It was New Year's Day,

by francine Hardaway on January 2, 2003

It was New Year’s Day, and I was watching Dr. Phil.

Although I will probably soon go out and buy a robot vacuum cleaner (the Roomba), and I own just about every other technology gadget known to man, I had never seen Dr. Phil before. I only tuned in because 1)I was tired of football; 2)I’ve seen every movie released over the holidays;3)my dogs were asleep.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I miss most of mainstream culture while following my early adopter bliss. For example, earlier that day, I had had a video IM conversation with my stepson, his wife, and their baby in Massachusetts. It was the coolest thing — a $25 web cam, a free software download from the evil Microsoft, and there I was, waving and giggling with a baby a continent away.

For those of you with distant relatives and friends, I highly recommend Microsoft’s new add-ons to instant messenger. (I think AOL has the same capabilities). There’s a real thrill in being able to talk real time with loved ones and see their faces on your screen. When I first went to work at Intel, Andy Grove –visionary that he is –was pushing the company in the direction of videoconferencing (anyone remember the Create and Share Camera Pack?)Although it has taken six or seven years, we’re really there: we have the bandwidth to support live video. I still wouldn’t buy a screen phone (remember those commercials with the woman in her pajamas?), but I love having video as a choice in my conversations.

Back to Dr. Phil. While I have been spending my time interacting with web cams and trying out new telephone products, a revolution has occurred in everyday life. The rest of the world has decided that merely being “seen” on the surface is not enough.

Formerly private conversations are now routinely held in front of live audiences on national TV. Dr. Phil is a new sort of therapist. ALthough he has a Ph.D. in psychology, he is best known as the founder of Courtroom Science, Inc., a company that helps the legal profession use psychology in trials. He became well-known when he met Oprah Winfrey, who was being sued by a cattleman for defaming the beef industry. She hired him, and I guess she won. Now he calls himself a “life strategist,” and he has his own show.

The “episode” of Dr. Phil that I saw was about mothers and daughters. It featured one mother who had lost a daughter and was smothering the remaining one because of her grief and guilt, and another mother who had stolen her daughter’s identity and run up a bunch of bills her daughter had to pay.

Both daughters represented themselves as at the end of their respective ropes with their mothers. Dr. Phil sat each pair down facing one another, and offered more than just advice; he offered dialogue to them. “Tell her how you feel about her financial mismanagement.” “Tell her she can’t keep calling you all the time; she has to wait for you to call her.” “Tell your dead daughter that you will love her until you see her again, but you have to move on to your life.” The women dutifully repeated the dialogue, often word for word.

At the end of the hour, Dr. Phil told the “smothered” daughter that she should ask her mother not to call for thirty days. If the mother couldn’t hold out, the thirty days would start all over again. The daughter was advised by Dr. Phil to keep in touch with her mother by email, or by initiating a phone call herself. This technique was supposed to wean the mother away from being dependent on her remaining daughter.

He told the other mother not to “do business” with her daughter, and not to involve her daughter in her finances.

I was stunned by the willingness of these mothers and daughters to air their grievances publicly, and to abide by the help of this slow-talking bald guy with the thick southern accent.It seems to me that if you can find the guts to talk to your mother on national TV, you can probably find the guts to do it over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee in your own home. I tried to imagine my response if one of my own daughters had called me and asked me to appear on Dr. Phil to discuss our faults. It would be a short conversation. It would be even shorter if I were asking my daughter!

Nevertheless, today’s episode is going to be about sex and I can’t wait to tune in.

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