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Amy & Andy Crouch | Finding the Off Switch

Digging into the differences between science and technology and the balance between when technology is adding to or taking away from our role as image bearers of God.


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Digging into the differences between science and technology and the balance between when technology is adding to or taking away from our role as image bearers of God.

Description

In 2017 Andy Crouch wrote My Tech Wise family, a practical book about how to have a healthy relationship to technology. In that book was a foreword by his daughter Amy, who called herself Test Subject Number 2. Well Amy has gotten a bit older since that book and has written one of her own, an expansion of sorts to My Tech-Wise Family called My Tech-Wise LifeMy Tech-Wise Life is a book filled with wisdom along with practical tips on how to flourish in a world in which technology often pulls us away from reality. In the episode we talk about the book and dig into the differences between science and technology and the balance between when technology is adding to or taking away from our role as image bearers of God.

  • Originally aired on March 11, 2021
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Transcript

Amy Crouch:

It’s a world in which we are called to pay attention to other people in a way that is maybe not necessarily easy, and to be treating other people as if they’re incredibly important. And there are certainly ways that technology can help us do that. But I worry that many of the postures that our devices encourage are actually against seeing other people as truly image bearers, and instead kind of distract us into a world in which it’s all about the self.

Andy Crouch:

I actually feel like people are looking for a better different way, very actively. There are some trends in our culture in our world that seem to me to be kind of decisively going in the wrong way. I am worried about those. But the way that we relate to these new layers, including things not yet invented, or at least not yet widely released, there’s such ferment about this. In every home, people are questioning whether this is really the life we’re meant to have.

Amy Crouch:

Hi, I’m Amy Crouch, and I’m a student at Cornell University and the author of My Tech-Wise Life.

Andy Crouch:

I’m Andy Crouch. I am the Partner for Theology and Culture at Praxis, which is an organization that works to advance redemptive entrepreneurship in the world and a writer of a number of books, one of which was called The Tech-Wise Family and now a co-author on Amy’s book.

Jim Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

In 2017 Andy Crouch wrote The Tech-Wise Family, a practical book about keeping technology in its proper place within the demands of modern family life. Well one member of the Crouch family has grown up a bit since he wrote that book, and we get to see how this approach has worked out. Andy’s daughter Amy is now a university student and has written her own book about growing up in a tech-wise family and the ongoing commitment to using technology wisely.  

In this episode I talk with father and daughter about the new book, My Tech-Wise Life. It’s a fun conversation that ranges from the relationship of science and technology, to whether today’s technological innovations are different from those in the past, to practical steps we can all take to make sure technology aids in rather than detracts from us living the kinds of lives God called us to.

Let’s get to the conversation.

Interview Part One

Jim Stump:

Well, Amy Crouch and Andy Crouch, welcome to the podcast, we’re very happy to be talking to you. 

Amy Crouch: 

Thank You

Andy Crouch: 

Thank you, Jim.

Jim Stump: 

So, Amy, you have this new book, My Tech-Wise Life, which as I understand it, you wrote the entire manuscript, then gave it to your dad, who offered some reflections on each chapter in the form of a letter back to you, is that right?

Amy Crouch:

That’s right.

Jim Stump:

Okay. So did you ever change anything in your chapters because of what he wrote back to you?

Amy Crouch:

Not drastically, I will say the manuscript that I gave to dad was my first draft. And so after dad added his portions, we went through a whole general round of editing. And so yes, a few things changed. But pretty much what you read in the book is mostly what I gave to dad.

Andy Crouch:

Jim, are you trying to discern whether Amy wrote this freely and not under compulsion from her father?

Jim Stump:

I was wondering if there were ever comments like “now come on me, it didn’t happen that way when you were growing up” or “please don’t tell the world this thing about our parenting.”

Amy Crouch:

No, no. I kept our family secrets safe.

Andy Crouch:

Just remember, Amy, we’re normal people, we are normal people.

Jim Stump:

So the book must have had its origin in your dad’s 2017 book, The Tech-Wise Family for which I see that you wrote the foreword as a 16 year old, calling yourself Test Subject Number 2, for the kind of thing your dad was advocating for with respect to technology. I’m just curious, when did you first think, “you know, I think there’s another book here maybe from the perspective of test subject number two”? 

Amy Crouch:

Well, it was something that we talked about and maybe joked about for a while, pretty much, as the tech wise family was going out and being read, because that is a great book. Dad did a wonderful job. But it is fair to say that it’s addressed to parents. It’s mainly talking to parents about what they can implement in their family. And that is very much needed. Parents need guidance. But Dad and I both agreed that, you know, kids need guidance. People my age—I’m 20 right now and I was 19 when I ended up writing this book—people my age, we want to be talking about technology, we want to be understanding what kinds of choices we can make that will improve our relationship with our devices. And so really, from the beginning, Dad and I had this idea that it would be really great to speak to kids and young people directly.

Jim Stump:

Besides growing up in a tech-wise family, what else has prepared you to write this book or any book in general, I guess?

