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Life on the other side

BOOKS | How families can disengage from harmful technologies

Erin Loechner Design for Mankind Inc.

Life on the other side
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Every new technology raises alarms, as far back as Socrates’ critique of writing in Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue. Often these fears make peace with progress, but warnings about smartphones have only increased since the iPhone debuted in 2007. Grown-ups are reconsidering their own digital addictions, but even more wonder how to pry devices out of their children’s hands.

The Opt-Out Family (Zondervan 2024) covers the same ground as The Anxious Generation (see “Kids on Mars,” April 6) and other recent books when it comes to the addictive qualities of social media. But author Erin Loechner’s main point is to answer the question “Yes, but how?” As a successful blogger, Loechner had toes in the tech world before social media was even a thing, and she rode that wave to a show on “And then I walked away from it all—from the money, the ‘fame,’ and the constant dopamine hits—to search for something better, and truer, on the other side.”

The other side is home and family, and Loechner uses her knowledge of online manipulations, particularly through algorithms, to reverse-engineer their insidious appeal. Throughout the book, she contrasts “Tech’s Playbook” to “Our Playbook” (e.g., replacing Mark Zuckerberg’s “Move Fast and Break Things” with “Move Slow and Mend Things”). Tech’s proven strategies for online engagement can be turned around to create an intimate, real-time, social-media platform called home. “If Silicon Valley has shown us the way in,” she writes, “it also shows us the way out.”

It’s not enough simply to disallow phones at dinnertime or unhook from electronic media occasionally. Loechner provides plenty of alarming data to justify ditching social media altogether (“While you’re watching TikTok, it’s watching you”). But to truly “opt out,” parents need to “opt in” to family life—for example, to study their children’s responses, interests, and passing fancies, and substitute real-life activity for online feeds. To evaluate their own family values (she provides a helpful tool for thinking this through) and include the kids in working those out. As a result, “your home will become a haven from a world that feels divided, restless, unruly.”

Such utopian statements echo Focus on the Family episodes from the 1980s and homeschooling guides from the 1990s—and the outlook can sound a little too rosy. In the final chapter Loechner acknowledges there’s a lot of ground to cover to even begin turning back the technology tide, but her conclusion that we must is both urgent and upbeat. Though not targeted to a specifically Christian audience, the The Opt-Out Family quotes Scripture, and Christian readers will find that none of its material contradicts Biblical truth.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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