Jessica: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join us here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.
Okay, I just took a very long break, like the longest break I have ever taken in three years. That’s right! Did you know that the Going Scared podcast is celebrating three years? And I just want to thank you so much for being a listener. I know there’s a million podcasts out there, but you all have been so faithful. You’re such a fun community of listeners. Whether you’re new to the show or you’ve been on this journey all along, I just want you to know I love being in your ear buds. I really, really do.
So, to kick off the year we have a new series called Against the Grain, and in this series, we’re going to be interviewing people who are swimming upstream, living life outside of cultures’ comfort zone. And today’s guests are actually the two people that inspired the idea for the whole podcast series. So, I wanted to kick it off with them: Andy and Amy Crouch.
Alright, I don’t need to be the one to tell you that we’ve been living this way in a global pandemic for almost a year – I’m going to round up. And if I had to name one of the most fundamental changes has happened in our family this past year, it’s going to be how we interact with technology. Even though my kids this semester are all attending in-person school for the first time, they each have their own laptops that they are required to take with them school because of how, you know, tech is being used in school both with in-person and at-home learning. And at home, we are consuming so much more than we ever did. All that, you know, remember a year ago, that spring motivation of like, “We’re gonna do puzzles, and we’re gonna play games, and I’m gonna learn a new craft,” and yeah, that’s been kind of replaced by an almost constant just low-grade weariness.
Listen, I know tech is so good too. We use tech for connection, for music and for influencing others for good, for letting people understand racial injustices in our society, and for spurring one another on towards good. But I do think that tech is playing a critical role also in our disconnection. So, I’m saying it is time to take our power back because we deserve so much more than what tech offers us, and when we become wise about how we can harness our devices, we can get more – more joy, more connection, just more out of life. Tech shouldn’t be the thing that’s getting in the way of a life worth living.
But y’all, I know we need some guides here. Especially guides for our teenagers. This is why I am so excited about today’s episode because our teens, they’re still learning how to self-regulate and decision make and I feel like a lot of the tech guides right now are the forty-year-olds that are like, “Get off your phone!” But Amy Crouch wrote this book at nineteen years old. She wrote a book on tech, and let me tell you, she is going way Against the Grain in how other teens are harnessing tech. My daughter Amelie read the book in a day and since we so rarely hear from teens who are moving Against the Grain in today’s culture of all tech all the time, I wanted Amelie to have the chance to interview Amy for the podcast and to really just ask her pointed questions about how Amelie could go about having place of tech in her life.
And then, of course, Andy is Amy’s dad and they wrote the book together. And Andy, he is an author, speaker, musician, and Amy’s dad, and he has actually been a critical mentor in my own life. His books “Playing God” and “Strong and Weak” in particular have given me a framework for how I view God, people, culture. He’s become a mentor of mine through the years. He serves at an organization called Praxis which is another organization that I mentor with, and it’s just this beautiful, beautiful community of redemptive entrepreneurs. And it’s actually the second time for Andy to be on the show. So, if you want more, be sure to listen to Episode 37 to hear our first conversation where we talk about human flourishing.
Alright, listen in as Amelie, my fourteen-year-old daughter, and I interview the authors of your January absolutely-must-go-get-it-right-now, “My Tech-Wise Life: Growing Up and Making Choices in a World of Devices.”
Amy and Andy Crouch: Intentionality in a Tech-Filled World
Jessica: Well, welcome to the show, Amy and Andy Crouch.
Amy: Thank you.
Andy: Thank you, Jessica. We’re excited to be here.
Jessica: So, this is fun. I guess I should welcome my daughter, Amelie.
Andy: Hello, Amelie.
Jessica: So, this is actually Amelie’s second time to interview on this show. We did a series called "The Art of Difficult Dialogue." And we actually met in a studio and interviewed an African-American police officer. And my kids were awesome. Amelie, did you enjoy that?
Amelie: Yeah, that was a cool experience.
Jessica: Yeah. So, we both have read your book fully.
Andy: Wow. Thank you.
Amelie: I read it in, like, two days.
Andy: Oh, my gosh.
Amy: It was kind of short. Yeah, it’s supposed to be a little more readable.
Jessica: Well, before we get going, I’d love to just hear COVID life. Where are you guys living right now? Because I know, Amy, you’re at Cornell normally. But are you guys all online, or what’s COVID life like right now?
Amy: Yeah, well, for me, so I am a Cornell student. And I still consider in my heart that I am a Cornell student. But this past semester, I actually haven’t been. I’ve been interning with Barna, the company who did the data for this book. And I actually went up to Ithaca to just, like, do my work there, but still be with friends and things, you know. So, I was in Ithacafrom basically September, October, November. And then I came back here to Swathmore, Pennsylvania, which is where mom and dad live.
Jessica: Okay, well, hey, good time to choose an internship.
Andy: That’s what we thought.
Jessica: Yes. I bet you did. And then, Andy, you have been grounded. Normally, you are traveling all the time.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve gone from 120 nights a year, 120 dinner times a year, which is what we count in terms of my travel away, to 0 since March effectively, with a couple of little writing retreats away from home. I just turned in my own next book, which will be out in January of 2022. But yes, other than that, I have been home more, just completely home more than any time I can remember in my adult life actually.