Amy Crouch:

Well, we might talk about this more later, but to be honest, Dad writes in the book, and I agree with this, the secret of the book is that it’s not really about technology. This book is really about a whole set of principles that you bring to life that help us discern technology. It’s about if we take the title, Tech-Wise Life, it’s more about the “wise” life than the “tech”. And so I think in writing this book, I felt like I was bringing in all of the family discussions and kind of my education that comes to bear on what is a wise life and how can we live wisely? So my college classes, but also even the family dinner conversations that we had about what makes life worth living, how can we be glorifying God with our day to day everyday lives? And I was just speaking specifically about technology, but using those very broad Christian principles.

Jim Stump:

Well, we are going to talk about technology, which is not quite the same thing as science, but they’re related. And because we are BioLogos, I have to ask about science and your relationship to it. So Amy, I’m tempted to ask like how your grades have been in science classes, might be prying a bit too much. But anything you could give us here that indicates to our audience that you are indeed pro-science or have had positive relationships to science or anything like that.

Amy Crouch: 

Yes. Well, to be honest, when I was young, the thought that there could be such a thing as sort of pro-science or anti-science was really not something in my mind. My mom is a scientist, she’s a physics professor, actually, at our local college. And so I always, really from the first day that at least I was able to have conversations with my mom, I thought of science as this really this valuable tool, a way that humans were able to explore God’s creation, to understand even in a small way, the creator’s marvelous, marvelous creations. And so I honestly, for a while, didn’t really know that there was any kind of sense that science and Christianity could be in conflict. Of course, I knew that, like any tool, science could be used in a way that wasn’t good, because any tool can be used to a poor end. But I, yeah, I was always curious about the natural world. I always loved to ask my mom’s so many questions, which were actually very difficult and complicated. And she handled those with such grace. And so I’ve always been curious about the world. And while I’m not necessarily interested in becoming like an experimental scientist, I would say that that sense of curiosity, that idea that the world is worth investigating, has always been a part of my life.

Jim Stump:

Andy anything from spouse of physics professor.

Andy Crouch:

Yeah, I’m actually thrilled that my kids, Amy’s brother Timothy and she, got to grow up in a home where the work and findings of science were just treated with such delight and interest. And other thing I would say, Jim, I mean, we maybe could talk a little more about this as we go is, there is really a big difference between science and technology. And the way that I would summarize it, I think there are perhaps multiple ways to describe it. But one way to put it is, technology is easy and science is hard. So technology from the point of view of the end user is designed to be extremely reliable, to be ideally as simple as possible for the user to operate to get what they want. And of course, it’s built on a lot of engineering which is very painstaking and which is in a way a form of more scientific work. But then behind that is the incredibly painstaking, unpredictable, unreliable in some ways, or kind of two-steps-forward one-step-back work of scientific investigation, which my wife has done as an experimental physicist. And I think for our kids to grow up seeing science from that side, kind of the view from behind the tapestry, where everything’s kind of messy and experiments don’t always work every day, because you know, technology is designed to work every day. Like we’re relying on our recording software and the whole technology stack where depending on here, we can, with 99.999% trust it’ll work. And in the physics lab, when you’re at the frontiers of science, you’re at like, you know, 99% chance it’s not going to work the first time. 

And the other thing I think my kids absorb from my wife, Catherine, and her calling is how often in science, you find out you were wrong about something, your instincts about the natural world, not least in physics, where even just basic mechanics but let alone quantum mechanics really doesn’t match what our intuitive experience of the world is like. And so there’s so much unlearning involved in a scientific education. And Catherine was so great about helping our kids not leapfrog over that, that difficulty and the unlearning and the perplexity and complexity. So they grew up really seeing science as it’s done by scientists, not just the end results that many of us get to benefit from, which is the technological application of the hard, long, dead ends and surprises that scientists encounter in their work.

Jim Stump:

So I don’t at all want to set up your book as sounding like it’s anti-technology. But I just want to press this point a little bit further to say, being pro-science is not the same as being pro-technology, or anti-science and anti-technology. Right? Those are different kinds of questions that we’re asking?

Andy Crouch:

Totally. I mean, Amy, I’m sure you have thoughts about this, too. But I actually, if I could venture a controversial, semi-controversial idea that I am not entirely positive I can defend. It’s actually striking to me how many people who reject a lot of the findings of modern science actually are quite involved—they’re very grateful active beneficiaries of technology. And sometimes it is interesting, a not small number of them are engineers, actually, who in one domain are involved in kind of applying science. But I think technology actually fools us about how easily we can know the truth about our world. And to me the great danger—we are not anti-technology at all, in our family, the books are definitely not anti-technology, or against the use of technology in its proper place. What I do worry about is the way technology leads us to think the world is simpler than it is, that it is easier to comprehend that it is and unrequiring, if I can put it that way, of specialist knowledge. Because technology, ultimately when it’s delivered to the end user is designed to relieve you of having to be a specialist. I’m not an audio engineer, but I’m speaking through a microphone that an audio engineer designed and I don’t have to know anything of the complexity that that audio engineer knew, who designed this microphone, or actually the many, many engineers who went into that. And so I can be seduced into thinking, well, my intuitions about the world are surely pretty much right. So I think technology, the kind of spiritual or intellectual effect of inviting us to imagine that the world is quite simple and straightforward and common sense—which actually a huge amount of design went into giving you that momentary feeling that the world kind of works the way you want it to work—robs us of the the burden and the delight of scientific knowledge, which is more more demanding. Does that make sense? 

