• Carmen Marie Fabio

Real time


Like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with technology, in particular its insidious pervasive nature as it creeps into every aspect of our human existence and while there’s no denying its usefulness as a tool, it’s not without a significant price tag.

A recent CBC radio story featured an interview with a Toronto third grade teacher who, after teaching for 15 years, encountered what she described as her worst class ever. While she explained that having one or two troublemakers was the norm in any class, by the third week of this school year, she had had 17 meetings with parents to discuss problem behaviour in the children.

At the same time, she began her own anecdotal research in order to determine what weird parenting advice may have been in vogue eight years before, when most of the students were born, that would have caused such a result.

While she admits she’s neither an anthropologist nor a psychologist, her realization that the iPhone hit the mass market the same year her difficult students were born draws both a fascinating and disturbing parallel.

Taking care of an infant is exhausting and while it’s punctuated with moments of overwhelming joy, it can also be tedious and isolating.

This teacher, who did not want to be named for the interview, theorized that new mothers engaged in their iPhones had a direct effect on the earliest learning an infant is exposed to – non-verbal social cues gleaned from facial expressions and eye contact.

I was reminded of a university elective course, Psychology 101, in which we learned about Harlow’s experiments on infant-maternal ties, a process by which infant rhesus monkeys, removed from their natural mothers, were given the choice between two surrogate mothers. One was constructed of wire mesh and contained a mechanism to dispense food. The other offered no food but had a warm, fuzzy covering. While the baby fed from the wire “mother” it invariably otherwise stayed with the soft, warm mother, leading Harlow to explore and hypothesize how, according to Wikipedia, “...'contact comfort' was essential to the psychological development and health of infant monkeys and children.”

It's admittedly premature to jump to conclusions but given the ubiquitous presence of technology and small, portable screens in our everyday existence that continue to strip away layers of human interaction, it's reasonable to give the teacher's theory a second glance.

I've often remarked that if we accidentally bump into someone with our carts at the grocery store, the result is likely a bona fide Canadian, “I'm so sorry” as we move along our daily path. If the same near miss happens while we're behind the vehicular shield of metal and glass, the exchange is less likely to be a verbal apology than a violently thrust middle finger. Such are the dehumanizing effects layers of protection, whether they're physical or technological, can have on our daily interactions.

When my boys were younger, the easiest way we got them to sleep was to set up extra mattresses on the floor of one of their bedrooms to allow them all to sleep in the same room. They could interact and draw comfort from each other while everyone in the house got a better night's sleep. When I asked a pediatrician if I was doing the right thing she replied, “Soon enough, they'll be big and hairy. If this works for now then go for it.”

With the wisdom of hindsight, she was absolutely right.

Childhood zips by at the speed of light and no amount of Likes, Shares, Upvotes, or Retweets are worth missing it.