Jessica: It’s crazy. Okay, well, I’m glad to know you’re writing another book because we had texted a few months back. I think I was asking you to be on the podcast for another series. And you’re like, "I’m knee deep in writing right now. I just can’t." But then I read this book, Amy and your book, and I was like, "I don’t think this… I mean, he wrote letters," like I’m so… It’s like, "This doesn’t count, Andy. This is, like, not culture making that we’re talking here." But okay, I’m glad I don’t…
Andy: Trust me, there is…
Jessica: I don’t fell as rejected, Andy.
Andy: Don’t ever underestimate how hard I find writing. But no, this book was a joy to contribute to. It’s really Amy’s book. But the next one, I did have to write every word and it took a lot out of me. So, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do it. But I just had to be totally focused on it.
Jessica: Oh, no. It’s good. This is worth the wait in getting to have Amelie on to get to interview you guys. It’s great.
Amelie: So, Amy, you’re a first-time author.
Amelie: And obviously your dad has written a few books. So, what is it like having your dad being, like, kind of a famous author, and have you ever been nervous that he’s gonna, like, overshare some personal information?
Amy: Okay. So…
Andy: Great question.
Amy: …I will say there is one thing that my brother and I are still… I won’t say actually angry about, but we still remember, which is in dad’s very first book, I think, I think it’s the first book, “Culture Making.” He wrote this whole chapter centered around basically how ungrateful Timothy, that’s my brother, how ungrateful Timothy and I were for not liking our chili, which is my mom and dad… I haven’t read the chapter in a while, but he wrote like, "You know, coming home, chopping up peppers, and onions, and beans, boiling them together, and then my children hate it." And my brother and I feel very, very, I don’t know, upset by that characterization because we now love the chili.
Andy: Even though it is entirely true.
Amy: No, we quickly outgrew our dislike of chili, to the point that we… we were never like picky eaters, and that makes us sound so obnoxious. And now, in fact, we even cook our parents dinner. So that’s sort of a minor example. But Timothy and I do slightly object to that characterization of us. More seriously, though, I would say… I mean, I do read dad’s books before they’re published. So, I’ve never felt super worried about what he will mention. And I think the more kind of strange thing is that, especially with "The Tech-Wise Family," so many readers have just gotten a little glimpse into our family life. And it is so weird to walk up to a stranger and talk to them and realize that they’ve, like, read about what your day-to-day life is like. That is just a strange thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is weird. So, I wouldn’t say I have suffered any lasting damage from dad’s being a writer. But, yeah, it is a little odd to know that there are people out there who have read about me but haven’t met me. That’s kind of strange.
Jessica: Does it feel strange for you, Amelie?
Amelie: I mean, it would probably feel strange for me. Well, I guess it kind of does. Like, my mom will hold big events, and there will be all these people that work for her. And they’ll come up to me and be like, "Oh, my gosh, Amelie." And I’m like, "I have no idea who you are." Like, "I’m so sorry. But I really don’t know who you are."
Andy: That experience never gets totally normal, by the way, or at least I don’t think it should. It’s kind of a version of fame. And I would define fame as people knowing about you or even feeling like they know you without actually knowing you. And of course, it happens to those of us who have our names on the books as well. And it’s not necessarily a good thing, I think. So, you’re right to be ambivalent about it and to wonder if it’s really best.
Jessica: Actually, that reminds me of a story that you’ve shared in one of your books about whenever you were going off to a speaking event or something, you would do something to counteract that. You would, like, clean the dishes or do something that was unfamous. And then I remember you saying, "And now I’m gonna have to find something else because now I’ve shared that I do the dishes." I think about that a lot. I think about, "Okay, what can I do that is hidden today?" because so much of what we do now is not hidden. But we’re here to talk about "Tech-Wise," and we both gleaned so much from your latest work together.
Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
Amelie: So, Amy, you could have written a book about, like, anything. Why did you choose technology?
Amy: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know if I could have written a book about anything, or rather, if I would have kind of felt comfortable writing a book about anything. I think there are so many books out there, honestly. And I’ve always enjoyed writing and, you know, felt interested in writing. But I always felt that if I was going to write a book, it had to be something where my own perspective and my own writing would be meaningful. There are a million people out there who could write a book about like, I don’t know, apple pie, but only a very small number of them will actually have something new to bring to the table about that subject. And so, I often was sort of like, "Oh, maybe in the future, I might write a book." But I really was determined that if I were to write something, my perspective would be useful. I would be able to say something kind of new, and I would be able to actually contribute to the conversation instead of putting something out there that, like, anybody could have written. And I think this really came to the forefront with technology because, honestly, the conversation about technology is really missing something, which, I think, is young people’s voices.
“The conversation about technology is really missing something, which, I think, is young people’s voices.” Amy Crouch
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, Amelie, I’m not sure, but for me, when I, like, pay attention to the resources out there about technology and young people, it’s all written by adults. It’s all, like, parents saying, "Oh, my kid is addicted to their phone. What do I do?" And I think that’s really a problem because our generation is the one that, in some ways, has been kind of most shaped by this force of technology. And for young people’s voices not to be kind of involved in the conversation is, I think, really a problem. And so, I wrote this book mainly because it felt like this conversation needed to be started. We needed to be talking about what it’s like to grow up with technology, the ways that it helps us, the ways that it hurts us, and how we can try to find a healthier way of dealing with it. And I do feel like I was in the position where my own perspective could be really useful. And I hope that my own story combined with the data in the book, which is basically the stories of thousands of other people my age, I hope that those stories can help other people think a little in a way that they haven’t before.
