The Tech-Wise Family
By Andy Crouch
Please understand: I’m not saying technology is bad. In fact, I would say it is very good. Christians inherit the Jewish story in which the world is meant to be tended and developed by human beings, with their unique capacity for memory, reason and skill. Once these image bearers were placed in creation, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Part of that “very-goodness” is the human capacity to discover and develop all the potential in God’s amazing cosmos. It took thousands of years for us to understand how electricity and magnetism work together, to learn how to efficiently harness the earth’s amazing reserves of energy and to discover the properties of materials at tiny scales—but all that was there from the very beginning, waiting for us. Technology is the latest, and in many ways most astonishingly good, example of the fruit our image bearing was meant to produce.
But technology is only very good if it can help us become the persons we were meant to be. Let’s honestly compare ourselves, and the society we currently inhabit, with previous generations who did not benefit from modern technology’s “easy everywhere” [ethos]. Without a doubt, compared to human beings just one century ago, we are more globally connected, better informed about many aspects of the world, in certain respects more productive, and—thanks to GPS and Google Maps—certainly less lost. But are we more patient, kind, forgiving, fearless, committed, creative than they were? And if we are, how much credit should technology receive?
I know this much: I cannot imagine working as hard as my grandfather and grandmother, who were dairy farmers in western Illinois. They woke up before dawn every day and worked, for a sharecropper’s less-than-minimum wage, nearly every day of their lives. Nor can I imagine being as thrifty as my grandmother on my mother’s side, who went without luxuries and even necessities to save for the future, so that my college education (and my cousins’) would be largely paid for.
In countless ways our lives are easier than our grandparents’. But in what really matters—for example, wisdom and courage—it seems very hard to argue that our lives are overall better. Perhaps, just perhaps, they are no worse. But this is exactly what we would expect if the things that really matter in becoming a person have nothing to do with how easy our life is—and if they have a great deal to do with how we handle the difficulty that comes our way.
Technology’s fruits are to be celebrated and delighted in. At this moment I am writing using a thoughtfully designed software program, displayed on a gloriously high-definition screen, powered by a refined and elegant operating system. On my ears are exquisitely balanced headphones that cost me just a couple hours’ worth of wages, reproducing music that was created in part using advanced synthesizers and sequencers. It would be churlish to deny all the good that these technological gifts provide, let alone the easy-everywhere reliability of electric power and natural-gas-fueled heat on a December evening.
It’s not just good—it’s very good. But does it make me the kind of human being who could contribute something of lasting value to my family, my neighbors, my society and our broken world?
Here is the heart of the paradox: Technology is a brilliant, praiseworthy expression of human creativity and cultivation of the world. But it is at best neutral in actually forming human beings who can create and cultivate as we were meant to.
Technology is good at serving human beings. It even—as in medical or communication technology—saves human lives. It does almost nothing to actually form human beings in the things that make them worth serving and saving.
Technology is a brilliant expression of human capacity. But anything that offers easy everywhere does nothing (well, almost nothing) to actually form human capacities.
Since forming our capacity to be human is what family is all about, technology is at its best a neutral factor in what is most important in our families. But it is very often not at its best, because we are very often not at our best, maybe especially in our daily lives with those closest to us. In the most intimate setting of the household, where the deepest human work of our lives is meant to take place, technology distracts and displaces us far too often, undermining the real work of becoming persons of wisdom and courage.
Adapted from The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.