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McKelvey School of Engineering

Brown School

Book Talk: Phil Maciak's "Avidly Reads Screen Time"

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | 4:00 PM

Duncker Hall, 201

What happens when screen time is all the time?

In the early 1990s, the phrase “screen time” emerged to scare parents about the dangers of too much TV for kids. Screen time was something to fret over, police, and judge in a low-grade moral panic. Now, “screen time” has become a metric not only for good parenting, but for our adult lives as well. There’s even an app for it! In the streaming era—and with streaming made nearly ubiquitous during COVID-19—almost every aspect of our day is mediated by these bright surfaces. Whether it was ever the real villain in the first place, or merely a convenient proxy for unaddressed familial, social, and institutional failures, screen time is now all the time.

Avidly Reads Screen Time is a funny, insightful work of cultural criticism and history about how we define screens, and how they now define us. From Mad Men to iCarly, Vine to FaceTime, binge-watching to doom-scrolling, Phillip Maciak leads us on a sometimes heartwarming, sometimes harrowing tour of the media that brings us together and tears us apart.

"Original and thought-provoking. Maciak’s willingness to defend screen time refreshes. Readers will want to tune in to this." ~ Publishers Weekly

"A witty, intimate meditation on the way we watch now from Phillip Maciak, an author of the celebrated Dear TV column. Hopscotching elegantly from Twin Peaks to bedtime doomscrolling, Zoom school to Vine, Maciak explores the deep paradoxes of ‘screen time,’ the mirror we all gaze into, at once together and alone." ~ Emily Nussbaum, Pulitzer Prize winning author of I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution

"What a timely and important contribution to the study of the present! Maciak beautifully synthesizes scholarship, art, and his personal experiences of the past decades, teasing apart some of the skeins that get knotted together around that ubiquitous modern experience (and source of anxiety), screen time. Maciak puts aside the scolding that haunts today's parents (and scrollers), and instead shows the complex and sometimes even beautiful ways technology has changed the way we learn, play, communicate, fight, create, and connect, reframing our habits and providing some wonderful cultural criticism along the way. An essential text for our streaming, scrolling era." ~ Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State, A Novel

"Alas, we are creatures made of screens! But beheld in Maciak’s shrewd, tender gaze, our relationship with these pulsing surfaces that situate our lives loses the flavor of a diagnosis—in its place, wit, and curiosity. This book offers a roomy haven for working out what it means to live and grow up in a modern age, honoring the tangle of feelings—bad, euphoric—that accompany our most sacred rituals, from appointment television to all that scrolling. It prompted me to continue wondering about the screens we take for granted, what they offer us and why we return." ~ Lauren Michele Jackson, contributing writer, The New Yorker

"Phillip Maciak is one of the best TV critics alive right now, full stop. Whether he’s writing about Girls or Station Eleven or Bluey, his criticism is always characterized by wit, insight, and a remarkable propensity for close-reading. So yes, I was over the moon to learn about his new book of cultural criticism and history, Avidly Reads Screen Time, about how we define screens and how they define us. There are three Mad Men screen caps within the book’s first 30 pages, so, yeah, it’s gonna be ridiculously good." ~The Millions
"Screen Time is a book about this televisual unconscious, about parenting, about a world that children will consume long before they know what they’re digesting—that formed us when we were still children—and about trying to understand the selves we only belatedly discover ourselves to have already always been." ~ Jorge Cotte, Aaron Bady, Lili Loofbourow, Jane Hu, LA Review of Books


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Join us for a Book Talk celebrating Phillip Maciak's Avidly Reads Screen Time.
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