Amelie: I think it definitely will. It was very helpful for me and…
Amy: I’m so glad.
Amelie: And my mom, sometimes, she’ll be like, "When I was a kid, we would just go outside and filled stuff under our porch." I was like, "Well, there’s, like, lots of new things now, and it’s kind of different growing up. So, it’s kind of not nice for you to compare your childhood to mine."
Amy: Yeah. That’s so true.
Jessica: Yeah, it was really helpful to get to hand her a book written by someone just a few years older than her. Not that what I say is… I’ll let her speak for herself. I mean, I don’t know how much she absorbs what I say, I think, you know, plenty. But it is, especially at this age, when kids, you know, naturally, just their brain development, they are moving more towards peers, and so just having a book written by a peer is so powerful.
Andy, I wanted to ask you. I love the format of the book. And it took me off guard a little bit. But it didn’t surprise me just because it’s so consistent with your teachings on power and using your power to create power for others and you really took a backseat. And you do this. You write a letter in response to reading each chapter that Amy wrote. I’m curious, how did you come up with that structure, and what was the hardest thing that you read after reading a chapter that just kind of like… I’m imagining some dialogue happened between you two, or just, like, maybe even some, "Oh, man, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was going on."
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I did want it to be Amy’s book. I mean, to be fair, I do have a book of all my own already. So, it’s not like I haven’t had my chance to kind of lay out how I look at these things, how I think about them as a parent. So, I really wanted this to be Amy’s book, first of all. And it felt like it would be awkward to have both of us talking to the reader directly. I think that’s the other thing that led to the letter idea, that maybe what I could do is write letters really to Amy that obviously we knew other people would overhear or overread but that weren’t two of us trying to tell the reader what to think or, you know, how to approach these issues. It was really Amy doing that and then me kind of responding. So that led to this format. And actually, we had very few conversations during the writing. Amy kind of did all of her writing before I really saw any of it. I wanted her to have the chance to do that without me looking over her shoulder or interjecting how I might approach things.
And so, I remember a flutter in my stomach, for sure, when I had the whole manuscript. And I was like, "I wonder what is going to be in here." And I knew there would be things in there that I didn’t really know because all of us have complicated, full lives that the other people, even the ones very close to us, don’t see the whole of. And I think that’s especially true of the teenagers, when part of the story is figuring out what to do with yourself. You know, you spend your childhood very, very connected to your parents, and Amy and Timothy, both of our kids were very… we never experienced them kind of distancing themselves from us in the way that sometimes happens during adolescence.
But still, it’s the season when you have your own life, and your own thoughts, and your own suffering. So to get to the second part of your question, I certainly think the moments that were hardest to read were moments where I realized that all the boundaries that we really did have in place for our family about the healthy use of devices and media and social media, that even with all of that, there had still been some really hard moments in Amy’s junior high and high school years that we couldn’t prevent and that we actually didn’t know about at the time and couldn’t fix and that were really painful. And gosh, it was so hard to read about these moments of insecurity and, to some extent, you know, kind of maybe compulsion or just getting caught in things that are like this vortex that sucks us in. And all of us have had this experience and we don’t just have it when we’re teenagers. But just to know that my daughter, who I love so much, had been through that and I wasn’t able to be there to prevent it or to fix it. At the same time, I also know it’s not ultimately my job to prevent or fix all these things. And then the beautiful thing is reading and seeing in her own life, how she’s come out on the other side of these things and realizing there’s another father in her life who’s a way better father than I’ll ever be, who’s actually Ephesians says, the father from whom every fatherhood on earth gets its name, and that she has been cared for through all this. But that doesn’t make it easy to read some of the pages.
Using Technology with Intentionality
Amelie: So, Amy, I really liked how you shared your perspective and your personal life in the book. It made people feel like… or maybe not everyone, but it made me feel like I could actually relate to you. And it wasn’t just, like, you were just throwing facts at me and saying, "This is how you should live your life." And I think that will make it easier for people to maybe change their habits with tech. So, for people who don’t want to read the book, can you give us a Cliffsnotes version of "My Tech-Wise Life"?
Amy: Wow, love that. That honesty is so necessary. Well, I’m glad you picked up that this is not a book of rules. It’s a book of stories. And in some ways, that makes it hard to create a Cliffsnotes version because so much of it is just about these are some of the stories from my life and this is the story of what data says about the lives of people my age. But I think the kind of fundamental thing I would say, like the lesson to take away is really just intentionality. Our devices can be so good. But honestly, when they’re left on kind of default mode to accomplish what, say, Apple, or Facebook, or Netflix wanted, they often aren’t as good. If we just kind of give in, say, to the algorithms of Facebook as we scroll through social media, or the algorithms of Netflix as we, like, binge TV over and over, I think we’re in a really unhealthy place. But if we choose to be introspective, to examine our own behavior with technology and question how it’s shaping us, and then choose to create guidelines for ourselves around it, then I think we can actually be treating technology in a very healthy way. So, I think that’s what I would say most of all, is just being intentional and choosing to think about what our devices are doing to us.