Jim Stump:

Yeah, that’s interesting. Okay, let’s talk a little more specifically about technology and your book here. So Amy, more than once, you already alluded to the fact here that your dad has in the letters at the end of the chapters, more than once said you’re not really writing about technology. And the way you introduce that already, I suspect that you don’t think that was just dad doing some mansplaining there at the ends of the chapters, but that you think he’s right. 

Andy Crouch:

Dad’splaining.

Jim Stump:

My Tech-Wise Life is more fundamentally about something other than your relationship to technology. So let’s dig in a little deeper there. How would you describe what your book is really about what the aim of it is?

Amy Crouch:

Yeah. Well I think, to take the really, really large scale answer to that, this book is about what it means to be a human being. And specifically, it’s about what it means to be created in God’s image, and called to bear his image in the world. And really, what I want people to do with this book is, as I say many times, it’s not to get you to like throw your phone out the window, but it’s to ask questions about how your use of technology is affecting you as a bearer of God’s image and how it’s influencing the way that you live out God’s calling for you. And I think that one of the key applications of that is a world in which every single person is made in God’s image and worthy of love and attention is a world in which we are called to be communicating and connecting on a very deep level with other people. It’s a world in which we are called to pay attention to other people in a way that is maybe not necessarily easy and to be treating other people as if they’re incredibly important. And there are certainly ways that technology can help us do that, but I worry that many of the postures that our devices encourage are actually against seeing other people as truly image bearers and instead kind of distract us into a world in which it’s all about the self. And so none of that has to be true. And I really want readers to explore new ways that they can be oriented towards that calling of bearing the image rather than the very weak distractions and substitutes that our devices can offer.

Jim Stump:

So you’ve said the goal isn’t necessarily to get people to toss their phones out, to use their technological devices less. But I wonder if I wonder if maybe it should be given what we’ve learned about this. [Andy laughs] I mean, is this just you two trying not to be the over overbearing parents? 

Andy Crouch:

[laughs] Trying not to freak people out?

Jim Stump:

And the reason I ask this is a couple episodes back, we talked to Rosalind Picard from MIT who runs a Technology Lab. And she described to us this randomized controlled trial of students at the University of Pennsylvania, where they randomly assigned people to use Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram the way they normally do, or to limit themselves to only 10 minutes per day for three weeks. And once this three weeks was up, they looked at a lot of different pre and post measures to see what changed. And they found, this won’t surprise you I’m sure, the group that was limited to 10 minutes per day on these social networks showed clinically significant reductions in loneliness and depression. And those who used these as usual, didn’t show any reduction. So my question is, if the data is really that clear, that the more prolonged use of these social networks is going to make you lonelier and more depressed, should we take a stronger stand about limiting their use?

Amy Crouch:

Well, I mean, yes, I think that discipline is central to how we should engage with these technologies. And when I when I say that the book is not about throwing the phone out the window, I’m not saying that we should have no discipline. I’m mainly just saying that going from one extreme to another is not necessarily the way to health. And going and blaming all of your problems on technology will ultimately not solve them. And so instead, what I advocate for in the book is really a very ancient Christian and not just Christian idea, which is of implementing disciplines, both kind of spiritual and bodily, and being, practicing self examination, really, about our use of devices, and then implementing disciplines which may challenge us around our use of them. And so I certainly would not want to suggest that discipline is unimportant, but I think that any discipline needs to be undertaken with the right framing, the right understanding of why it is we’re doing it. I mean, to be honest, I think of for instance, there’s this enormous trend in kind of Silicon Valley, which is that the CEOs and higher-ups in giant tech corporations send their kids to like screen-free, super expensive, private preschools. And to be honest, I mean, I don’t want to make sort of unkind assumptions, but I don’t, I think that that is a selfish means of discipline, to be honest. I think that looking at, you know, renouncing technology or whatever as being basically some way that you maximize your own excellence is not good. And I want us to be disciplined in our approach to technology but I want us to be doing it in a way that is focused on God and neighbor, rather than self improvement.

Jim Stump:

Andy, any further thoughts from you on this as one who, in your previous book, did advocate for limiting uses of technology, right? So in the face of some of these studies that show this really isn’t very good for you, how strong a stand should we take societely? I mean, this is America, right? Freedom and we don’t tell people what to do.

