An Invitation to the Tech-Wise Family Challenge

21 days to try a new way of living.

This article originally appeared in the Barna Group Blog, 7 January 2019.

The response to The Tech-Wise Family has been one of the happiest surprises of my life. When my friends at Barna Group asked me to write a book with them on technology and family life, I knew I wanted to do it. But I wasn’t at all sure I could do it well enough to be helpful to others.

Over many years, my wife, Catherine, and I had arrived at some commitments for our family that were awfully countercultural—as I say in the book, maybe not Amish or even “almost Amish,” but definitely “almost almost Amish.” Those commitments had clearly been good for us and our kids. But how to write about them in a way that left room for the inevitable complexity and diversity of other families? How to write about technology changing so fast that I knew, as I wrote in 2016, that whatever app would be causing excitement and distress in 2018 hadn’t even been released? (Turns out, by the way, its name is Fortnite.) And the issue caused me maybe the greatest anxiety: How to write about countercultural choices in a way that wasn’t legalistic or judgmental?

There are enough of us who want to choose a better way, together, that we can actually turn this around.

I don’t know whether The Tech-Wise Family totally succeeds on any of those counts. But I’m grateful enough families, schools and churches have found it helpful that it’s become my bestselling book. And I’m encouraged beyond words by the people I’ve met who have changed their family patterns, developed new habits for both parents and kids that are bringing great joy and even (in more than one case) literally remodeled their homes to put creativity at the center and device-based entertainment at the edges.

As we start a new calendar year, we get to dive into the key ideas behind the book through The Tech-Wise Family Challenge—21 days of trying a new way of living, and learning about what is really best for our families, rather than just leaving our devices (including the ones we just unwrapped around the Christmas tree) on their default settings. Many of you have already joined this challenge—and it’s only just kicking off today, so there’s still time to sign up.

As I emphasize every time I speak about The Tech-Wise Family, this isn’t (just) about screens, it isn’t (just) about “limits” or “screen time,” and it definitely isn’t (just) about the kids. It’s about all of us asking, together, what kind of lives we want in our households, what kind of relationships we want with the people closest to us, what kind of people we are personally becoming—and whether our current use of technology is actually helping us become people of wisdom, courage and love. The people that, on our best days, we want to be.

So over the 21 days of The Tech-Wise Family Challenge, we’ll all get to do some reading (including from some great friends who have thought about these issues and made creative choices), some experiments (expect to be challenged to try some new things with your family, with and without your devices!) and hopefully a great deal of conversation and reflection together. And, for those willing to go public with what they’ve learned from their #TechWiseFamily Challenge, there will be prizes—all about engaging with our amazing and wonderful world (including gift cards to REI and Blue Apron to promote meaningful time outdoors and around the table).

There are a lot of trends in our society and culture that I am pretty pessimistic about—ones I’m not really sure we can change, apart from a dramatic divine intervention of grace and mercy in our common life. But I have to say, I am hopeful about this one. We are only one full generation into the onslaught of devices and their deceptive “easy everywhere” paradigm in our homes. Almost no one is happy with the status quo: not kids, not parents and, to a surprising extent, not even the people who manufacture and sell the devices themselves. And the response to The Tech-Wise Family makes me think there are enough of us who want to choose a better way, together, that we can actually turn this around.

It will take more than 21 days, for sure. But let’s start now.