The tenth anniversary of the iPhone has come and gone. Those of us who were adults throughout the last decade marvel at the unprecedented rate of historical change marked by this event. You would think that after a decade it would be easy to develop a confident stance toward the place of smartphones in our lives, yet so many of us have settled into more of a resigned pragmatism. We use it—“can’t do my job without it,” we love it—“can’t wait for the next phone to come out,” we’re really concerned about it—“not sure what effect this having on my kids, but how else will they let me know when they need to be picked up?” and we’re highly ambivalent—“I don’t know what I would do without my phone. If I lost it I would be in big trouble!” or “wish I could throw this thing into the ocean and be free!
In the past, when seeking wisdom for life we’ve been able to lean on the advice of our elders. On this one, our elders are in just as much of a dilemma as we are, if not more so! (How many grandmas are on Facebook?) So, where do we go for clear-headed thinking on these matters? Thankfully, there are people who are rolling up their sleeves and working through the issues with wisdom. Let me suggest three worth reading.
This book has been by far and away the most helpful for me as a parent. In plain, conversational prose Crouch offers fresh, biblical insights to parents struggling to establish a game-plan for handling technology in their family. Rather than beginning with suggestions for internet filters or screen-time limits he steps back and asks the more fundamental question, “What are families for?” He emphasizes that family is the place where we develop wisdom and courage, and working from there he offers 10 “tech-wise commitments.” His commitments are at once provocative and refreshing. Consider his third commitment, “We wake up before our devices do, and they ‘go to bed’ before we do” or his sixth commitment, “We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.” Yes, these are prescriptive, but in a helpful way. In the end, you may not adopt all his commitments, but your wrestling through his suggestions will land you in a better place than when you started.
His book has the added benefit of teaming with the Barna research group to offer insight on the current state of families and technology.
While Crouch’s book focuses on the family, Reinke’s book has more of a personal emphasis. Reinke begins by developing a “theology of technology” that serves as the basis for the rest of his thinking. Reinke is decidedly not anti-technology. He acknowledges is own affinity for all things tech, and imagines good ways technology can be used. However, he offers 12 observations about how our phones are shaping us in negative ways. I found his beginning chapters—“We are Addicted to Distraction,” “We Ignore our Flesh and Blood,” and “We Crave Immediate Approval”—to be the most helpful. He concludes with a more positive note, offering a reflection about what it would look like to use technology in a biblically faithful way. His book caused me to be a bit more reflective about what drives my own smartphone use, and has challenged me to develop a plan for introducing technology to my children.
Freitas is a non-resident research associate at the Center for Religion and Society at Notre Dame, and this book is born from her academic work. She is a delightful author, with an ironic sense of humor, and I would especially recommend her book to parents of teens to help them understand the difference between the way they engage in social media and the way their teens engage in social media.
Freitas’ major contribution is to point out that there has been a major shift in this rising generation of young adults. The Facebook rant is out! (Note her chapter, “The Professionalism of Facebook: And Why Everyone Should Keep Their Opinions to Themselves”). Gone are the days of updating the world about one’s culinary habits. Instead, today’s teens and young adults view their public social media accounts as carefully curated resumes documenting the best moments of their lives and in many ways justifying their existence. They live their lives under the microscope and feel intense pressure to always present themselves in a positive, happy light. For many, this has lead to ever-rising levels of anxiety and depression and a diminished capacity for developing solid real-world friendships. As parents we need to fully appreciate these realities so that we can, on the one hand, empathize with, and on the other, parent our children well.
Freitas concludes her work with a call to virtue, and she offers several helpful challenges to teachers, administrators, and parents.
So, as we navigate through the brave, new (but not so new) world of technology let’s be intentional in pursuing wisdom. Perhaps, one of these books will help!