re meant to be formed, above all, into the worship of God.
I have big questions about amplification. I know most of us go to churches that have sound systems, and there are ways to use a sound system as an instrument. But my observation is middle-class Americans from the dominant culture who are saturated in tech do not sing in church. I mean, to an amazing extent compared to Christians in the rest of the world today and Christians in the rest of history. And singing together is one of the most powerful things. But we’ve lost that in a lot of the American church. And then we got a little break from Covid. But what do we come back and decide to do together? I hope we decide to do something a little different.
Alyssa Abraham: Hi, Andy. We have a question from Anne about how do we set limits on technology without it becoming a legalistic?
Andy Crouch: Yeah, so if we can just talk about the family context for a moment, though there’s lots of different context we need to do this. I think when you live by limits that is living legalistically, and it’s the way of the Pharisee, it’s the way of the anxious parent. There’s another way to live, which is to say, what do we really want? What do we want our family life to be like? And how can we build primarily based on things we actually do, not things we don’t do, a life that is most likely to form us in the kinds of people we want to be? And then so, for example, I really, really believe in family dinner times. Not every family can do this. Many parents have to work. But to the extent that we’re able to, even if it’s not every night of the week, setting aside time to eat as a family, this is one of the most beautiful basic things the family is for. And so then, of course, we’d ask, well, what makes for a great dinner, what makes for a great time at dinner? And this will change a little bit as the kids change ages and so forth. But most people would agree, including most young people, by the way, that one thing that doesn’t make for a great dinner is phones. So we’ll end up with a limit in our family: no phones at the dinner table. But not because we’re like policing the boundaries of a limit, but because that’s just a natural, like, setting aside of something so that we can do something else. So I think almost all of our limits are meant to start from a positive for, rather than a negative, you know, what not to do.
Alyssa Abraham: We have a question from Caleb Luke, who says, “Hey, Andy, in your book Strong and Weak, you discussed hidden vulnerabilities in racial minority communities and the importance for such groups to model authority. What advice would you give to those of us who identify as minorities in the way to model authority when handling technology without falling to the lie of its consuming power or the veneer of vulnerability?
Andy Crouch: Wow, great question. I will say, I think there is a word that’s used a lot right now is “representation,” and I think that it is a great gift to be able to represent the strengths, beauty, and contribution of the cultural tradition that that claims you and that you claim, including in mediated ways. So show up in the world as fully as who you are. Do your best to not fall into sort of unconscious assimilation to the patterns of the dominant culture. I mean, I haven’t seen it yet, but if I had to guess, I would guess Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film In the Heights is going to do that for a lot of us who didn’t grow up Dominican or in Washington Heights. We’re going to see some of the—I’m sure it’s a complicated cultural production, I wouldn’t endorse every bit of it, perhaps—but I bet it’s going to show us some incredible things about what it is to be a human being that are embedded in particular cultural traditions that in this country are in the minority. So, you know, show up and represent.
I would also say—is there anything else I would say? I would also say that, as near as I can tell and from what I see, there is stress associated with being an ethnic minority, being an economic minority, let’s say, or less privileged economically—there is stress associated with that in every culture and in our country. And it is dangerously tempting to use media in particular to medicate the stress. And the reality is that technology use in the home is higher in minority homes than in majority homes and higher in lower SES—socio-economic-status—homes than higher SES homes. And part of that is because there’s just a lot of stress in the system. And there’s no easy way through this, but I would just be very conscious of the ways that technology can become a kind of medication and actually rob families of the gift of time together. And so there has to be a level of intentionality. And the good news is it doesn’t cost a lot to have dinner together without screens. It just costs a little bit of an emotional effort on the part of the people who are the heads of that household to say, you know what, we’re going to try to do this. It’s going to be hard, but let’s not let the media take over our imaginations and kind of saturate our emotions so that we really have time to be present with one another. I hope that’s helpful.
Cherie Harder: So an additional question comes from Sue Vernalis, and Sue asks, “Will you comment on the reality of this past year. Almost everything we did for work, school, and socializing was on the screen. How will that affect us, especially the school-age generation?” Andy, maybe we can start with you with that one.
Andy Crouch: Well, honestly, unfortunately, I think we see increasing evidence it’s been pretty bad—and worst for adolescents, I would say. I think small children will bounce back. Children are extremely, extremely flexible and even terribly damaging things can be repaired. Adolescence is a super vulnerable time. I think it’s been a very, very difficult time. And not for every single kid, but for the majority. We certainly are seeing indexes of adolescent mental health going in really, really disturbing directions. So it’s time to begin the repair. And the repair comes with presence. The repair comes with personal connection. The repair comes from adults in kids’ lives, coming alongside them and really being with them. Don’t be afraid that they don’t care because they’re digital natives or something or you’re not relevant. They so want you in their lives. And that’s not just your own relatives; it’s friends and neighbors and kids on the team that your kid plays on or whatever. Like, let’s not underestimate how much we need to repair the skills and the openness to personal connection. Amy, I think you might have an important perspective on this, too.
Amy Crouch: Well, I would just add that the one glimmer of hope I see is that at least this past year, two years now, I guess, has revealed so much about our relationship with screens and with technology. I mean, I think that we have seen so clearly— as much as we’ve seen the good things that technology can help us to do, as Dad said—we’ve also witnessed how little it can replace what’s most important to us. And so I think my little bit of hope would be that we could say now is the time to make a change. We have seen what a year completely immersed in and mediated by the online world has done to us. And now we are going to move forward and make things look different.
