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Chris Ware’s Halloween cover commentary

Dale posted a tweet about the Chris Ware cover of the latest New Yorker magazine. I think the cover is a brilliant commentary on our mobile-connected, interrupt-driven, Twitter and FB-obsessed lives, and maybe on some of the “phoned-in” parenting that goes on.

It instantly reminded me of an incident at Maker Faire Bay Are three years ago. I was running a Mousey the Junkbot building workshop. People would buy parts bundles, sit at picnic tables, and I would guide them through building the bots from a workbench with a mic and overhead mirror, home expo cooking demo-style. A guy and his son, maybe 8 or 9, came up to look at the mousebots and parts bundles. I could already tell dad was bored, distracted, and slightly rude and dismissive (e.g. he baulked at the idea that the bundles cost money, like we were trying to rip him off). The kid said he wanted to try building one. Dad shelled out the bucks, grabbed the kit, and picked a spot at a table. As soon as dad sat down, he pulled out his phone and started playing a game on it. Now keep in mind, the Mousey build is rather involved, and includes using a Dremel and a cut-off wheel to hack a lot of plastic, requires a soldering iron, etc. It really requires some adult supervision. My teen son was helping out by circulating amongst the tables, making sure people had on their goggles, and showing them how to use the tools. He noticed this kid was basically unsupervised and went over to show him the ropes. Dad didn’t flinch. He literally had his back turned to his son. The poor kid made a valiant effort to do what he could on the build. When he was ready to leave, he tapped his father on the back. Dad said: “Let’s take a picture for mommy,” took a quick pic of the kid posing with his roughed-out robot, and they made off into the crowd. As they were leaving, I saw dad pulling out his phone again, and his head go down. I’ve never in my life wanted more to give another parent a self-righteous lecture (maybe with some physical punctuation marks) about engagement, the precious value of attention, and basic parenting.

While I know the Ware image isn’t necessarily that deep of an indictment (we all check our phones when there’s a break in the action), it still reminded of this incident. I love how the reflected glow of the phone screens echoes the ghost/mask-like faces of the children at the door.


Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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