No one ever made me literally howl with despair, as if I was lost in the bleak darkness of the wilderness, but I’ve had that feeling deep in my soul on many occasions when discussing my latest book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction.
The internal howling in despair often happened before I sharpened my elevator pitch for Reconnect. I told others little tidbits about the aim of the book:
- It’s a book about using technology too much…
- It’s a book about how technology makes it hard to pray…
- It’s a book about how spiritual practices can help us transcend the harm done by smartphones and social media…
Each time I shared little tidbits like this, people naturally compared my idea to existing books—one book in particular came up, in fact.
- “Oh, it’s like The Tech Wise Family, then?”
- “Ah, I see. That sounds like The Tech Wise Family.”
- “Hey, I just read The Tech Wise Family. That’s the same idea, right?”
This is where the internal howling kicked in. Perhaps a sophisticated answer like this passed through my mind as well:
There are two really good reasons for this response…
Authors Always Believe Their Books Are Unique
Part of the reason for this response on my part is that every author, for better or for worse, believes their books are precious little unique snowflakes that have deeply unappreciated intricacies that truly sophisticated readers will appreciate.
Even the authors who write Bible studies on the book of Romans or something about fighting the stress of “too busy” with the whisper “you are enough” (don’t forget the flowers on the cover too) think their books are extremely unique. My gosh, it’s still a bit of a miracle that I got a book published in 2008 about “theology and culture” at a time when every white dude with an MDiv was “musing” about such things on their blogs.
Authors can’t help it. And to a certain extent, every book is as unique as the author. Even books that appear identical may find a new angle that benefits readers. And honestly, some topics just have a higher demand that publishers who want to keep the lights on can’t help meeting.
Yet, there is another really good reason for this howling in despair…
Authors Must Distinguish Their Books
One of the most stressful and challenging aspects of writing a book proposal for a publisher is the Competing Works section that lists five or six similar titles and compares them to your proposed book. The competing works is a difficult balancing act because you need to demonstrate an existing market for your book without overlapping completely with an existing work.
I’ve seen promising book proposals fall flat because similar books were either in a publisher’s pipeline or had been newly released.
When I developed a proposal for Reconnect, I listed The Tech Wise Family as a competing work and carefully distinguished my book from it. If I was pitching something that is “the same thing” as The Tech Wise Family, I wouldn’t be able to promote my book to readers, let alone to a publisher.
My internal howling and shouting at comparisons to The Tech Wise Family called to mind the painstaking process of defining my book’s place in the market.
I didn’t know of any other Christian book that merged an awareness of the design of digital technology and its formative impact with an awareness of spiritual formation and the ways technology could undermine spirituality.
When I managed to calm down my internal screaming during these conversations, I put it like this: The Tech Wise Family is accurate and useful, but it’s dealing with the flood by proposing countermeasures to deal with the reality we have.
I’m seeking to look further upstream…
Why do we have a flood?
What is the design of the flood?
How can we keep the flood from reaching us in the first place?
How can we build a solid foundation of spiritual practices that can save us from being swept away in the flood?
Less Howling, More Silence
I fully endorse and use the ideas in The Tech Wise Family, but I have personally needed a different approach to digital formation. I needed to understand why I’m drawn to social media and my smartphone. I needed to understand the ways these technologies exploit my weaknesses and how spiritual practices can restore my soul each day.
Placing good barriers around my technology use has helped me, but I wanted to know why I needed these barriers in the first place.
Most importantly, I needed a soul restoring alternative to digital formation. For many of us, our excessive smartphone use is scratching at itch for something: distraction, connection, enjoyment, etc.
I wanted to find the alternative to digital formation, and many of spiritual formation’s practices offer helpful alternatives. Digital formation makes us reactive; spiritual formation helps us become thoughtful and aware. Digital formation creates despair and anxiety; spiritual formation helps us wait with patience and hope.
All of this is to say in a very detailed way that my book Reconnect is a precious little unique snowflake that has deeply unappreciated intricacies that only truly sophisticated readers will appreciate.
I trust that you are just that sort of reader and that you are no doubt eager to read it now, rather than telling me it’s just like The Tech Wise Family…
Learn More about My Precious, Unique Book
Read a sample from Reconnect about “Reactive Mind”
Download the FREE 4-Session Reconnect Discussion Guide