Ten years ago a little glowing rectangle was invented, and the world has never been the same since. I am talking about the iPhone or, more generally, the smartphone.
In 2007 our computers moved from the top of our desk to our back pockets or our purses. In 2007 we began to take everything with us everywhere and all the time. It was only ten years ago that people began looking down wherever they went. Only a decade ago friends stopped talking to one another, having yielded to the demands of their smartphones. Did you know that Americans check the messages on their smartphones about every four minutes during every waking hour, day and night? Ten years ago we used to talk on our cell phones, but now we stretch out our right arm and take a selfie. Now we text, tweet, shop, view, share photos, and quickly check how old Cary Grant was when he starred in To Catch a Thief.
Yes, this little, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive glowing rectangle contains access to a world of wonders. Everywhere and all the time.
Parents were among the first to see the value of the smartphone, and they soon placed these devices in the hands of their sons and daughters. You see, with the right app, Mom can know precisely where her daughter—or at least her daughter’s phone—is at all times. Parents give their children cell phones for reasons of safety, connectivity, communication, and accountability, yet at the same time these same parents fear the dark potential of giving their fourteen-year-old son access to the world of the internet. Every parent knows that Google is both a gold mine and a garbage dump, and the latter causes them to tremble.
Are you one of those parents? Let me recommend a short and very insightful book that will be helpful. Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, has written The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Let me cut to the chase. If you are a parent of teenagers or toddlers—or if you expect to have children in the future—you want to read this book! The author’s goal is not to scare you to death by telling you how many hours your son is watching pornography on his cell phone, nor is he going to use statistics to imply that your daughter is sending inappropriate pictures of herself via Instagram.
Andy Crouch is not given to fear tactics. Rather, he says that we all need to employ digital technology wisely. Parents have the responsibility to give their children a good deal of digital supervision and for teaching them to exercise restraint.
To this end, the author offers Ten Tech-Wise Commitments that have shaped and enhanced his own family life. May I whet your appetite? Here are Crouch’s Ten Commitments:
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume, so we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home. In other words, no screens, no television, iPads, iPhones, etc., until age 10.
- We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
- Car time is conversation time.
- Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
- We learn to sing together rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and our worship.
- We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms. (The Tech-Wise Family. pp. 41-42).
Andy Crouch is not a Luddite technophobe, but he does point out that our devices—our glowing rectangles, whether they be iPhones, iPads, laptop computers, or television screens—are too easy. They are designed to be user friendly (read: easy). In fact, the goal of digital technology is to make everything—shopping, arithmetic, spelling, watching—easy. Digital devices are, according to Crouch, dangerously easy. These devices are designed to titillate and entertain, but this technology comes at a significant personal cost for each one of us:
The last thing you need when you are learning, at any age but especially in childhood, is to have things made too easy. Difficulty and resistance, as long as they are age appropriate and not too discouraging, are actually what press our brains and bodies to adapt and learn.
Also—and quite ironically—another cost of the abundance of screens in our lives is boredom. Children quickly become bored watching an endless stream of videos, but old-fashioned game playing, conversation, Lego building, storytelling, etc. will sustain them—and us—for hours on end. Crouch writes this:
Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you. Move the TV to a less central location—and ideally a less comfortable one. And begin filling the space that is left over with opportunities for creativity and skill, beauty and risk.
Crouch’s book spoke to me in convincing ways, and I found myself greatly encouraged to put my devices in their proper place. So, a word of advice: get out your iPhone, go to Amazon.com, and buy The Tech-Wise Family. It costs $9.93, and it just might change your life—and the lives of your children—for the better.