Doesn’t everyone do this? And if there are people who don’t, what is wrong with them?

This Tweet raised a number of questions:

My initial response was simply to reply, “I don’t know what this has to do with ‘parents,’ unless it was written by a child. Doesn’t everyone do this? And why isn’t IMDB mentioned?”

But seriously, people, when all of us are sitting there with smartphones, who doesn’t do this?

I don’t mean with Steve Buscemi. If you have to look him up, you should just quit partaking in popular culture altogether. I mean somebody a little harder, like Zoë Wanamaker. I see her all the time, of course (such as, recently, in “Britannia”), but I was thrown because she appeared in an episode from the first series of “Prime Suspect” in 1991, and I hadn’t seen her when she was that young. Also, she distracted me by stripping off her blouse to flash her breasts at a cop who was surveilling her.

Of course, some of us do it to a greater extreme than others. Like me. My wife goes, “Who is that? Where did we see her?” But then, she generally returns her attention to the show and follows the action.

Meanwhile, several feet away, I’m on my phone’s IMDB app, researching away. Which, of course, sometimes takes several steps. Sometimes with a TV show, simply calling up the entry for the show won’t tell you who this actor or actress, who may only have appeared in this episode, was (either because the person is buried in a long list, or, too often, is missing entirely from the main page). So I might have to look up the series on Wikipedia, and find the title of the specific episode, and then go back to IMDB and search for that episode by name, and that leads to success. I then call up a representative photo of that person, and show it to my wife, and tell her where she has seen him or her before.

And my wife says, “Yes,” and goes back to the show.

This presents a bit of a problem. Because even with my new hearing aids, I’m very dependent on subtitles to help me follow the dialogue. So after a couple of minutes of looking at my phone, I’m a bit lost as to what’s going on.

So I ask my wife. And tolerant as she is, this sometimes makes her a bit impatient with me. But she doesn’t call me a “parent.” She just, you know, thinks I’m a bit of a compulsive idiot.

But I can’t help it. In a world in which the computer — phone, tablet, laptop, what have you — is always right there, and always connected to the Web, I have to do this.

Before the Internet, I was sorta kinda able to focus on what was going on. The biggest problem back then was the dictionary. Always right there on the desk. Fortunately, I didn’t use it much, because I’m a fairly literate guy, and if I had to look the word up to be sure I was using it correctly, that was an indication that I probably shouldn’t be using it in the newspaper.

But I did look sometimes, and that meant I’d be lost for awhile. On the way to the word in question, I’d run across other words that would trip me and tie me down and force me to study them and the other words they led to, and it just went on and on from there. Eventually I’d get back to work, but it took awhile.

And the Web is millions of times worse, of course.

But it’s not because I’m a “parent.” It’s because I’m the most easily fascinated person on the planet. It’s like my superpower, although not very empowering…

Helen Mirren and Zoë Wanamaker in “Prime Suspect” in 1991.

14 thoughts on “Doesn’t everyone do this? And if there are people who don’t, what is wrong with them?

  1. Norm Ivey

    I feel your pain.

    I keep my phone handy during shows for exactly the same reason–to look up Who is that? And that leads to What else was she in? And THAT leads to <Ooh! I've never seen that one. I need to add it to my watchlist.

    And THAT leads to complete distraction and having to rewind the show I was watching to begin with.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, I don’t just “keep my phone handy.” I wear it. People think it’s geeky to wear my phone in a holster on my belt, but I can’t imagine going around with it buried in my pocket.

        You’ve got to be able to draw it out fast, or you might miss a look-up. And then where would you be?…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        As for this: “And THAT leads to complete distraction and having to rewind the show I was watching to begin with.”

        But isn’t it nice that we CAN do that? I don’t know what people did when stuff just came on TV and you had to watch them in real time.

        What did they do with the rest of their time? Probably talked with people, and wrote novels, and invented things, and won World War II, and stuff like that. Poor creatures…

        1. Norm Ivey

          I’ve probably mentioned this before. Two of the more insidious inventions mankind has ever come up with are television and air conditioning.

          Television changed the arrangement of the living room. Prior to TV, seating arrangements were facing each other for conversation. After TV they are arranged more like a place of worship. Air conditioning caused us to abandon our porches and neighbors and move inside. Both inventions led to deterioration of relationships.

          I won’t give up either of them, though.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Norm, you’re talking like those crazy people who act like it was a BAD thing for COVID to cause us to work from home… 🙂

            Just imagine — without TV and air-conditioning, we might be forced to go outside more. And I’m pretty much with Jim Gaffigan on that…

            1. Barry

              I ran into Jim at a Broadway play a few years ago. He was standing right next to me with his kids.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    This recognizing people and looking them up thing is somewhat more intense, I think, because we watch so much British TV, on Britbox and elsewhere.

    That’s because there are only about 10 actors and actresses in all of Britain, and they’re all fantastic, and they work all the time. Like Zoë Wanamaker, and Nicola Walker, and so many other people who are far from household names, but eminently familiar.

    And of course, sometimes they come over here and take American performers’ parts and just make the show their own. Last night, I rewatched a bit of “Zero Dark Thirty,” and I saw this scene in which Mark Strong came into a room and chewed out all the CIA people for not catching bin Laden. And I tried using that Prime function that identifies people on the screen, and it didn’t work! It didn’t tell me his name!

    But then when he was in a later scene, it worked. I was like, Whew! Mark Strong. I shoulda known…

  3. Lynn Teague

    This is my husband and me. I don’t care who they are. He researches them all and tells me all about their history.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Fortunately for you. I’m sure it makes you feel much smarter, too. That’s why we do it. We don’t want y’all to go around feeling ignorant and stuff…


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