Culture Clips: The Dumb Side Effects of Smartphones

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culture clips phones and Madonna

You have a smartphone, right? Well, put it down. Right now. (Unless, of course, you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, finish reading, send us money and then put it down.) Because—news flash—our phones can mess with our real-world lives and relationships something awful.

I know, I know. We’ve said this sort of thing before. But has Madonna?

The one-time Material Girl says that the minute she gave her kids phones, she lost them. (Her kids, not the phones.) Not literally, of course (just having a phone makes you notoriously easy to find), but figuratively. “It ended my relationship with [my children], really,” she told Vogue magazine. “Not completely, but it became a very, very big part of their lives. They became too inundated with imagery and started to compare themselves to other people, and that’s really bad for self-growth.”

She’s not the only mom voicing her concerns about phones, modern technology and the toll they take on relationships. Many parents have noticed this dynamic, and plenty of scientists have seen it, too. Peter Fonagy, one of “the world’s foremost authorities on child mental health,” according to Britain’s The Guardian, says that technology is hurting relationships between kids and adults. He says:

My impression is that young people have less face-to-face contact with older people than they once used to. The socialising agent for a young person is another young person, and that’s not what the brain is designed for. It is designed for a young person to be socialised and supported in their development by an older person. Families have fewer meals together as people spend more time with friends on the internet. The digital is not so much the problem—it’s what the digital pushes out.

But while technology may hurt relationships with their folks, and the people closest to us, they can help us connect with those who are physically far away—including potential sweeties. Technology allows us to stay connected to friends, too. Or, at least, Friends, the beloved NBC sitcom that’s still about the most popular thing on Netflix. (Not that Friends star Lisa Kudrow watches.)

And let’s face it: Even old-fashioned, dial-up analog phones come with their share of frustrations, as two teens discovered. (Slate’s Heather Schwedel suggests that how we engage with rotary phones is not just a age litmus test, but a curiously unifying experience: We may not all know how to use one, but we all want to talk about how to use one.)

Technology also allowed the makers of HBO’s Game of Thrones to eliminate a telltale coffee cup from an episode, which freed up fans to gripe about, y’know, the actual show. And boy, lots of folks were not pleased by what they saw in the last episode. [Spoilers ahead.] Daenerys killed off her main adversary, Cersei, and immolated a bunch of innocent people in the process. Some folks said she turned into the prophesied “Mad Queen,” or was on her way to said turning. Others say she wasn’t so much mad as just mad—like, super angry and (her defenders say) justifiably so. (I myself have often torched small towns with my pet dragon when feeling particularly miffed.) Still others are gnashing their teeth over the show’s treatment of women—not just this episode, but in every season—and Thrones’ curious penchant to condemn violence while unfurling it as spectacle. But Slate notes that it’s really impossible for fans of the series to walk away happy. “The pleasures of stories as they end—catharsis, resolution, payoff—are not the same as when they begin. The only way to keep all the nuance—which is to say, all the possibility—of Game of Thrones alive is for the show to never end.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara suggests that this hyper-interactive age we live in has precipitated the rise of the “Superfan“—one who, if the story deviates from the fan’s vision of what the story should be, will lash out fiercely. (I’ll just throw out two words here: Last Jedi.) McNamara writes:

Didn’t the writers know we all wanted Dany to be the good queen to Cersei’s bad one? That Dany had previously been a woman of peace (despite owing her success almost entirely to dragons)? That we had completely different deaths in mind for Cersei and Jaime, that we are not rooting for Jon because he is a dishrag, that we wanted the evil Qyburn to suffer more? … How can happiness prevail in any way with just one episode left? Was all this war for nothing? Well, maybe. George R.R. Martin, who consulted with Weiss and Benioff on how the show should end, was a conscientious objector after all, so one assumes he takes a rather dim view of war. And maybe not, since, you know, the show is not over yet. But that doesn’t matter; for many superfans, and quite a few critics, the show they hoped to see is over, because, alas, it never existed—they are left instead with the one written by the writers who made them superfans in the first place.

