Time Sharing

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On more than one occasion, I’ve been reassured that my son “won’t remember this” when I’ve expressed concern for his adjusting to something stressful. He has had two health scares over the past year that necessitated exhausting and expensive hospital visits. We were out of town for his second Christmas (he was only six days old for his first, so this was his first potentially memorable holiday season), after spending an unforgivable two weeks away from home during Thanksgiving.

Visualizing synaptic maps onto neocrortical neurons, by Henry Markram (Photo via Wikipedia)
Visualizing synaptic maps onto neocrortical neurons, by Henry Markram
(Photo via Wikipedia)

Even when we had to cancel his first birthday party because he was sick, I was worried that he might lament this lack of a memory. Even the most minor of transitions hold the possibility of uprooting a baby’s sense of security and, like any other caring mother, I get concerned about how Dante will adjust to what life throws his way.

I have yet to figure out why it would matter if a baby remembers something traumatic or not. There is a common mentality that what happens to an infant or a young toddler is only a real issue if it is permanently damaging. This escapes me. If my son is uncomfortable, frightened, hurt, or angry, then I’m not going to be bothered with musings about a completely unpredictable future. I’m going to care about his here and now.

I take issue with much of what is presumed about an infant’s mental capacity. Generally speaking, developmental psychology adheres to a strict, compartmental view of the child psyche. Rather than acknowledging that learning occurs in a fluid and highly individualized manner, our society has a narrow view of a baby’s developmental milestones (both mentally and physically).

Advancement, of which memory is a large component, is of course measurable by age. But there are always exceptions. My son began to walk at ten and a half months, whereas I didn’t pick up the habit until thirteen months.

Making parenting choices based upon presumptions about a baby’s awareness is concerning to me. Just because an older child doesn’t remember a large transition that he experienced as an infant doesn’t mean that he didn’t internalize and process the event while it was happening. If you wouldn’t do something around a four year old, then why would you think you can “get away” with doing it around an eight-month old?

Alice In Chains (Photo from the band's Facebook page)
Alice In Chains
(Photo from the band’s Facebook page)

There are of course exceptions to this. Here and there, every mother and father will slip into lax decision-making when it comes to trivial influences upon their child. Maybe, when you can’t handle any more Raffi, you sneak some Alice in Chains into the playlist and your daughter looks visibly disturbed. Maybe you break a glass and curse in the general vicinity of your son. Maybe you just can’t handle the temptation of Instagram while you sit still for ten minutes to feed your baby.

As silly as it may sound, technological addiction is a serious societal issue. I’m just as guilty of social media obsession as anyone else in my generation, and my tendons and eyes are going to pay the price when I’m seventy. The real issue with communicative availability is that it monopolizes our time and attention when we could be doing something (or ten things) much more important.

Moments with loved ones are priceless. And yet, they have been converted into a kind of social currency, with their value (and by extension one’s social relevancy and popularity) determined by the number of likes, shares, comments, retweets, and regrams that they receive.

Photo from Facebook meme
Photo from Facebook meme

This preoccupation with sharing our lives on the Internet and social media platforms is slowly contributing to a decline in personal intimacy. When we call attention to this issue, there is no mention of the potential damage being done to our current crop of children. Indulging in our personal compulsions is a convenient exception to the aforementioned mentality: “If my baby doesn’t noticeably react to a potentially harmful stimulus now, then I’ve succeeded in ‘sheltering’ them from a future dysfunction”.

When it comes to texting or tweeting or otherwise over-sharing while you are spending time with your children, it is inarguably going to engender a high-anxiety coping mechanism within them. They will grow to view your phone as competition for your attention, and if this doesn’t bear the potential for maladaptive social sensibilities in adulthood, then I don’t know what will.

There are two sentiments at work here and I sense a discrepancy. Moments have become commodities. They have come to exist in their own realm, separate from the people and places comprising them. And as we strive to collect and preserve our memories on a group level, we are growing further from honest and direct interpersonal communication. And, despite this fixation on televising the present, we have begun to beatify the future as being the sole determinant of a child’s wellbeing.

"Plugged in and checked out" (Photo via University of Michigan Health Systems)
“Plugged in and checked out”
(Photo via University of Michigan Health Systems)

A person’s formative years are immeasurably impressionable. Whether or not a baby remembers the precise moment when his parents split up is really beside the point, as the dynamic will become glaringly clear as he gets older. He will be affected in one way or another. How we choose to spend our smaller, daily activities with our children is no less important.

Every choice a parent makes contributes to the child’s future and choosing to live predominantly in a cyber world will only ensure that our next generation does the same (the irony of “YOLO” is that it wouldn’t exist if it we weren’t able to broadcast our life experiences online).

Do you really want your baby’s first memory to be of you texting while reading to him? Wait, that’s right, he most likely won’t remember it.