And, you know, I would I would also say, I mean, a lot of people are talking about going back to normal. And I would love to suggest, as many other people have, that maybe we should not be going back. What if we could be moving forward? I mean, is the way that we were living in 2018, was that really the ideal way that we could have been using technology? I don’t think so. And so I think that in moving forward to a new normal or a next normal, I think we should be thinking about how we can make tomorrow better and how this year can teach us about what technology really can do for us as well as what it can’t.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So we have a number of questions, and if Alyssa already asked this, let me know, I was off fighting technology the last few minutes. We have a number of questions about a topic I know both of you have discussed, which is how do you use technology redemptively? So Abigail Zang asked you if you have examples of how you love to use technology redemptively. “Do we understand the actual needs that are meant for information solidarity uniquely isolating seasons?” And somewhat similarly, Yvonne Valenza asks, “What suggestions would you have for individuals for whom technology and social media in particular is an integral component of their work?” Amy, we could start with you on that one.
Amy Crouch: Yeah, I would love to. And I would say that when we use technology redemptively, I think I’ve noticed two patterns. One would be when it’s used as an opportunity to create and kind of, I guess, disseminate beauty. I think of all of the people that I personally know who are musicians and artists and creators and countless others in the world who are really using the world of technology as an opportunity to be creative and to create beautiful things that touch people’s hearts deeply. And then I think the other word—I love the word that you used, I think it was Abigail: solidarity. And I would say, when we use technology in a way that is other-oriented, in a way that is not denying the self, but is looking beyond the self and is seeking to truly connect and affirm with other people, I think that can be really powerful. And, you know, I saw—I think it was in Abigail’s question—mentioning, for instance, an online support group with a really difficult health crisis. And I would say that, you know, so much of social media is built on sort of flattering the self. And something like a health-crisis support group is so completely the opposite, so deeply built on a mutual pouring into other people and also on an understanding that life is difficult and that you are not going to gloss over and share only the highlights, but that you want to be sharing the true challenges of life. I think that is incredibly valuable. So those are two of the ideas I have: beauty and also this kind of honest, other-loving community are ways in which the online world can truly be used redemptively. But many, many more, I hope.
Cherie Harder: Andy, anything to add?
Andy Crouch: Well, I’m active really just on one social media platform right now, which is Twitter, and my basic rule for Twitter—my basic rule for media—is praise and celebration can be done quickly and in short forms, and critique or criticism needs to be done at length because it’s much easier to just celebrate something than to really assess something that’s gone wrong. So I really do no critique, at least on my good days, if I’m being virtuous, I do no critique on Twitter. I’ll write books. I’ll write essays. I’ll write short blog posts even for my website. But 280 characters or whatever we get now, not enough to do real critique. But I will do celebration and I just celebrate other people and other true, good, and beautiful things way more than I promote anything that I’m doing. At least I try to have, like, a massive ratio of promotion of others to promotion of self. So I think the very deep insight of what you said, Amy, is these devices appeal to our desire to be curved in on ourselves. That’s Augustine’s definition of sin: incurvatus in se. And the healthy use of all these things is to be opening out ultimately to a transcendent world and a world that involves other persons who I am here to reverence, contemplate, respect, and commend when they do something commendable. And when we use it that way, I think it can be incredibly valuable.
Cherie Harder: As we close out our time together, Andy and Amy, I would love to give you the last word, so, Andy, maybe we can start with you.
Andy Crouch: Sure. Look, life is hard. And when life is hard, the temptation is to want it to be easier. And that’s why we adopt so much tech, because we’re like, “Man, my life is so hard. If I could just make it a little easier in this area.” I just want to invite you, as I’ve let myself be invited in the course of my life, to choose what’s hard today that will lead not necessarily to things being easy tomorrow, but different and joyful in a way that they will never be if we just choose “easy everywhere” today. And every day I have choices about how I use the devices in my life, either to just make my life easier or to choose the hard thing that will actually form me into the kind of person who can live—ideally, God-willing—a true, beautiful, and good life. And specifically if you’re a parent, one thing I like about My Tech-Wise Life, which is really mostly Amy’s book, is it gives you a little picture of if you do the hard thing today as a parent—and I guarantee if you try to make changes in your family about technology, it’s going to be hard at first. It’s going to be really hard. However, we have existence proof in the form of my daughter that there is something really amazing on the other end of those hard choices we make as parents when the kids are smaller and when we’re vulnerable and just trying to get through the day. There’s something beautiful waiting for you and your family and your friendships, in your church and places that you want to be formed. It does require choosing something other than “easy everywhere.”
Amy Crouch: I would just want to remind and affirm that you are a three-dimensional person. You live in the physical world, you experience the places that you live, the communities you’re in, with all of your senses, and you are not a brain on a stick, as I think Jamie Smith likes to say. And I think one of the most challenging things about being a person is that we have these very frustrating and painful and not always working bodies. And we can’t divorce ourselves from the very complicated reality of being a person in a three-dimensional body. But I also think that we cannot find the true sort of joy and fulfillment of our callings without caring for our three-dimensional selves, without experiencing the world in an embodied, personal, physical way. And so I would just say as we leave this year, which has in some ways made it so hard to be a physical human being in a body, be thinking about what it looks like for you to be this enfleshed person right now, how you can be caring for your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how you can be looking outside and perceiving the world around us, which is also created, three-dimensions, mysteriously and astonishingly physical.
Cherie Harder: Amy, Andy, thank you so much.
Amy Crouch: Thank you!
Andy Crouch: Great to be with you.
Cherie Harder: And thank you to each of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.