I was thinking about this scene when re-reading about D.W. Winnicott's notion of what he called "Primary Maternal Preoccupation'(One shortcoming of Winnicott is that he essentially ignored fathers, so when referring to his work I only refer to mothers. To compensate for this inequality I refer to babies as "he"). This idea captures the way in which parents in a healthy way are completely absorbed with their young infant and attentive to his every nuance of expression. It is through this kind of mirror role that an infant begins to make sense of who he is.
Linda Mayes and colleagues, in fascinating research at the Yale Child Study Center, are examining the neurobiology of this maternal behavior and its effect on the developing infant brain. For example they have shown that oxytocin, which is present in high levels in a new mother, is connected to what under other circumstances might be called obsessive compulsive behavior, but in the setting of having a new baby is not only normal but highly adaptive both for mother and baby.
So what does this have to do with cell phones, which are now ubiquitous in our culture? Adam Phillips , in his biography of Winnicott writes:
When the infant looks at the mother's face, he can see himself, how he feels reflected back in her expression. If she is preoccupied by something else, when he looks at her he will only see how she feels. He will not be able to get 'something of himself back from the environment.' He can only discover what he feels by seeing it reflected back. If the infant is seen in a way that makes him feel that he exists, in a way that confirms him, he is free to go on looking.When a parent is on a cell phone, he or she is "preoccupied with something else." It is certainly understandable that a person, who may have previously been absorbed with a successful career and is suddenly in the role of spending most of her time with a being that does not talk and requires enormous amounts of care 24 hours a day, would be drawn to the possibility of adult conversation. But I wonder if new parents are aware of the importance to a baby's development of that 'primary maternal preoccupation.' Perhaps if they were, they would consider spending a little less time on the phone.