“If we choose to be introspective, to examine our own behavior with technology and question how it’s shaping us, and then choose to create guidelines for ourselves around it, then I think we can actually be treating technology in a very healthy way.” Amy Crouch
Amelie: Yeah. So, you wrote this book pre-COVID.
Amelie: So, how have you been dealing with COVID and technology, and have your tech habits changed? Because I know mine sure have.
Amy: Yeah. It’s really tough. I never would have thought that I would spend so much time sitting on Zoom. And I really hope I never again will in my life after this pandemic.
Amelie: It was insane.
Amy: Oh, my goodness. Like, first week I’m just saying, "This is awful." Like, in some ways, this is not the way we’re supposed to live. And I think it’s okay to just say that, like, we’re in an awful situation and we don’t need to kind of paper over that and say, "Oh, actually, it’s fine." Like, no, it’s not. But I think what I will say is that I’ve found that by focusing on, like, really prioritizing time that I spend in the, like, three-dimensional embodied world has helped. So, I know dad and I have talked about this, we take so many walks now. Like, I go for long walks, maybe not every single day, but so much more often than I ever did before. I have been cooking a lot both for myself and for my family when I’ve been home, you know, just really spending time with physical things instead of staring at a screen.
And I would say what I’ve tried to do, not always successfully, but what I’ve tried to do is if I’m required to spend time on screens for my work, I try to make my rest time low screen. So, maybe I have to spend eight hours a day on Zoom for school and that’s not fun but maybe it’s what’s required of me right now. But I don’t have to then, like, get off the couch and, I don’t know, go sit in a chair and watch Netflix. I don’t have to do that. I could, but I actually don’t think that would be a healthy choice because, you know, four hours of screen time after eight hours of work on Zoom or whatever I don’t think is very healthy. So, what I’ve tried to do is after my day of work on screens is done, tried to prioritize just hours that don’t have screens involved, times of reading books, of making things, even of just resting or spending time outside. I haven’t done that perfectly, but when I have managed to do it, it’s helped.
Jessica: So, it’s easy while reading the book, Amy, to kind of paint this picture that, "Oh, Amy never pushed back on her parent’s boundaries." But I’m assuming that there were times when… because this whole podcast series is about going against the grain. And, you know, when you’re trying to be like the Amish, you’re definitely going against the grain, which side note, Amelie’s grandparents, my in-laws, they live in Northern Indiana, which is a huge Amish area of the country. And so, my kids are very familiar, and they actually spend weeks of their summer up there with their phones safely tucked away at home in our home locked away. So, they do get to be Amish for a couple of weeks out of the year. But I’m assuming that there were times when you struggled about being different from the rest of your friends. Can you tell me about that at all and how you dealt with that?
Amy: Yeah, totally. Even now, as a college student, college students talk so much about SpongeBob, and I have never seen SpongeBob.
Andy: You’re kidding.
Amy: Oh, no. I am not.
Andy: We’re paying all this money to send you to Cornell University and you’re talking about SpongeBob? This is really alarming.
Amy: I don’t know what to… this is the truth. So even now, I noticed that I did have a slightly different childhood upbringing. But I will say it’s not… the SpongeBob conversations, you know, I’m not missing out on that much. But it is true that as I was growing up, I didn’t have the same things to talk about as everybody else. We didn’t have a TV until I think I was like 11, 12. I actually don’t remember when we got it because it really didn’t make much of a difference. And we also didn’t have video games. And so, I really didn’t have the same kinds of topics of conversation as everyone else. You know, people would be talking whatever at school, even when I was just spending time with friends, the conversations would be about things which I really had very little experience with. And I would say on the one hand, yes, that is difficult. That’s a difficult thing to feel like you don’t understand what other people are spending so much time on. But I’ll also say that with good friends, it’s not even just what you talk about that matters. It’s about everything else. And so, I would say what happened was I started to find friends who could talk about other stuff with me. We had other shared interests that weren’t just, you know, whatever was on TV or…
Jessica: Actually, Amelie’s not even in the anime, but I know…
Amelie: I don’t watch anime.
Jessica: I know. She doesn’t even watch anime. But I have some friends whose kids are super into it.
Going Against the Grain
Amy: Yeah. And so, I found friends who, you know, were watching TV and playing video games but who had other points of connection with me, other things that we had in common. And so, I would say that while I was always aware that there was something a bit different about the way I grew up, at the same time, you’re always going to be looking for friends who share some of your interests, you’re always going to be looking for friends who you don’t just have to talk about one TV show with. And so, I think I wouldn’t say that I felt horribly left out, I just had to find people who understood a bit more of what my life was like.
Andy: I might say that I think Amy had a relatively easy time. And I think her brother, who also… I mean, her brother could have written a book like this, you know, similarly positive about the way that our kids grew up. And I think both of them really have embraced this tech-wise approach. But it is hard to be like a nine-year-old boy and not play video games. And it was hard to watch other nine-year-old boys come to our house, which basically only happened once, with very few exceptions, because they would get here and just be completely lost. Like, what do you do without this form of entertainment? And to watch my own son just try to handle that and not really have it work and have the other kid be bored and awkward and, you know, it’s just so painful. And, you know, we really believe as a family not being Pharisees about this. It’s not like we think an hour of video game is going to ruin any kid’s life and we didn’t forbid our kids from playing when they went over their friend’s house if that’s what they wanted to do. But to see it not be an option here and to see just that the barriers that are set up for a boy who, I think, you know, at times, found it kind of hard to figure out how to make friends, you know, generally, like almost all boys do find that hard at points, it was just hard.
