Chris Ware’s Halloween cover commentary

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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.

14 thoughts on “Chris Ware’s Halloween cover commentary

  1. Eric Harness says:

    Awesome. A big high five on the lecture. Some times I couldn’t agree more when I see people totally obsessed with there phones rather then spending time with there family.

  2. StefanJ says:

    The cover connects with a Chris Ware cartoon inside!

    The closest thing to this that I’ve seen: A lady who chats on a phone while walking her two yappy dogs on those long extendable leashes, heedless of traffic and other dog walkers. They zoom around corners while she blathers away. Sometimes she has a toddler with her as well.

  3. Jon Olsen says:

    I check my phone all the time, as the post author points out, many many of us do. I suspect Ware’s–or more exactly, the New Yorker’s editors’—intended commentary is exactly as deep as you suggest. And ironically, somewhat shallow: every parent in the image—by extension, an entire generation of parents—is masked by the glow of their self-obsession, no one escapes the indictment. Too broad a stroke by half.

    As I’m sure you’d have to admit, while your distracted Daddy example is a real person, he doesn’t represent All fathers with devices and young children everywhere. He is a real example, but he was manifestly in a crowd of people who were quite the opposite. I mean, they were at a Maker Faire for chrissake, thus quite in the minority! Almost to the point of being a straw man because Of Course the rest of “us” aren’t like that.

    It’s a pretty darn good image and a decent comment you’ve made, but on the balance, I don’t like it, it’s reductionist.

  4. David Bowlby says:

    I love this cover. I think the piece should be called “iCandy”.

  5. Tim says:

    One good reason not to own a smart phone.

  6. Brian says:

    The saddest part of the picture is that the parents have to be there watching their kids at all

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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. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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