Andy Crouch:

Yes, well, I mean, a very fundamental Christian insight is that things that promise us untrammeled freedom often end up being the most powerful things that actually enslave us and lead to compulsion. And certainly that applies, especially to a lot of these, you know, algorithm driven, rewards driven, ultimately dopamine driven, social media platforms, and news platforms and other things like that. And I think that we’re right to be quite wary of those. I don’t know the details of that specific study that Roz may have talked about. It’s totally plausible to me. I think unfettered use of almost any of these, certainly these media platforms, is very unlikely to be good for human beings. And so I’m not at all surprised that putting some limits on helps. I do think it’d be interesting to do further iterations of that experiment, if you will, because I wonder if—is it the case that the relationship between the amount of time I spend on these platforms and my mental health is kind of monotonic and linear and just sort of a straight line, like the more time I spend, the worse off I am? Or it could be the case that actually, there’s a kind of step function here, that actually is basically about making an intentional choice. So be that 10 minutes a day, or in our books, both Amy’s and mine, we really encourage this idea of, at a minimum, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, where you turn everything off, that has an off switch and disengage. And that’s a lot more use potentially than 10 minutes a day. But just in my experience, just the act of every Sunday saying, “No, I’m not doing that today,” every dinnertime plugging the phone in far away, not looking at it for at least an hour. In the summers turning off my email, I actually do it for two weeks, and I just don’t have any email for two weeks. That has made a huge difference in the rest of my time with these various technological supplements to my life. And so I yeah, I mean, it could we could do further work and find out no, actually even a minute a day—it’s like cigarettes, you know, like, I mean, we’d rather you only smoke one than then 10. But really, the fewer cigarettes you smoke, the better off your lungs are going to be in the long run, right? Maybe it is like that. Or maybe it’s that these, the default settings of our devices encourage a kind of always on, always plugged in life that we were never meant for. And just the act of pulling the plug or changing the setting kind of puts you back in the human driver’s seat and it becomes about what is really best for me and my calling as a human being rather than what’s best for the makers of these devices and the platforms that make money off of them. So yeah, I think there’s more to be learned. And I wouldn’t be totally shocked to discover no, actually, these are just bad. But the truth is, if you turn off Facebook, Snapchat, you know, TikTok, you are still immersed in a technological world. There will be new platforms that will emerge, some of which will purport to be much better for you, you know, the Calm app, whatever, will come along. And I think the fundamental questions that we’re trying to get at will remain even if we take some of these more addictive or damaging manifestations of technology off the table.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos

Hi Language of God listeners. Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you to think through long held questions and consider new ones but you probably have other questions we haven’t covered yet. That’s why we want to take this quick break to tell you about the common questions page on our website. You’ll find questions like “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of god,” “how should we interpret the Genesis flood account?” and “What created God?” each with thoughtful and in depth answers written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page. Back to the show!

Interview Part Two

Jim Stump:

Okay, I’m a philosopher by training and so can’t help but dive in a little more into the analysis of the words we’re using here. And the way you use technology seems to mean primarily computerized devices and the applications we access through them. But the word technology comes from ancient Greece, where they too had techne, which were the results of human productions of some sort. And so you tell this really interesting story in the book of two different restaurants, one the local diner where everybody knows each other, and even the food preparation happens out in the open, versus a Panera where you order online maybe, and the kitchen is walled off from the consumers. And you had kind of a throwaway comment there saying, “of course, the walls built around the kitchen and the height of the counter aren’t technological,” to which I wrote in the margins of your book there saying, “well, walls were technological to people in 10,000 BC, when permanent settlements were just becoming a thing.” Right? That must have really changed people’s lives. Now, that has nothing to do with the story you are telling about the restaurants, which I think was really interesting. But it got me thinking about whether our technology today is really so different, because cars and books and walls were all technological innovations at one point in human history. So that’s a long prelude to me asking you this question, what about people who say, “now come on, every generation has to grapple with new technology. Digital technology is nothing new in that regard, and one day will seem just as normal and part of our experience as books and cars and indoor bathrooms are now.” Is there really something different about digital technology?

Amy Crouch:

Well, I’m very glad that you bring this up. Because I am a linguist, I’m studying, among many other things, how words are used, what they mean, how we should use them. And this is actually something that I agonized over, which is that the word technology, even as much as it is often used to just refer to, you know, our apps, our iPhones, really does not mean things with a microchip. It’s a very old word, as you mentioned, you know, the techne and we have been creating things that alter the way we interact with the world for millennia. Perhaps you could say, that’s one of the things that makes us human. And so I will say that I considered these semantic problems. And I wasn’t happy about them. But I felt like it was the idiom that people use when they talk about our devices is, in fact, technology, especially shortened to you know, tech. And so, you know, over the course of a lot of conversations with people discussing these things, it just became absolutely clear there is an idiomatic use of technology and tech, which is useful and which applies to this sense of a reality of these kind of electronic devices that have shaped our world. And so in some ways I don’t love that I had to make that bargain but I chose to make it because I think it is part of how we talk about this issue right now. And that creating or using a more precise term might in fact make it much less accessible to read. And so that’s my little linguistic rant. 