And what I had to wrestle with was, what are we in this for? Are we in this for friendships to come easily and quickly and without a lot of effort? Or are we in this for a longer game in which our kids learn something important about themselves and the world and are set up for a different kind of life in the future? And we had to go through some of the awkwardness and painfulness and exclusion even, I would say, even though I think both kids now, in their early 20s, would say, "Totally worth it all in all." Does that seem fair, Amy, the way I described it?
“Are we in this for friendships to come easily and quickly and without a lot of effort? Or are we in this for a longer game in which our kids learn something important about themselves and the world and are set up for a different kind of life in the future?” Andy Crouch
Amy: Yeah. I mean, I think I was just lucky. And there were so many other ways… Like, you know, a teenage girl is always going to find ways that she’s different from other people and things to feel insecure about. And so, it’s not there was no way that I felt different. But for whatever reason, technology wasn’t the main thing.
Andy: And it is not like all those kids with unlimited access to devices and whatever, you know, platform, or media, or whatever you want name, it’s not like they’re so happy or having such a great time. So, it also helps just to realize it’s a hard time of life but why not have it be hard for, like, the right reasons and for healthy reasons rather than…
Amy: Right. So true.
Amelie: So, in the book, Amy, you talked about how you were lonely sometimes. And Andy, what was it like for you reading about Amy struggling with that?
Andy: Wow, really hard because… I think not so much because of the loneliness per se. Lonely is part of life. And God meets us in lonely times, as well as in times of great abundance and friendship. And I wasn’t ever that worried per se about my kids finding things hard. I mean that’s just part of being human and it’s part of growing up to be the people I think were meant to be, who are people who can handle things being hard. What was harder was maybe the sense of insecurity, self-doubt… self-hatred would be a very strong word, I don’t think I probably would quite use but there is that intense sense of like… I’m trying to think of how to put it. Like, dissatisfaction with oneself and doubt about oneself and about one’s basic lovability and worthiness in the world. And, as a parent, there’s nothing I want my children to know more than that they are loved, lovable, worthy, worthy of someone dying for them. Like, I want them to feel that and yet, inevitably, part of growing up is moments when you do not feel that at all. And so, I think at the time, that was really hard and then reading about it is really hard. It was just slightly easier to read about it because God kept working in my daughter’s life.
And honestly, there were moments of great concern, I would say, for her mom and me, like, "How is she going to get out of this?" to the extent my parents had visibility into my own life when I was Amy’s age. I mean, I would have been asking the same thing when I was her age if I were my own parent, you know. And I knew that God had rescued me. And I could tell you stories from my own life. But I didn’t know how that was going to work out for Amy and having to just wait.
I remember this one time, Amy, when you came back from a trip, it was a very fortunate trip that you were able to take to Italy, which is a great privilege and an unusual thing, but you came back… I mean, one would think, you know, going to Italy in itself is a great thing, but you left with a lot of burdens, I think, in your life, a lot of weights on you. And it really didn’t matter that you were going to this wonderful place to have this great tourist experience. And I really was worried about what that trip is gonna be like and what friendships were going to be like, and all kinds of things. And you came back after this horribly long flight back and bus ride back and burst into the door so alive and said something pretty much like, "God met me in Italy."
Amy: Yes. Yeah.
Andy: And it was just this amazing moment as a parent of realizing God has got this in a way that I can’t possibly have it as a dad, and God can provide in ways I can’t imagine. And so, I don’t need to be afraid for my kids, especially when they are, as you were, seeking God even in the midst of the pain.
So, to get back to your question, Amelie, I think that it was easier to read it knowing the ending. I guess maybe I needed to read to the end of the book like you do because… and not that it’s not that all kinds of hard things will continue to happen in Amy’s life and all of our lives. Certainly, this year has been full of them for all of us. But I have read to the end of another book too, and so I really can trust God for even the things that are really hard.
“God has got this in a way that I can’t possibly have it as a dad, and God can provide in ways I can’t imagine. And so, I don’t need to be afraid for my kids” Andy Crouch
Amelie: So, if you talk to a lot of people who are teenagers, usually the topic of loneliness will come up and we’ll talk about how lonely we are. So why do you think that our generation struggles so much with that?
Amy: It’s so true and it’s so sad. And I think part of it is universal and part of it is kind of specific to the world of devices that we live in. So, on the one hand, being a teenager is always going to be about figuring out who you are and what you’re meant to be doing in this world and, as dad said, what in you is lovable and kind of worthy of admiration and relationship. And that is always going to be hard, whether you’re living in 1500 B.C. or 2020 just because when you don’t yet know who you are and you don’t yet kind of fully, deeply understand that you’re loved, then it’s really hard to be in relationship with other people. And even in the very good communities that I was part of as a teenager, I just still inherently wasn’t quite sure of myself. I wasn’t quite sure of who I was and how I was meant to fit in. And I think that is always going to be true somehow of being a teenager.
