The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place

Try this on and see if it doesn’t sound like a great way to begin the day:

…in the morning, rather than rolling over to check for whatever flotsam and jetsam arrived in the night, get up and do something—anything—before plugging in.  Stretch.  Shower.  Open the front door for a moment and breath the morning’s air, humid or frigid as it may be.  Make coffee or tea and wait for the brew to finish.  There is something for you to discover in these moments just after waking that you will never know if you rush past it—an almost-forgotten dream, a secret fear, a spark of something creative.  You’ll have the rest of the day tethered to the impatient wider world; let that wait a moment.  Give your devices one more minute in their “beds.”  Practice the grateful breath of someone who slept and awakened, given the gift of one more day.

You slept and allowed God to be enough.  Now, for at least a moment, wake and be still, letting him be enough for this day.  Then you can say good morning to whatever the day brings.  (pp. 119-121)

Maybe like me, you read that and something inside you said, “Yes!”  Maybe you long for days that begin and end in the presence of Someone and something besides your iPhone.  Or maybe you don’t have this longing but think that maybe you should?  Maybe it sounds great, you know you should do it, but you just can’t imagine how to pull back the reins.  You read articles like this one in The Atlantic – Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generationand fear for your children, but have all but lost hope that anything could be different in your family.

As with his other books, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, communicates Andy’s deep cultural insight with just enough wit to help his message bypass our defenses and sink in.  And this is good because we know what he’s up to, right?  He wants us to embrace disciplines and boundaries that threaten our ascent to godhood – a technology-empowered state where we know everything (or can find it on Wikipedia), are everywhere present (from the Green Mountains of Vermont, right now thanks to FaceTime, I can talk for free with friends around the world), and can control everything (or at least get it delivered tomorrow through Amazon).

To address our slouching toward this idolatry, Andy gives us a Rule of Life for technology. But before he dives into the practices, he frames the whole project around the choices we make in three areas:

  1. Character—to make the mission of our family, for children and adults alike, the cultivation of wisdom and courage.
  2. Space—to make choices about the place where we live that put the development of character and creativity at the heart of our home.
  3. Time—to build rhythms into our lives, on a daily, weekly, and annual basis, that make it possible for us to get to know one another, God, and our world in deeper and deeper ways.  (pp. 38-39)

The essential perspectives and practices follow from those choices:

  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. 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.

It probably goes without saying that these practices are useful beyond traditional family structures.  Andy underscores this when he reminds us that the family Jesus describes (Mt. 12:48-50) is made up of those who “do the will of [His] Father in heaven.”  Speaking of these gathered communities of Jesus followers Andy reminds us:

We’ve always needed a comunity wider than the solitary, nuclear famiy to thrive, and we surely need it now.  Almost none of the commitments in this book can be realized by that minimal family unit.  For technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human sociary to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.  (p. 62)




I liked Andy’s reminder that technology’s signature quality is easy and everywhere.  He applies this simple description throughout the book and invites us to a deeper and more difficult way.  Wisdom and courage are formed in the presence of enterprise that is challenging and difficult.  “Science is hard.  Technology is easy.”  (p. 51)



Hard as it might seem, I think that Andy’s suggestion about shaping the living space in our homes is exactly right:

So if you do only one thing in response to this book, I urge you to make it 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… make the place where we spend the most time the place where easy everywhere is hardest to find.  (p. 79, 80)



So one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year—set it all aside.  (p. 105)  Nuff said.




Andy observes that “family is about the forming of persons” (p. 52) and goes on to focus on the virtues of wisdom and courage as they relate to technology.  I agree that these are essential and are confronted by the easy and everywhere nature he points to with certain forms of technology.  Related to this claim I had two thoughts:

  1. Given that families are tasked with cultivating other qualities – e.g. kindness, patience, generosity, grit, etc… – I wondered whether cultivating these qualities would call for additional practices related to technology.
  2. While Andy clearly intends that family will form kids in the way of wisdom and courage, I don’t think it takes anything away from this project to observe that this process will also form the adults in the same virtues.  I actually can’t imagine parents leading in the ways Andy suggests unless they are wise and courageous.


I’m hoping that Andy will write in and say more but, as I was writing this note this tweet came across my screen:

Now, vacation. Just activated The Autoresponder of Doom (to busyness and sabbathlessness): “Unfortunately I will never read your email.”
So I guess he really means it and we’ll have to wait.  God give us wisdom and courage to embrace these life-giving practices in our use and non-use of technology.

About Jeff Barneson

Husband to Tara Edelschick Dad to Zachary, Ezra & Nafisa Keeper of Bees Campus Chaplain Bicycle Racer Coffee Drinker Follower of Jesus View all posts by Jeff Barneson

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