Media Rich and Time Poor
The Emotion Work of Parenting
in a Digital Age
WHEN MELANIE BOUGHT HER preteen son, Sam, a PlayStation for Christmas, she suddenly found herself faced with several new problems in her middle-class home.1 Although eleven-year-old Sam had been thrilled and surprised with the purchase, Melanie, a single mother of Latina and European American heritage who worked full-time, said that she soon grew weary of the fact that any request for him to stop playing seemed to escalate until she found herself screaming. “Every time I try to encourage him to do something else, he seems to act as if I’m punishing him,” she said with frustration. Later, it was Sam’s turn to experience frustration. When his younger sister expressed interest in the PlayStation, Melanie decided that nine-year-old Connie, too, should have some games that were her own and that she should have equal time on the gaming system. “Sam was spending too much time on it anyway,” Melanie reasoned. The system was in the main room next to the kitchen, and as that room contained both the family’s one computer and their one television hooked to the gaming system, it was the room to which both Sam and Connie naturally gravitated after school and after dinner.
Despite the heightened tensions the gaming system introduced for her family, Melanie recognized that playing had soon become a regular part of the family’s routine. When she, Sam, and Connie were in their home, Melanie was usually making dinner, cleaning the house, doing work related to her job, or helping one of her children with homework. The PlayStation often provided Sam and Connie with something do to so that she could get things done.2
Still, Melanie almost constantly engaged in some kind of cost/benefit analysis involving the use of communication technologies in their home. She did not like them to use the PlayStation, television, and computer as