Andy Crouch, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World (Hodder & Stoughton, 2022)
I once wrote a blog post bemoaning the introduction of self-service checkouts in my local supermarket. I ranted about the loss of jobs, about the annoyingly patronising voice, and about the removal of yet one more area of human interaction in my daily life. A decade on, I’m pleased to report that I still use a manned checkout 90% of the time, even if it means queuing for longer.
Human interaction is inefficient. It is inconvenient. It introduces elements of human error, and if we want to make an encounter any more meaningful than that of scanning items and swiping cards, it can take a significant amount of effort. To go any deeper requires vulnerability, on one or both sides.
Yet this – this effort, this vulnerability and the relationship it brings – is what Andy Crouch believes is the life we’re all looking for, the life we’re designed for.
Andy thinks carefully about what it means for a life to be better, as opposed to simply easier.
Andy’s latest book is subtitled ‘Reclaiming relationship in a technological world’. That could lead you to think that he is anti-technology. Far from it. Andy is often an early-adopter and isn’t afraid to use technology to make his life better. The difference is that he thinks carefully about what it means for a life to be better, as opposed to simply easier. He explains that the Bible teaches us that we were created as ‘heart-soul-mind-strength complexes designed for love’ (p.31). Activities that engage each of these aspects of life are the ones that lead to our flourishing, while those that engage just one or two (and in our culture that usually means just the mind) leave us drained and unfulfilled.
This book takes the reader through Andy’s thought processes, and provides the tools we need to consider his conclusions, as well as tips for putting them into practice.
Andy tackles some big topics: technology, theology, music, relationships, death and disability, to name but a few. Yet his accessible, engaging prose makes all of them easy to follow and grasp for any reader.
The core of his argument is that our use of technology is akin to what the ancients sought in magic: maximum power with minimum effort; ‘superpowers’. Yet as one superhero story reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility, and it is this that we are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to exercise. Andy uses Disney’s Fantasia as an example: in that animation, Mickey Mouse, apprenticed to a sorcerer, is tasked with mopping the floor. Looking for an easier life, he tries out one of the sorcerer’s spells, and commands the mop to do the work itself. The results are, predictably, disastrous, and Mickey ends up with far more work to do than he started with.
Unfortunately for us, the negative effects of our reliance on superpowers are often slower to manifest themselves. We have instant access to almost all the world’s knowledge, but don’t notice that we are losing the ability to retain information. We stay connected with dozens of people on social media and WhatsApp, but it is some time before we realise we are desperately lonely.
The diagnosis is nothing new, but it is Andy’s proposed solution that is fresh.
That diagnosis is nothing new, but it is Andy’s proposed solution that is fresh (yet deeply biblical). He doesn’t call for the wholesale rejection of ‘devices’; rather, he suggests that the way forward is to build ‘households’. These are multi-person units, living near each other, ‘where we can invest ourselves deeply in others, come to care about their flourishing, and give ourselves away in mutual service and sacrifice’ (p.150). The good news is these don’t have to be nuclear, biological family relationships. In fact, those in such households are missing out if they don’t draw others in.
These kinds of relationships aren’t easy to find, to establish or to maintain. It is hard to find a place where we are known – perhaps more deeply than we find comfortable; a place where we are seen – with all our strengths and all our flaws, and accepted, loved and celebrated anyway.
But perhaps they would be just a little easier if more people knew to be looking for them. To this end, Andy’s book both needs and deserves to be widely read. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in how to fight the loneliness we see around us, even in our churches. It would be an excellent resource for small groups to read together, and grow together in understanding how our devices are shaping us and, importantly, how we can take steps to reclaim the life of rich relationships that we are all ultimately looking for.