“Andy Crouch shows the path to reclaiming a life that restores the heart of what it means to thrive.”—Arthur C. Brooks, #1 New York Times bestselling author of From Strength to Strength
Our greatest need is to be recognized—to be seen, loved, and embedded in rich relationships with those around us. But for the last century, we’ve displaced that need with the ease of technology. We’ve dreamed of mastery without relationship (what the premodern world called magic) and abundance without dependence (what Jesus called Mammon). Yet even before a pandemic disrupted that quest, we felt threatened and strangely out of place: lonely, anxious, bored amid endless options, oddly disconnected amid infinite connections.
In The Life We’re Looking For, bestselling author Andy Crouch shows how we have been seduced by a false vision of human flourishing—and how each of us can fight back. From the social innovations of the early Christian movement to the efforts of entrepreneurs working to create more humane technology, Crouch shows how we can restore true community and put people first in a world dominated by money, power, and devices.
There is a way out of our impersonal world, into a world where knowing and being known are the heartbeat of our days, our households, and our economies. Where our vulnerabilities are seen not as something to be escaped but as the key to our becoming who we were made to be together. Where technology serves us rather than masters us—and helps us become more human, not less.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What We Thought We Wanted
The Loneliness of a Personalized World
Recognition is the first human quest.
After an ordinary delivery, after the first few startled cries, newborn infants typically spend an hour or so in the stage doctors call “quiet alert.” Though they can only focus their vision roughly eight to twelve inches away, their eyes are wide open. They are searching, with an instinct far deeper than intention. They are looking for a face, and when they find one—especially a face that gazes back at them—they fix their eyes on it, having found what they were most urgently looking for.
Recognition is the primary task of infancy. Feeding, crying, and even sleeping are just the support system for this most essential work of figuring out who we are, and where we are, by making contact with other people, seeing them seeing us, gradually beginning to build our sense of self through their eyes.
As we nursed, our eyes found another pair of eyes and held on to them. When we were handed over to a father or a grandmother or an aunt or a cousin, we found their faces as well, gradually distinguishing them from one another. We looked at them with the steady, uninterrupted gaze of a baby, and because we were a baby—so very helpless and so very unable to cause harm, with those magnificently large eyes and that impossibly soft skin—they looked back at us with that same endless attention, unhindered and unafraid.
I know this happened for you, as it happened for me, because if it had not, you would almost certainly not be reading these words. The developmental psychologist Edward Tronick demonstrated this in a widely replicated experiment called “still face,” in which infants and toddlers sit across from their caregivers, who have been told to avoid all facial expressions and responses to their children. The videos of these experiments, which last only a few minutes, are wrenching to watch, as the adults feign indifference to the children’s presence while the children exhibit greater and greater degrees of dysregulation, writhing in frustration and ultimately collapsing in distress. That is the result of just a few moments of deprivation. When children are deprived of this kind of recognition and mutual attention for months or years, they may possibly survive—but they do not thrive.
Some children, of course, arrive in the world mysteriously and tragically lacking the neurological preparation for recognition. For six years, James, the son of my friends Peter and Ellie, lived a life sustained by love—but James could not name it, see it, or return it. He did not seem to notice or need a parent’s gaze.
Then, on his seventh birthday, with no forewarning, James looked straight at his mother and said with slow, stammering effort, “Mom-my,” then once again, “Mommy,” then over and over with greater confidence and delight, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.”
Ellie generally avoided using her smartphone in James’s presence, but this one day she happened to have it in her hand and, prompted by some mother’s instinct, had started a recording. When Peter played it for me, we both wept.
Not all such early moments of recognition are so memorable, but some part of us, I believe, remembers them all. Our own firstborn woke up in the middle of the night for the first few months, wanting to nurse. After he was fed, I would walk with him back and forth in the hallway of our apartment, lit by the glow of the streetlights outside. Though part of me desperately wanted him to be asleep, he was instead quiet and alert, looking intently at me.
He is a man now. It has been many years since he held my gaze that way. Nor does he need to—he is making his own way into the world. Perhaps one day he will look at a child the way I looked at him. But without those early days of regarding each other, recognizing each other, he would not have become who he is today. Because it was in those early days of life that he learned from my face and others’ faces that he was a person. At the deepest layer of his sense of self, entirely lost to his conscious memory but buried as deep as the foundation stone of a building, are those nights with me in the hallway, quiet and alert, held and beloved.