Jim Stump:

Oh, yeah, that’s fair on the linguistic side. I wonder about the deeper question of whether our response to these new kinds of technologies is fundamentally different in some way than previous generations had to respond to the technologies developing then?

Andy Crouch:

Amy knows I have an opinion about this. Amy, but I don’t want to prevent you from giving your own opinion.

Amy Crouch:

Well, I do think that dad’s answer is good. But what I will bring up is—before I let Dad Dad speak, I will say that you bring up this example of the person who says, “oh, every generation has had to deal with new technology, this one doesn’t matter either.” I think the first part of that proposition is very true, but I’m not sure if we should draw the second conclusion from it. It’s absolutely true that every generation has had to deal with new technologies, whether it’s the printing press or the laundry machine, or even as you say, the wall. But I don’t think that means that we should brush that off. You know, sometimes people kind of make fun of, I believe Socrates, the sort of, well, obviously Plato wrote it down. This idea of “oh, once we have writing, then our whole tradition of oral learning will disappear.” And people are like, “oh, so silly people were worrying about writing and books.” But actually, as wonderful as the innovation of the technology of writing is, it did totally change the way that we process the world. And I just wrote a book, so I am not anti-writing. But I think that we need to say, like, yes, this new, brand new technology, as much as we take it for granted now, did completely change the world. And we should be understanding how that happened. And so even if you say digital technology is the same as other technologies, it won’t be any more impactful, I don’t think that means that we should dismiss it. Because every time new technology enters, it will, it can transform us, and we should be asking how that will happen.

Andy Crouch:

There’s an amazing book by Richard Bauckham, the New Testament scholar called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that, while it uses the word eyewitness, which implies sight, but it’s actually about his oral memory. And he kind of surveys the research about oral cultures and their ability to remember, especially kind of well structured narrative or teaching type speech, such that a member of an oral culture would be able to listen to this whole podcast and recite back, days later, whole sections of it verbatim from memory in a way that those of us who are fully embedded in a literate culture can’t imagine. So yeah, I am with Amy, I think that the second part, people have always worried about this, therefore we don’t need to worry, or especially even a stronger claim, therefore we don’t need to attend to what’s happening and how this is changing us and whether we want it to change us in the way it’s changing us. You know, there’s, maybe there is something really being lost.

I do have a thought about your—I mean it’s such a good—it’s a core, core question, Jim, that you’re asking, you know, haven’t we always had technology? How is this really—is it really different in kind? And actually, to push on the linguistic issue a bit, we have always had tools. Along with art and reverence for the human body and decoration of the body, that’s like the evidence of finding a human in the archaeological record, is some combination of tools and burying the dead and making art. But the word technology itself is a coinage. It comes first into the English language in the 17th century. So it’s a while ago, but it doesn’t come to its current meaning until quite recently. And why did we need another word beyond tool or beyond technique, which we also had, which was the more direct kind of air of the word technique. And I think it’s because something really has changed. And the simplest way I can put it is almost all the things we human beings brought into the world by our own ingenuity in the long, long history of tool making, required human skill to operate. It operated in concert with a human body, mind, soul, heart complex, which is what it is to be a person. And the unique thing, which was dreamed of back in the time of Aristotle—Aristotle writes about what if we one day had flutes that played themselves or harps that strummed themselves? We wouldn’t need slaves anymore, he says, you know, who would normally play those instruments at a banquet. 

So there’s been this dream of automaticity for a long time, especially in the Western world. And there are analogs to it in other cultures. But it wasn’t until the scientific, the modern scientific method unlocked some key kind of secrets about the world, including the harnessing of energy, which we had ways to do, but not in the way we did once we figured out electricity basically, batteries and, you know, engines and that kind of stuff. Once we had a whole new kind of power, all the way down to milliamps for microchips, and all the way up to, you know, a rocket to launch a satellite into orbit, and new kinds of control systems, cybernetics that allowed us to create these internal feedback loops within mechanisms first mechanical, then computational, suddenly we were able to do something that had always been dreamed of, but had had rarely been really accomplished, and that was for things to operate by themselves without us being involved, especially without our intelligence, attention and skill being involved. And that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of skill that goes into building these things. So again, the engineer who, or the engineers, who created the microphones we’re using, had a huge amount of skill and deployed that in really ingenious ways that fully involved them. But for me, my microphone is almost literally a black box black cylinder, where I get to do my thing without ever having to attend, and indeed, having no real functional knowledge of how it works. And in my book, I call that “easy everywhere,” the idea that now things just operate on their own. And I don’t have to know how my furnace works. I used to have to know how the hearth worked, how to chop the wood, stack the wood, bring the wood in, cover the fire at night, so there would still be fire in the morning, I used to have to be very involved in the heating of my home. Now, it just happens without me. I think that is new. I think that’s certainly as dramatic a revolution as the introduction of writing as the primary means of transmission of knowledge. And I have all the same questions and concerns that Socrates had.