But I will say that one of the really sad things about technology is the way that it can really make loneliness hurt a lot more. So much of social media, especially for young women, young girls, I would say, social media really tends to reinforce everything that makes us lonely already because we get to see this kind of flattened view of other people hanging out, which is really just other people liking each other’s pictures and putting comments, pictures of other people spending time together. And everything is so kind of flattened down that we just get this kind of gigantic "Everyone is hanging out without me" moment. And that’s really, really tough. It’s so difficult to see.
And I think that by kind of having so much of our lives mediated through Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, what have you, we’re seeing everybody else’s lives exactly as they want us to see them. And that can make it even harder for us to realize that everyone is struggling with the very same things that we are. And so, I would say that all of those natural struggles of being a teenager and not knowing quite who you are, and who likes you, and who you want to like are just heightened by this world of social media, especially wherein every social interaction kind of loses its richness and its kind of impact to the point where all you can see is kind of pixels of other people whose lives look a lot better than yours.
Andy: It sounds horrible.
Amy: It’s not great.
Andy: This is not a good way to live.
Fostering Healthy Tech Habits
Amelie: Yeah. So, let’s talk about zoning out. Like you, Amy, I really love to read. And on vacation, I’ll read. And my little brother, Jack, will come up to me and he’ll be like, "Why are you reading? We’re on vacation." And I’m like, "I love to read." But sometimes I’ll end up zoning out and missing a lot of the vacation. And I leave my phone at home so that I’m not zoning out something bad, I guess. So, what do you think is the difference between escaping into a book versus escaping into your phone?
Amy: That’s a good question. Also, I can’t believe that anyone would criticize you for reading on vacation. Oh, my gosh. Okay, you should see, on our family vacations, we fill these giant boxes with books. And every afternoon, you’ll see us all just, like, sitting in the living room all staring at our books. So, yeah, we love to read. And I do think that there’s something that feels very different. And dad actually has some interesting things to say about this. But maybe what I’ll start with saying is that almost one of the most kind of frustrating things about our phones is the way that they are constantly giving us completely new and completely different information. So, when I’m reading a book, I get to spend time in this one world. I’m immersed in this storyline. But when I’m on my phone, I’m constantly getting new notifications from, "Oh, somebody texted me. Oh, and then somebody sent me a GroupMe message, and oh…" And so instead of this posture of attentiveness and kind of deep engagement with a book. With a phone, you’re sort of getting, like, bounced around from one exciting thing to another, looking for something new but also nothing is ever really going to feel new. And so, I think that fundamentally our phones pull us in because they distract us and they give us the opportunity to jump around from exciting thing to exciting thing, whereas reading a book gives us a real opportunity to focus our minds. And I think focus is something that’s really rewarding.
“I think that fundamentally our phones pull us in because they distract us and they give us the opportunity to jump around from exciting thing to exciting thing, whereas reading a book gives us a real opportunity to focus our minds.” Amy Crouch
Amelie: Yeah, like, on those vacations, usually my family will sit around and read obviously, except for Jack, my little brother.
Jessica: He did read on this last vacation.
Amelie: Yeah. It’s just hard for him to find a book that he really likes. But there definitely is a sense of community when you just can sit around and read with people that you love.
Andy: Yeah. It’s such a good question. And, you know, by the way, back in the 19th century, people were very worried about novels and especially their effect on young women…
Amy: Oh, yes.
Andy: …because they felt like these girls got too absorbed in these stories and what’s it doing to our young people, you know. But I do think this question of the quality of attention really matters. And the fact is that our phones are definitely designed to suck us in. They’re designed to hold our gaze. But it’s in a way that that you don’t… I think it’s interesting. I wouldn’t say that when you’re reading, you’re zoning out in quite the same way that I at least can have happen when I’m kind of surfing, where I’m sort of just bouncing from app to app or item to item in a long newsfeed or a long list or, you know, a series of Instagram pictures or whatever. That’s really different from giving myself in attention to the words of an author who’s taking me somewhere, whether it’s a story or whatever.
And so, I think you’re right that there’s… I think it’s actually a really interesting thing about the difference between how it feels to all be in a room reading together, where we are all each with our own book versus how it feels to be in a room where everybody’s on their phones, where I think it feels like people are less present somehow when they’re on their phones than when they’re really engaged with a book. There’s something subtle and interesting about that.
Jessica: Well, it’s really fun too at this last vacation that we had this summer, we would pass around. We all ended up reading a lot of the same books…
Andy: That’s awesome.
Jessica: …because, you know, we just pass them around to each other and that’s really fun. Okay. I wanted to ask… so I’m a fan of cornerstone habits, so that one habit in your life that ends up having a halo effect on everything else.
Andy: It’s really good.
Jessica: For me, it’s like morning exercise. I will always eat better, sleep better everything else if I exercise that morning. So, I wanted each of you to narrow it down to one cornerstone habit to have around tech. What would that be?