One woman not upset with the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones? Lena Headey, who played the evil Queen Cersei. Appearing in just 35 minutes of the final season, Headey reportedly earned $48,000 a minute. With that kind of pay, I might risk a dragon or two myself.

While Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory—a very different sort of show—may be ending (and earning well-chronicled sendoffs in the process), other shows just can’t be killed. Take, Beverly Hills, 90210, a kinda-popular show from the 1990s that Fox will reboot late this summer. Or we could talk Star Trek, the seminal sci-fi show cancelled 50 years ago and that, paradoxically, has never been stronger. (In addition to CBSAA’s Star Trek Discovery, plans are in the works for two more live-action series, two animated series and two theatrical films.) And even though Netflix recently canned The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it plans to air an interactive episode of the series (a la Black Mirror) anyway. No need to reboot Grey’s Anatomy, though. It’s been renewed for its 16th and 17th seasons.

Speaking of long-running television shows, Arthur, the formerly innocuous PBS Kids’ show, opened its 22nd season with a gay wedding. (Many fans were reportedly apparently super-excited that Arthur’s teacher, Mr. Ratburn, was marrying another guy instead of the detestable Patty.) And superhero geeks, prepare for a same-sex shocker of your own. Marvel will soon reveal that one of the franchise’s characters is gay. (And if you’re looking for a resource to guide your family through this issue from a biblical perspective, check out Focus on the Family’s article “How to Talk to Your Children About Homosexuality—A Guide for Parents.”)

Does all this cultural news make you want to lay down? Even if you’re watching Avengers: Endgame for the seventh time? No worries, my friends. Switzerland has you covered—perhaps literally. Not content with just trotting out cushy, reclining seats, the Cinema Pathé in Spreitenbach is sticking couches and beds in its VIP theater, complete with pillows and sheets. You’ll have to spend about $49 to take in a movie and chill, though, and the company doesn’t expect to put up with any, um, hanky panky. “The offer is unique in Switzerland,” said company CEO Venanzio Di Bacco. “We tested the concept abroad and had no problems so far.”

Maybe everyone in the theater was just watching something else on their phones.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 9 days ago
I am in my teens and I still don't have a phone.
- Emma Bibliophile
Anonymous 9 days ago
Judging by your name, you're plenty smart enough to get by without one!

-- The Kenosha Kid (a fellow bibliophile)
Anonymous 8 days ago
Thank you. I will be getting one at some point though when I get my driver's license. 
On a side note I love that word. Hence my username. It's better than bookworm which was my second choice.
-Emma Bibliophile
Anonymous 8 days ago
I love that word too! Who wants to be a bookworm when you could be a bibliophile? Books are the best thing ever. (Hence my username.) Happy reading, Emma.

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous 8 days ago
I don't get your username. Are you from Kenosha? 
-Emma Bibliophile
Anonymous 8 days ago
It's a reference to a book beloved by hardcore bibliophiles. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. 

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous 8 days ago
I haven't read that one but I might check it out now.
-Emma Bibliophile
charitysplace 10 days ago
Dany's behavior was foreshadowed many times in her knee-jerk tendency to react to fear with brutality. The characterization was rushed this season (and last) but she has been mentally imbalanced from the start. As a writer, it also worries me -- the idea that a superfan feels entitled to demand an ending or a ship or a character to be other than the creator intended.
Anonymous 9 days ago
You're so right -- about Game of Thrones and "fandom" in general.

Imagine if Faulkner were writing The Sound and the Fury little by little with geeks on the Internet nitpicking every chapter and complaining when things don't go the way they like. The best art is driven by inspiration, not consumer demand.