Jim Stump:

It may have sounded like I was pushing for the answer that no, this is just all the same. But I actually totally agree with you in this regard. And one further aspect of that example, here: one of my spiritual heroes is John Wesley, who lived in the 18th century in England. He didn’t really do apologetics as we think of it today, but in one of his essays, he argued that everybody naturally considers religious ideas, “because our lives are filled with blank spaces during which we can’t help but reflect and turn our minds toward God.” And I’m not sure if this holds up today. But he said, “indeed, it is obvious that the earth that is, as it is now constituted, even with the help of all European arts, does not afford sufficient employment to take up half the waking hours of half its inhabitants.” Could he say that today, that there just aren’t enough things to keep us busy? And, you know, that’s what I wonder if technology—and this goes to your point, Andy, of what you were saying too, but this digital technology that’s so different from previous technologies, and how easily it expands to take up all of our attention.

Andy Crouch:

Wow. Wow. And it’s interesting, Wesley is not writing that in a, you know, what was prejudicially called the Dark Ages, you know, a time of great technological recession. He’s living in the midst of an urban environment, you know, highly advanced society in many ways, and yet, and yet he has that feeling of permeability to the natural world of silence being part of life. I think that’s so interesting. And I do think there’s no way anyone could write that today. 

One of the most important disciplines that I didn’t start doing until I was writing My Tech-Wise Family book, but one of the most important spiritual disciplines in my life has been this simple adjustment to what I do in the mornings. I used to get up in the mornings, we don’t have phones in the bedrooms in our house, so we parked them downstairs. But I would come downstairs, you know, barely awake and start my tea being made, which I do with the help of technology, I should say. And while the tea was brewing, I picked up my phone and you know, I don’t know, check Twitter, check, email, whatever. And it dawned on me while I was writing The Tech-Wise Family, this is a horrible way to start the day, like surely there’s a better thing to do than this first thing because it would arouse all kinds of anxiety, you know, urgency, whatever, and just a terrible way to start. So I started going outdoors first thing in the morning. I make my tea and then I…

Jim Stump:

No matter the season?

Andy Crouch

Oh, no matter the season, no matter the weather. So I would say every day, there might be one or two exceptions, but for years now every single morning—unless I was staying in like a high rise hotel somewhere—the first thing I do when I wake up is walk outside. Well, second thing. I do make my tea first. [laughs] We can have another conversation about addiction and dependence. And holding my tea in my hand, some days it’s raining, this morning it was like 34 degrees here in Philadelphia, it was a little humid. There was one bird singing. I know what phase of the moon it is now. I never used to know that. And I feel all these things that I don’t feel when I’m indoors cocooned in my technological environment. There is that silence and space that Wesley wrote about. It has been revolutionary for my sense of composure, my prayer life and the rest of my day. But I have to choose it because I could easily fill every moment of every day with a world that really revolves around me, that’s always the right temperature for me, that’s always responding to my interest in desires through algorithms. And man stepping out of that back into the world that we actually were made to inhabit as image bearers has been amazing.

Jim Stump:

Amy, this trajectory of the conversation here right now brings up another really important point that you make, which is that technology isn’t neutral, right? Lots of people say, well, technology isn’t good or bad, it’s just how you use it. And of course, we can point to lots of examples on both sides. But you allude several times, to the fact that technology itself does something to us, that it fosters certain habits or facilitates a way of life? How would you describe what technology does to us?

Amy Crouch:

I would say it has to do with design. So you’re absolutely right, that people say technology is neutral. There are people who will say, well, Facebook can be used for good, and it can be used for bad, although maybe fewer now. There are people who will say whatever video games can be a positive form of entertainment, or a negative form of entertainment. And I think there’s a grain of truth. But the problem is, anything that is designed by people or by God will not be neutral. Because the very act of creating something and designing something, in that act, you have to come up with a whole bunch of answers to questions about like the purpose of human behavior, the purpose of your own creation. And really, as I mentioned before, what it means to be a person. 

So that’s very large scale. Looking at this on a smaller level and thinking about, for instance, social media. When you design a form of social media, you’re assuming so many needs, you’re assuming, for instance, that people don’t see all of the people they want to connect with on a given day. That’s probably true. You’re assuming that, if you’re designing a text based platform, you’re assuming that the thing that people really need is to be able to sort of send words to each other. If you’re designing a picture based platform, you’re saying no, what people really are looking for is to be sending images to one another. And all of these kinds of questions and answers about what people really need. We can see this with productivity software, which is built around the idea that people are not getting enough done. Maybe because they’re distracted by technology. We can see this with, you know, video games, or online entertainment, which is people are bored and people want something to do and we’re going to create a platform where perhaps an algorithm will give you what you need, because you can’t figure it out on your own. There are a thousand examples of this. And I think we need to face the reality that technology has to be, inherently anything must be designed, with a set of assumptions about who people are and what they need. And that means that even as you can use a device for a variety of different purposes, you are still being shaped by what the designers of that device thought you needed and thought was true about people. And honestly, I think that the technologies which are dominating our lives right now are unfortunately not founded on the real deep truths about the human way of life.