I pick up my phone and it stirs to life, looking for my face. Cameras focus silently, chips powered by machine learning swiftly compare images and patterns. The manufacturer has designed a little whirling animation on the screen to let me know that the process is underway. Moments later, a check mark appears in a circle and I’m in. I’ve been recognized.
This is, for now, one of our everyday moments of technological wonder, though our grandchildren will no more wonder or be astonished by it than we are by the light coming on when we flip the switch. It is, computationally speaking, a remarkable achievement. The capacity to recognize a face takes up a substantial part of the human brain, evolved over millions of years. In a few decades, we have managed to train our computers to approximate this capacity to the point that our machines can, in a sense, recognize us.
This technological progress unlocks our phones, and it unlocks new paradigms for computing as well, as devices become increasingly capable of recognizing our voices, our intentions, and even our emotions. There is every reason to believe that this progress will accelerate for the foreseeable future, giving us ever more accurate simulations of personalized interaction with our environment. These simulations will undoubtedly be useful, but maybe more importantly they will be satisfying—they will respond, in a way that early computers almost totally failed to do, to our very human need to be recognized and known.
Already our devices increasingly compete with real persons for our attention. A friend of mine went to visit his one-year-old niece. She had recently learned the word no—and was using it most stridently when people in the room started to look at their phones rather than remaining engaged with one another. Even the slightest glance at a screen would prompt urgent cries of “No! No! No!” from his niece—a real-world replay of Tronick’s “still face” experiments.
“And yet,” he told me, “I still found myself sneaking glances at my phone.” The personalized world of the screen somehow held a power over his attention that the child before him did not—even as she cried, “No! No! No!”
Personalization without Persons
Not long ago, a handwritten envelope, addressed to “The Crouch Family,” arrived in the mail. The letterforms had the exuberant artistry of a high schooler who likes to journal and send cards to her friends. The postmark was from a neighboring town. Who, I wondered, had taken the time to write us such a charming note?
Inside, written in the same friendly script on ruled yellow paper, was a note from “Sarah G.,” who turned out to be a regional representative for a window company. She had thoughtfully included her business card, with another hand-scrawled note in blue ink on the reverse, inviting me to call for a no-obligation quote.
It was only after much careful and suspicious inspection that I concluded, as you’ve already guessed, that every one of my neighbors had probably also received a handwritten letter from Sarah G. There was no imprint on the page from the pressure of a pen—her casual printing was a convincing forgery produced by a high-definition inkjet printer, employing advanced techniques to imitate a real person’s handwriting. Sarah G. had sent me a personalized letter—but not a personal one.
There is a consequential difference between personalized and personal. Personalized letters are sent by machines, not persons. Or they are sent by people so busy that they are functioning like machines—like the quick notes many American families inscribe on their holiday cards to far-flung friends.
Sarah G.’s letter, though perhaps a bit creepy, may seem essentially benign. Like all the best advertising, it aimed to alert me to a product I might very well need. Her perfectly personalized messages were sent to certain homeowners, in a certain zip code, with a certain economic and social profile—the kind of people who not only desire new windows but can afford them.
Those of us who fit the profile are on the receiving end of a blizzard of personalization—promotional emails that reference prior purchases, eerily specific online ads for products we’ve been considering, app notifications timed to match the times of day we’re most likely to make a purchase. Is that such a bad thing? The more personalized our world becomes, it might seem, the more suited it is for our flourishing. And it is not just advertisers who tailor their offerings to our interests, needs, and identity. We do the same with our “curated” news feeds and carefully personalized home screens. All this personalization is exactly what makes our technology so alluring—enough to draw our attention away from even the most insistent one-year-old.
Table of Contents
1 What we thought we Wanted: The Loneliness of a Personalized World 3
2 Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength: What We've Forgotten About Being a Person 21
3 The Superpower Zone: How We Trade Personhood for Effortless Power 40
4 Modern Magic: The Ancient Roots of Our Tech Obsession 60
5 Money and Mammon: How Impersonal Power Rules Our World 71
6 Boring Robots: Why the Next Tech Revolution Will Succeed-and Also Fail 82
7 Intermission: The Body of the Messiah in the Emperor's Court 106
8 Exiting the Empire: Redemptive Moves for an Impersonal Age 121
9 From Devices to Instruments: Truly Personal Technology 131
10 From Family to Household: Living Together as Persons 150
11 From Charmed to Blessed: The Community of the Unuseful 170
12 The Chain of Persons 194