Review: Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family

Andy Crouch is among the first parents to have nurtured children from clearly-too-young-to-have-a-smartphone to now-old-enough, during a time in which smartphones were in fact available for that whole period. It’s only been ten years since the iPhone’s debut. And in that time Crouch’s eldest child went from eight (too young) to eighteen (old enough). So Crouch is able to speak from a place of not just wisdom but also experience. In fact, his “Crouch Family Reality Checks” at the end of most chapters, little sections that revealed how well his family lived up to his stated ideals, give the book a weight I haven’t felt in other writings on this topic. Even when he had to admit his failures to be fully wise in the formation of his family (and of his own soul), Crouch still had wisdom to offer me.

Keeping it simple in this review, I’ll just list off his family’s ten commitments:

Ten Tech-Wise Commitments

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. 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.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. 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.

Readers of Crouch’s other excellent works, particularly Culture Making, will hear Crouchian emphases, especially perhaps in point 2. That’s gold. Crouch manages to be perceptive in an arena full of platitudes, and I think he can do this because he’s a gifted and dedicated popularizer. His major books have all been teaching and applying the work of scholars to the needs of the church. This book is no exception. Highly recommended.

Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best way to summarize this book is probably to let the author do it.

In the last twelve chapters, I have warned against twelve corresponding ways in which smartphones are changing us and undermining our spiritual health:

– Our phones amplify our addiction to distractions (chapter 1), and thereby splinter our perception of our place in time (12).
– Our phones push us to evade the limits of embodiment (2) and thereby cause us to treat one another harshly (11).
– Our phones feed our craving for immediate approval (3) and promise to hedge against our fears of missing out (10).
– Our phones undermine key literary skills (4) and, because of our lack of discipline, make it increasingly difficult for us to identify ultimate meaning (9).
– Our phones offer us a buffet of produced media (5) and tempt us to indulge in visual vices (8).
– Our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7).

Sounds pretty dire. But Reinke is, at heart, a technophile, not a technophobe; and he doesn’t conclude from these dangers that every Christian needs to smash his smartphone. He offers positive practices in place of the negative.

Along the way, I have also attempted to commend twelve life disciplines we need to preserve our spiritual health in this smartphone age:
– We minimize unnecessary distractions in life to hear form God (chapter 1) and to find our place in God’s unfolding history (12).
– We embrace our flesh-and-blood embodiment (2) and handle one another with grace and gentleness (11).
– We aim at God’s ultimate approval (3) and find that, in Christ, we have no ultimate regrets to fear (10).
– We treasure the gift of literacy (4) and prioritize God’s Word (9).
– We listen to God’s voice in creation (5) and find a fountain of delight in the unseen Christ (8).
– We treasure Christ to be molded into his image (6) and seek to serve the legitimate needs of our neighbors (7).

A few more thoughts:

One question that really stuck out to me, toward the end of the book: do I deserve to spend time on social media trivialities right now? Sobering.

Another question Reinke pressed on me helpfully is one I have to ask all the time, especially in my line of work as a professional blogger: do I have an unhealthy interest in validation-through-social-shares? That one’s tough when your job description involves increasing social shares.

Chapter 11 was really excellent, about slander and “outrage porn.”

In an age when anyone with a smart phone can publish dirt on anyone else, we must know that spreading antagonistic messages online with the intent of provoking hostility without any desire for resolution is what the world calls “trolling,” and the New Testament calls “slander.”

I sometimes wonder how much of our society’s public worry (and public kvetching) over the dangers of technology will seem quaint to our great grandchildren—like those who worried around the turn of the 20th century that people wouldn’t be able to breathe if cars exceeded 10 miles per hour, because the air would be rushing by too fast. But we’re not our grandkids. We’re us. I can’t shake the feeling that the world really has changed, that the Internet has amplified our fallenness more than it has increased our virtue. The overall tone of Reinke’s book is one of gentle warning and instruction, and I think that’s perfectly appropriate.

This is definitely my new go-to book for wisdom on the use of consumer technology. (Dyer’s From the Garden to the City is a good complement to it.)

The reader in the Christian Audio production was smooth and serviceable, though (to be a little too frank?) a little too much like a male version of Siri for my tastes. This book called for reading with a little more feeling, a little more homiletical intensity. But I was able to go triple speed (is that ironic?) and understand perfectly.

I got this book for free for review purposes from Christian Audio, but they attached no strings to my opinions.

Cool New Way to Use the Best Word Processor

I love Google Docs. I live by Google Docs. I can’t believe I ever lived with anything else. It strikes just the right balance between simplicity and power. It’s made for writers like me who constantly need to send out documents for edits and comments without causing a massively complicated pile-up of versions and tracked changes. Plus, it’s in the cloud, so my documents are never stuck on one computer. I can access Docs on my MacBook Pro, my iMac, my iPad, and my Nexus 5X (and my wife’s iPad and iPhone in a super pinch!).

I used to love Word, and it is definitely good software for the pre-cloud age. But it isn’t native cloud. I get really frustrated now when someone emails me a Word doc, and I plan to place in future writing contracts a stipulation that all work stay in Google Docs till Mark Ward is completely done with editorial back-and-forth. One book project I worked on was delayed by several weeks, seriously, simply because my request to use Google Docs was politely ignored. Nobody knew which version of the Word doc we were using was the most recent.

Google Docs also has powerful add-on capabilities, only one of which I’m using right now (export to markdown; very handy).

The software just alerted me to something I hadn’t used before: Google Keep integration. I like keeping random notes in Google Keep. Now when I’m working on a book, I can drag notes directly from a Keep pane into my Google Doc:

The only thing I need Google Docs to do that it can’t do—and I only need this occasionally—is keep commenters from seeing each other’s comments. Sometimes I want a bunch of people to look at a document, but I don’t want them knowing what the others are saying. I also don’t like it that the keyboard selection tool doesn’t stop at em dashes when I’m going word by word. Otherwise Google Docs is pretty near perfect.

Out of the abundance of the heart the fingers type.

Ting Vs Charge for Cell Service

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 3.02.29 PM copy

I like Ting a lot. The pricing model is well conceived, and the resultant costs are low. The customer service is fantastic. The website and mobile apps function flawlessly. I never get unexpected charges. Laura and I have been on it for three years, and our average monthly bill for talk, text, and (about a gig of) data on two smartphones was $54.01 (we bought the phones separately).

Laura’s staying on Ting, but I just moved to Charge (use this referral code and we both get a free gig of data: KZ9TPB1H). Here’s why I moved: I use almost all of our monthly family allotment of data. Laura uses only a small amount. I also talk on the phone more than she does, though neither of us talk much. For Laura, paying Ting $3/mo. for 100 MB of data makes good sense. Data would be somewhat cheaper at Charge, but then she’d have to pay $20/mo. for talk and text, and she just doesn’t need to do that when it’s cheaper at Ting. Basically, my move to Charge allows me to not have to worry about how many minutes of talk I’m using each month and saves me a few bucks on data. (Oh, and I got visual voicemail back, which I really like!)

You can get cheaper service elsewhere if you have an Android phone (Republic is the best service I know of). But if you’re in the Apple ecosystem and prefer an iPhone, you want Ting or Charge.

Both services are great. I recommend both, depending on your needs.

  • Use this link to save you and me $25 at Ting.
  • Use this code to get you and me a free gig of data at Charge: KZ9TPB1H.