Andy: Well, I know mine. And I think I know Amy’s too. But we’ll see what she says. Yeah. And we might have talked about this, Jessica, at some point, or I certainly have talked about it before. But it is the cornerstone for me, surprisingly, because it is so ridiculously simple. Around the time I started writing "The Tech-Wise Family," about three or four years ago, I decided… well, I realized that I was getting up in the morning… We keep our phones outside our bedrooms. We keep them down our kitchen, all of them. But I was going downstairs, I was starting my tea, which is one of my cornerstone habits that doesn’t have to do with technology, and I was picking up my phone while the tea was still, you know, steeping, and opening it up and seeing what notifications it had. And I thought, "This cannot possibly be the best way to start my day." So, I thought, "What would it be like if instead of picking up my phone, I go outdoors?" So, I’ve been doing this for about four years now. I wake up in the morning, I do make my tea, I usually let it steep, I’ve got it ready, and I walk out our front door. No matter what the weather is, we live in Philadelphia, so it’s quite a range of, you know, it could be really humid, it could be really cold, it can be raining, it could be snowing, it could be crystal clear, dark sky this time of year, and I just stand out there and I look up at the sky. I listen to whatever the sounds are of the world around me. I breathe in the air. And it is crazy what a difference it has made in my life.
And I might add, the first couple of days I did it, it required this huge effort of will not to pick up the phone. It was one of these moments that I realized how dependent I actually was or had become, I don’t know, but I tend to not try to use the word addiction, but certainly dependent and compulsive about that early morning phone check, and I would see the phone sitting there, you know, plugged in while I was making my tea and have to exert my will, "No, I am not going to touch you." And I think it took about two weeks. And I would also say actually that it was almost like the phone would whisper to me. This might be a little overdramatic, but it was like saying, "Don’t you want to check me? Don’t you need to check me? Don’t I have something to offer you? You know, don’t you need me?" And I’d be like, "No. I am going outdoors."
And two weeks in, I go downstairs, and I hear this little phone voice like, "Don’t you need me? Don’t you want me?" And instead of feeling, like, allure and attraction, something had flipped in me, and I felt this almost revulsion, like, "Why would I want to start my day with you when there’s this amazing world out there in which I walk out there?" And I think part of it is our phones make us feel big. Our phones make us feel important. They make us feel significant. They make us feel like there’s things we need to know. And you walk outside at 6 in the morning, or whenever I get up, and you feel small. You feel little and humbled. And that’s so much better. So, for me, this has become just an anchor of my day.
“Our phones make us feel big. Our phones make us feel important. They make us feel significant. And you walk outside at 6 in the morning and you feel small. You feel little and humbled. And that’s so much better.” Andy Crouch
And I feel like I’m taking a lot of time, but let me just say one other thing that happened that first day I did this. Early in my 20s, I actually developed another cornerstone habit, Jessica, that I tried to start every day saying aloud, "Thank you, God, for this day." That was just my spiritual practice. And for probably 15 or 20 years, every morning, I said that. It was the first words out of my mouth, "Thank you, God, for this day." Sometime in my 40s, so in the last 10 years, I just stopped saying it. It had been years since I woke up and said, "Thank you, God, for this day." And that first day I went outside without my phone and looked up the sky and felt the breeze or whatever the weather was that day, sort of involuntarily, I said, "Thank you, God, for this day." It was like that sense of gratitude, and groundedness, and clarity about what really matters and who I am was back. And I’ve said it every morning for four years now.
Amy: My cornerstone habit is very much related to that. Dad mentioned that we always keep our phones in the kitchen. And that is not only the one habit which is most crucial, I think, to my life, but also the one I would recommend to everyone, which is go to bed and wake up without your phone.
Don’t use your phone as your alarm clock. You can go buy an alarm clock. But wake up and go to bed kind of apart from, stepping away from, the world of screens. I usually like to just pray as I lie in bed both before I go to sleep and as I wake up, and honestly sometimes in the morning I feel that very same dread or revulsion which dad feels, like, "Uh, I have to go pick up my phone." And tied up in that is kind of, "Oh, I have to go start my day. I have to go kind of live in the world." And as much as I love to live in the world, there is something a little scary each day about just getting out of bed and facing the day.
And so, for me, starting the day by praying for the strength to face the world is so much better than turning to my phone and having it all kind of everything that there is for me to do blast at me. So, I would recommend that everybody try to cultivate that practice in their own life.
Amelie: Yeah. One of my least favorite things is waking up in the morning.
Jessica: I think we all learned we have a shared love of sleep.
Embracing a Life of Love
Amelie: So, Amy, I’m 14. I’m a freshman in high school. And, obviously, I’m at the beginning of my high school career. And if you could do high school over again, what would you do differently? And do you have any advice for me?
Amy: So, yes. All right, we’ve heard a lot from what my dad has to say. And I love my dad and he has so much good stuff to say. But I also want to spotlight what my mom always told me in high school and I wish that I had taken more to heart, which is, whenever I was kind of worried about myself, how others were perceiving me, you know, how I was interacting with other people, she would say, "Remember that everyone else is way more concerned about themselves than you, and try to be a person who is thinking more about others than yourself." And it is so hard to not go through high school, like, constantly worried about, again, as we were saying, "Who am I? How are other people reacting to me? What do I do?" That is really difficult. But it is so healing and so good to kind of move your doubt and your worries about yourself and transform that into love for other people. And instead of worrying about your own inadequacies, look at the ways that other people are insecure and in pain, and seek to be a healer in their midst. I wish that I had done that more in high school, and I really hope that amidst all of the very real challenges that you’re going to face, because let’s be real, it’s high school, there will be challenges, I really hope that you can find ways for those challenges to turn you into the kind of person who loves other people and who cares for them in their distress.
