Perhaps all my blog posts will be spurred by listening to podcasts. The most recent B.S. Report features screenwriter William Goldman. In their wide-ranging discussion, Goldman points out that, for this first time in film history, there’s only one certifiable, bankable movie star left, one actor who can open a picture — Will Smith. This point was a coincidence for me, as just yesterday, I was looking at the box office take of film actors. If you sort it by average box office gross per film, the top three are Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson, and Orlando Bloom. It illuminates what has happened with Hollywood — it’s all about the bankable franchise (in this case, Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Lord of the Rings – Pirates of the Carribbean combo). Hollywood doesn’t need stars (and probably doesn’t want them). Vetted properties are what now sells tickets. What has changed? Why don’t actors and actresses have the pull they once had?
Last week, NPR’s Science Friday host Ira Flatow spoke with social scientist Sherry Turkle, occasioned by the release of her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.
Part of their conversation addressed parents’ inability to control themselves around technology, and children feeling like their competing with iPhones and laptops for the parents’ attention. As a father who plays Words With Friends at the playground, and who jokes that if my son wants me to pay attention, he needs to be more interesting than my iPhone, I became a bit uncomfortable listening to this conversation.
But then I wondered, “Haven’t children always competed for their parents’ attention?” The conversation suggested that before smartphones, we had a magical time where parents wholly devoted their attention to their children. If I didn’t have a smartphone, I’d be bringing books to the playground. Thinking back to my childhood, there was always multitasking — conversations with others, cooking, watching television, etc. In families with lots of children, there’s competition between them. Or children having to compete with their parents’ work and chore schedules. I realized children have always fought for their parents’ attention, and it’s unreasonable for people to feel that if you’re not 100% committed to your child all the time, you’re somehow being less of a parent.
Now, I think there are some very real problems with technology and child-rearing (we’ve had to closely monitor Jules’ iPad use because he started to throw fits when we limited his access to it). But we need to start from a baseline of reasonable expectations for parents’ engagement.