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous 8 days ago
You are right about that. Granted, some of the best books were written by consumer demand (the Oz books for one) but to be a truly great story the writer should follow their own inspiration and not be completely driven by what their public wants. Should they care what their fans think? Absolutely. But in the end their vision of their art should be their own.
-Emma Bibliophile
Anonymous 10 days ago
I read that Arthur's teacher was gay and I was pretty disappointed that this is the world I have to live with. The sad thing is, it's gonna be everywhere. It's started to pop up in the MCU with plans for a main character to be gay. There are a few of characters in the Arrowverse that are gay. And now it's in a children's show. What's next? Elmo being gay? I feel like you can have representation but not have an overload of stuff. But I feel like an overload is coming. 

Disclosure. I believe we should love our enemies not hate them. I don't hate gay people but it still is sin.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 9 days ago
Cyrus has been gay on Andi-Mack now for at least two seasons with him even saying the words "I'm gay" on an episode. That's gotta be a first for the Disney Channel and kids shows in general.
Anonymous 8 days ago
My younger sisters don't even know gays exist. She told us a story where a guy wanted to marry another guy, but she treated the idea as absurd like it didn't exist except in a joke. 
 They didn't get the gay reference in Beauty and the Beast (Which I actually ignore and didn't really notice the first time myself.)
-Emma Bibliophile
Anonymous 7 days ago
Our enemies? Gay people are our enemies?
Sad. What a hateful remark. Praying for you.
Anonymous 4 days ago
They've always been our enemy.
Anonymous 10 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Man, 22 seasons and Arthur and his friends are STILL in school? Must be a time loop of some sorts.

It would be kinda cool if shows like that (The Simpsons, Arthur, or even Adventures in Odyssey) had an episode where they explained why certain characters never age.
Anonymous 10 days ago
Exactly! By now their characters should have aged!! Especially the Simpsons!!

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 8 days ago
I love those shows (Except the Simpsons which I haven't seen) but it always  messes with my brain when that happens. 
Sad about Arthur's teacher being gay...I am not against gay people. Yes it is wrong but so are a lot of things in this country. Frankly I am more concerned about human trafficking and abortion than gays. 
-Emma Bibliophile
Karl The Klown 10 days ago
First comment!

Disclosure: 
This shall be my final post on the PI blog (at least for time being). I wish you all the best! 

Discord tag is David_The_Clown#0551
Anonymous 10 days ago
You will be missed.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 9 days ago
What did the comments say FCG? And your links are great.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
[removed] 10 days ago
This comment has been deleted
Anonymous 10 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2sRS1dwCotw
Anonymous 10 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

“Amazing. Every word of what you just said, was wrong.”
— Luke, episode VIII

And by the way, people do click on my links.
Anonymous 10 days ago
You're right FCG. I apologize for my rudeness. From here on out, I shall stop acting like a jerk, and will respectfully argue and discuss my opinions. 
I shall also stop being a coward, and start signing my posts, so as everyone will be able to instantly identify me. 

-Previously Rude Anonymous 

PS: Your links are hilarious, even I couldn't help but laugh 
Anonymous 10 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Thanks! Always good to know that I get a laugh out of someone!
Big Mike 10 days ago
while we're mourning for the loss of Karl and remembering the laughs we had, the tears we shed together and the angry rants Rude sent to him, i just want to give some of my personnel favorite quotes of his:

1. Yeah yeah I know.....
If I hear you play "Song of the Patriot" one more time, I swear i'm gonna go insane

2. "While everyone was watching Endgame and GOT, I was sitting in my basement wearing my pj's playing video games.....
I need a life"

3. "I can hear the legalistic mob coming as we speak"

4. "Well then, that's just a bad opinion. Try again next time"

5. "Correct me if i'm wrong, but didn't Noah have giant rock monster angels help build the ark?"

and the final most fitting quote for our friend Karl...

6. "Marvel movies are the same as being given the choice of which building you want to jump off of, all of which are over 100 stories tall. Sure, they are all "different", one might have gargoyles, another might have a cool balcony, and another could be a hotel with some great family discounts. But the exact same unpleasant outcome will result in your jump."

fare thee well Klown you will be sorely missed
Anonymous 9 days ago
I died at this post. You guys are so brothers.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 8 days ago
lol (and more screams of barely controlled merriment)
-Emma Bibiophile