“Instead of worrying about your own inadequacies, look at the ways that other people are insecure and in pain, and seek to be a healer in their midst.” Amy Crouch
Amelie: Wow, that’s really good advice.
Amy: I really hope that’s true for you.
Amelie: So, Amy, what’s your next book gonna be about?
Amy: Okay, well, we already talked about this. I said I’m not gonna write a book if I don’t think I have, like, something useful to contribute. So, I will say right now, nothing is on my mind. There’s nothing that I think I can really contribute…
Amelie: No more useful stuff.
Amy: …to the conversation for. I’m all burnt out. Not anymore.
Amelie: Maybe in a couple of years.
Amy: I will say…
Amy: …if you’ve read the second to last chapter of this book, the seventh chapter, it’s about Sabbath. And I am so passionate about taking the seventh day off and resting on the Sabbath, that if I were to write another book, I think it might be about the Sabbath.
Amelie: You were very passionate about it.
Amy: Yes. As we said, I love sleep.
Jessica: Yeah. That was one of Amelie’s big takeaways from the book was the Sabbath.
Amelie: Saturday is kind of that day for me.
Amy: It’s so good, right?
Amelie: Yes. Just not worry about work and focus on healing from the week.
Amy: Yes. Yeah.
Andy: Actually, that is how you were made to be. You’re made for that, that one day where you do not have to worry, and you can just rest and recover. And it’s so good.
Jessica: I might give Amelie the microphone a little more, guys. She asked some good questions. Well, thank you so much for your time today. And truly this book, I mean, it is just so powerful, Amy, for that very reason that I don’t want to hand Amelie this book that’s written by some 43-year-old mom, you know. When you wrote it you were 19, so you even get to say the “teen” part, you know, I was like, "This is written… like, she’s just a few years older than you." And Amelie, you know, just wanted to hear from someone from her generation. So I am going to encourage you to keep moving in this direction, Amy, because I think, you know, I could give you all sorts of topics that I would like for you to write about, that would be new to what we aren’t hearing. We just aren’t hearing from many young people that have, you know, walked in the life rhythms that you’re choosing to walk in. So, we really appreciated it, and I guess…
Andy: We appreciate you, guys. This is amazing.
Jessica: Well, before we leave, we like to ask our guests how they’re going scared right now. So, Andy, how are you going scared? And Amy, I’ll let you have the last word.
Andy: Yes. I wrote a book, a manuscript. I think we mentioned it at the beginning. And it doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have a title. And my editor has kind of given me an ultimatum that a week from now it needs a name. Trust me, we have tried dozens and dozens of names. And they haven’t worked for various reasons. So, I am scared about the creative work of coming up with just a handful of words, like four or five words that actually work. And I don’t know what it will be at this moment. So that would be the…
Jessica: You should get on the phone with Curt Thompson. I think he’s in a similar position.
Andy: So, I will let you in on a secret. We had the perfect title for this book. And it overlaps too much with Curt’s work. And I said, "I don’t think I can use this title because this is really Curt’s language that I’ve absorbed." And he gets credited in the book itself, but we can’t, like, put a footnote on the title and say, "See Curt Thompson," you know. Yeah, so…
Jessica: I don’t know. Ask him. Ask him because his next work is a little bit of a departure from his last two. So, you never know, Andy. But anyway, that is stressful.
Andy: That’s what I’m scared about at this moment.
Jessica: Okay, Amy, what about you?
Amy: To be honest, I think I’m going scared in doing things like this right now. Jessica and Amelie, you might not think of yourselves as especially terrifying people, but to be honest, it’s really scary putting out this book, which is so much about me and so much about my own story about just, like, sharing a lot of the struggles that I went through, as well as many of the joys. And it’s been so good but also frightening to step into all of these, you know, podcasts, and events, and things and just talk about my life and how I think it can help people. So, I will say that even as it’s been really rewarding to publish this book, it has also challenged me in very real ways. And it still frightens me a little to, you know, show up and talk about how I was insecure at a school dance. But I really, really, truly hope, and I’m beginning to believe, that this is really helping people. And as long as me speaking about what my life has been like can be encouraging and help people to rethink maybe some of the ideas about technology that they’ve had. If I can be providing that for people, then it’s worth it.
Jessica: Ah, this conversation, it was so beautiful and so vulnerable, and this is such a messy journey. I mean, we’ve literally been the guinea pigs of this tech generation for the last 10 years, and now our kids are the guinea pigs. And this conversation encouraged me because it showed me that it really is possible to turn away from a tech-addicted life and turn towards a life of presence and connection. And, you know, it’s honestly been a few months since we read that book, and even relistening to this, I realized that it’s time for a re-read.
Choosing a tech-limited lifestyle is truly Going Against the Grain, but you know what, hearing the fruit from Amy and Andy, I can say it’s worth it. It’s worth it to constantly be evaluating and assessing and becoming self-aware of the ways that tech is interrupting the life that we actually really want to live.
Okay, I’m so glad to be back with you. Thanks so much for sharing these conversations, that’s how people even hear about the Going Scared podcast. So, go ahead and give this episode a screenshot and tag the Going Scared podcast, tag me Jessica Honegger, two G’s one N, on Instagram. Let your people know that we are back because you are not going to want to miss this series: Going Against the Grain.
Today’s music is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. Today’s episode was produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And until next time, this is Jessica Honegger, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.