Russell Moore: One of the top questions that I get from parents is navigating technology, whether that is smartphones, social media or television time. That’s why I wanted to talk with my friend Andy Crouch. He is the author of a magnificent book called The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.
I specifically like this book because it is not a Luddite rejection of technology; it is not a shaming book for parents who may have too much technology in their lives or their children’s lives. You won’t read this book and have someone screaming at you. What you will have is good, practical wisdom and counsel.
Andy, you talk about the use of nudges in our lives and how smartphone technology, especially, has kind of moved us into a tyranny of nudges. What do you mean by that?
Andy Crouch: Yes, the tyranny of the notification—that little buzz in your pocket or blip of audio that says, “Pay attention to me.” I think of nudges as small things that steer us in a certain direction—either a beneficial direction or a direction that’s really distracting. We know how distracting these notifications can be for us as adults, let alone for kids. When you think about all of those nudges that technology provides, I think it is a problem.
On the other hand, what I suggest in the book is that we can build in healthy nudges. We can make some choices about the way we shape the space we live in and the way we use our time—certain times of day where we actually nudge ourselves toward a more healthy use of technology that’s not at the expense of being present with other people in the real world.
RM: Sometimes when people talk about technology as it relates to family life, all they are really talking about is porn or dangerous situations with people on the other end of the Internet. But you give a great deal of attention to many other things. One of the primary things that you talk about is the relationship to time. I was especially interested in the sorts of ways that you and your household have tried to redeem time from the smartphone. Can you give some counsel for people who are trying to figure that out?
AC: Well, one of the real challenges about our whole technological age, much deeper than screens and computers, is that everything is always on. The power grid is always on, the telephone is always there, and machines can run 24/7. In fact, many machines run at their best if they are on all the time. It is hard to shut it all down, and it is really hard to shut down our world of Wi-Fi and cell phone and cell data and so forth.
Over against that, we have this fundamental commandment at the heart of the Bible to imitate God in having this rhythm of work and rest in the way that we structure our time. Human beings cannot run 24/7. We need sleep every day, which is, I think, one of the most perplexing and humbling things about being a creature like we are.
So, our family has decided we need to be serious about a couple of things with these always-on devices. Basically, we need to do the thing they are not designed to do easily, and that is turn them all off. We do that one hour a day, one day a week, and at least one week a year.
Also, we realized we need to be careful about bedtime and morning. We did some research for this book, and over 80 percent of parents sleep with a phone next to them, a similar number for teenagers, and a little less for younger kids. So, we’ve started putting our devices to bed before we go to bed.
Actually, the bigger discipline for me is when I get up in the morning. I grew up before all of this technology was so readily available. I remember getting up in the morning and praying. What a thought! Now what do I do? I walk downstairs, and the first thing I am inclined to do is pick up my phone and see whatever nudges have come in. I really want to reclaim that morning time. What I’ve started to do is walk outside every morning before I will let anything glow at me. I just open the door no matter what and feel the air before I immerse myself in this technological world.
RM: You mentioned the guide that you all have [for age] is no screens before double digits of time. I thought that was a helpful way to put it.
AC: [One] dimension of time is human growth and development. I think it is short-sighted to have our children spend a lot of time with screens before they are at least 10 because, honestly, we are all going to spend the rest of our lives staring at these things. I spend a huge amount of my life with this rectangle glowing at me, and childhood, especially the early years of childhood, is this time when we are absolutely wired for three-dimensional, full-body, full-contact engagement with the world and all its sights, sounds, smells and experiences.
To have our kids already chained to those devices is robbing them of the unique moments of those single-digit years that they will never get back. [Their] brain will never be the same; it will never be as open to experience and learning. [They] have the rest of [their lives] to swipe back and forth on a screen, but [they] don’t have the rest of [their lives] to be a child.
RM: I laughed out loud when I came across the section on boredom because it was right after I was talking to my wife and said that I desperately needed time to be bored. What I meant by that was, so often, the ideas that come to me tend to happen in some situation where there is nothing going on. You have an entire section in your book on boredom as a good thing. How do you convince a 10-year-old that it is a good thing to be bored?
AC: Our parenting philosophy was: Some things I can’t convince you of, but they are still true, and we are still going to act on them. I think there are two sides to boredom. I think boredom is, in a way, a sign of what I would call frustrated image-bearing. We are meant to be creative, and we get bored when we are in situations or in environments that don’t seem to allow for creativity. Our reaction is to feel a sense of frustration.
But there is another sense in which it is actually the quiet and the waiting out of which real image-bearing creativity emerges. We need to convey to our kids that on the other side of this frustration is something really amazing that they won’t experience if we just solve their problem of being bored. The great danger about our devices now is that they always offer to solve our boredom problem.