Jim Stump:

It’s surprising to some people to hear how deliberately those technologies have been designed to foster addiction and dependence.

Andy Crouch:

Totally, totally. I often I always want to say, first of all, technology is very good. I don’t think it’s neutral. I think it’s very good, in the way that when God has created human beings, male and female, God’s final word, before he rests on the seventh day, is “behold, it’s very good.” And I think human activity in the world extends the goodness of creation up till the sixth day, God has just said, “it’s good, it’s good, it’s good.” I think human activity, including technology, is fundamentally very good. But of course, the lesson of biblical faith is that even this very goodness that is inherent in us as human beings that’s inherent in our works, has been distorted and actually is put in the service of false beliefs about what the world is like, what God is like, what human beings are like. And then it doesn’t become neutral, it becomes actually destructive, damaging, deceptive, distorting, but never neutral. I just don’t think—we don’t live in a neutral world, we human beings. We live in a very good world that we distort because we don’t actually remember or trust who we were meant to be. And that, to me, is really the story of how technology has unfolded, both in the very long story of techne, but also in the specific story of what we moderns call technology.

Jim Stump:

So the effects of technology, then there’s some relationship between them and the environment we’re in and our world has changed pretty drastically here the last year. I assume you must have pretty well finished the manuscript before the pandemic started, right? And I wonder if there’s anything different we might say about technology and its use and its effects on us, given the events of the last year? For example, we saw the role of technology in the spread of disinformation, the use of technology that brought about fairly destructive consequences. But on the other hand, FaceTime and Zoom, were the only means of community for some people for a many, many months throughout all of this. Have you reflected any further on use of technology given the world as it is these days.

Amy Crouch:

Yes. Well, regarding the manuscript, I will say, we were doing sort of final edits in May, I believe, of 2020. April or May. And so we were thinking about this. We were like, oh, my goodness, what can we be saying right now. And, you know, Dad, and I came to the conclusion that we didn’t need to make any drastic changes because of the way that this book is not about sort of specific rules, although it includes lots of practical tips. Because it is about self examination and the implementation of discipline and this overall shift in worldview, that this book didn’t need to be changed too much. What I will say, though, is that, I think, in some ways this year has been revealing of both what technology can do and what technology cannot do. Honestly, this is true of a lot of crisis—crisis reveals. In fact, you know, the term apocalypse, or even our use of revelation to refer to the apocalypse vision. So calypto is the Greek verb for sort of to hide or to cover up and apocalypto has a prefix which Greek prepositions are complicated, but essentially meaning to an apo-calypsis, is an uncovering, it is an unhiding. And so I think that we have seen that happen in our own little mini apocalypse of 2020. We have seen the power of technology, both for very good things, and for very awful things, revealed.

Jim Stump:

That’s insightful. 

Andy Crouch:

I think that’s so right. I think it really has unveiled the “very goodness”. I mean, we’re all incredibly astonished and grateful at how quickly these new vaccine platforms that have been developed a while ago, but had not been tried, were able to be deployed, it seems with great efficacy, and it’s going to be so good to get those two shots. Bring it on, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s that’s technology at its most, you know—I think the relief of absurd suffering, which is so much of the human condition, is a really good thing. And technology has done that better and more reliably than any other single thing in human history. 

But on the other side, I do think the intoxication with the idea that what we’re really—that somehow being wired, especially in our relationships, in our learning, in our worship, in our formation as Christians, that somehow going virtual will be good for us, which I think has been an animating dream of a lot of the development of digital technologies. Like we will have more capacity, we will be able to connect with more people, will be able to have more meaningful experiences if we go virtual—I think that’s been unmasked. And from elementary schoolers, to grandparents, everyone knows it’s an incredible gift that, for the moment, we’re able to connect over a screen. But everyone feels this is nothing like the real thing. This is not what we really want. And I’ve compared it, in a couple of conversations, to the bomb shelters that protected the people of London during the Blitz in the Second World War. You know, beautiful things happened in the bomb shelters. It was a kind of community and resilience and so forth, that people remembered for the rest of their lives. But no one came out and said, like, Oh, that was just so much better, right? No, it’s a bomb shelter. Like it’s a response to a crisis. It actually has—there are ways to redeem it and actually find meaning in it that you couldn’t imagine beforehand. You could never imagine actually, what could happen in that environment. At the same time, please, no more bomb shelters. And I think people are gonna say please, no more Zoom. And college students certainly are saying please, no more Zoom classes.

Amy Crouch:

I never would have thought that I’d hear classmates say like, “oh, I really wish I was in Rhodes Hall at 8am.” But what we are saying. Like we hate Zoom classes!

Jim Stump:

Well, as you mentioned, Amy, there are lots of tips throughout the book, and you end each chapter with some good practical advice. How about for people hearing this conversation and maybe being introduced to the topic here for the first time, what might be a couple of good next steps for exploring a better relationship with technology?

Amy Crouch:

Yeah, I think my, sort of, number one reframing practice, that’s a really good place to start, is this principle that your phone goes to sleep before you do and it wakes up after you do. And I think that is one practice that can really transform a lot of things in your life, including, honestly, your sleep schedule. And if you want to extend this practice, then maybe it’s not just nighttime, maybe it’s one day a week that you take as a Sabbath from technology, hopefully, also from work, but even just from your screens, as Dad said, turning off everything that has an off switch, one day a week, something that you commit to. And what you find when you give something up is what it’s doing to you. We don’t realize, oh, this is what my phone is telling me in the early hours of the day, this is what I’m looking at, what I would usually be looking at when I’m falling asleep at night. And I think that those two practices of phone outside the bedroom and a day a week away from technology can really shed a lot of light on how our devices are affecting us.

Jim Stump:

Yeah, I think that’s really helpful. There are lots of other really great tips and insights in the book that we could probe but our time is drawing to an end here. I wonder if we might end by looking to the future a little bit more, though. I suspect digital technology is not going away. And perhaps virtual reality and artificial intelligence, these may transform our lives over the next couple of generations as much as the internet and cell phones have transformed life this past generation. But as you look to the future, both of you, perhaps the world of your children, Amy, and of your grandchildren, Andy, the world that they grow up in, what is it that scares you or gives you pause, on the one hand, and what is it that gives you hope about that world in that generation on the other hand?

Andy Crouch:

Maybe I’ll say something and then give Amy the last word. I don’t think much about being scared about the long run because I’ve actually feel a great deal of hope, especially relating to this particular set of topics, because I actually feel like people are looking for a better different way, very actively. There are some trends in our culture in our world that seem to me to be kind of decisively going in the wrong way. I am worried about those. But the way that we relate to these new layers, including things not yet invented, or at least not yet widely released, there’s such ferment about this. In every home, people are questioning whether this is really the life we’re meant to have and the kinds of relationships we’re meant to have, the kinds of relationships that our neighbors were meant to have. So there’s so much chance to redesign. And I think my hope would be—recognizing the amazing human propensity to screw things up—my hope would be that we begin to bend the design of our devices in the direction of what’s good for persons. Because I actually think it’s all possible. It’s all there. My wife, Catherine, Amy’s mom, uses amazingly high tech, you know, in her day to day work as a physicist and in her work teaching about the natural world to students. And it’s, to the first approximation, a totally wonderful use of all that we’ve learned and all these things were able to build all the way down to the micro or even below the micro level. When we use it to extend our intellect, that is our ability to interpret the world and understand the world, when we use it to activate our sense of wonder and awe at the world, when we use it to collaborate with one another so that we’re relationally engaging in the world together. And, you know, our computers can be anything we ask them to be. They’re quite plastic in that sense. They’re not like a machine that only does one thing. And so that can either be the ultimate device that totally disengages us or they could more and more become merely servants. We don’t ask them to do magic for us. We don’t ask them to replace us. Instead, we ask them to do things that actually help us fully engage with one another and with God’s world. I think that’s still possible. And to some extent, even if the economic forces that kind of drive the development of a lot of this tend in the other direction, there’s always going to be hacking. So we can hack it, even when it wasn’t made to function in a healthy way, we can find healthy ways, and I hope my grandchildren will be really good hackers.

Jim Stump:

Amy, final thoughts?

Amy Crouch:

Yeah. Well my thoughts run parallel to Dad’s because one of the things that does give me hope is just what he said that people see there’s something wrong. When I talk to my peers, fellow college students, and also people younger than me, it is remarkable how much people agree that, yeah, the way we’re using our devices right now, there’s something wrong with it. But my fear comes from what people usually say after that, which is, but isn’t this just the way the world is now? I think that the number one obstacle in the way of digital well-being and my number one fear for the future is that people my age, even as we see that something is wrong, we feel like that’s just the way the world needs to be. We’ve grown up with these devices for so long that they just are the reality and we don’t feel like there’s a way to change that. And my hope is that people my age, people younger than me, and hopefully one day, my children or my grandchildren will say no, this is not the way life has to be. And that that will be true.

Jim Stump:

Well, may that be so. The book again is called My Tech-Wise Life available through Baker Books. And I see if you prefer reading books on a digital device, it is available as an Ebook. Do you recommend that? [laughter]

Andy Crouch:

If necessary.

Amy Crouch:

I don’t have anything against Kindles. 

Jim Stump: 

Well, Amy crouch and Andy crouch, thank you so much for talking with us today.

Andy Crouch:

Thank you, Jim.Such a great conversation. 

Amy Crouch:

Yes, great talk.

Credits

BioLogos

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guests

Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch is the author of The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (2017), Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing (2016),  Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (2013) and Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (2008). Andy was executive editor of Christianity Today from 2012 to 2016 and served the John Templeton Foundation as senior strategist for communication in 2017. He serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. His work and writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Time—and, most importantly, he received a shout-out in Lecrae's 2014 single "Non-Fiction." He lives with his family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
amy crouch

Amy Crouch

Amy Crouch is a student at Cornell University studying linguistics, English, and anything else she can fit into her schedule.


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