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As we become more and more reliant on our smartphones, it’s easy to fear that we as a society might have our priorities in the wrong order—that our overuse of technology has replaced real human interaction.
One photo that went viral last year seemed to prove that it had.
It shows a woman at an airport, glued to her phone—and ignoring her baby, who was left on the waiting room floor.
Naturally, once the photo was online, the internet responded with indignant outrage. How can anyone be so ignorant, so distracted by their phone?
To hear them tell it, the photo was the epitome of everything wrong with the 21st century, a sign of the end, definitive proof that technology has made us all irreversibly dumb.
To really nail the point home, the photo was often paired with this quote by Albert Einstein:
“I fear the day that technology will take on our humanity… the world will be populated by a generation of idiots.”
But there’s another side to the photo.
First of all, that Einstein “quote” isn’t even real.
Second, the woman in the photo is a real person—Molly Lensing, from Illinois. The baby is her then-two-month-old daughter, Anastasia.
The photo was taken without her knowing by a stranger at a Colorado airport last year—and it’s been haunting her ever since.
“I absolutely feel as though my privacy was violated,” Lensing told Today.
Not only that, she says everything in the photo has a perfectly reasonable explanation.
Her story is so sympathetic, it will make you think twice about judging strangers online.
Lensing didn’t just show up at the waiting room and plop her baby on the floor to play Candy Crush, as is implied. On the contrary, the two had been waiting at that airport for 20 hours.
“We had the unfortunate luck of being stuck in the middle of the Delta computer shut-down,” Lensing told Today.
The mother had been holding the baby for so long, that they both needed a break.
“Anastasia had been held or in her carrier for many hours,” she explained.
“My arms were tired. She needed to stretch.”
So she let the baby stretch out on a blanket on the floor—which gave Lensing some time to contact her family, hence the phone.
“I had to communicate with all the family members wondering where the heck we were.”
That’s a situation any tired mother might find themselves in—but Lensing was just unlucky enough to be the one photographed.
When she discovered the photo went viral, she was most worried that it would affect her employment as a pediatric nurse.
“I had recently started working on a labor floor,” she told Today.
“I was terrified of my co-workers or boss seeing the photo and comments and believing that I should no longer work with infants.”
It could have happened. When we see a context-free photo like that, we often snap to make a judgement or feel self-righteous without thinking or having any empathy for the person whose life it is.
Photos of parents and children are often the target. Parents and childless people alike love to judge other people’s parenting skills, as if they’ve never been in a situation like that.
Ironically, the photo did ending up making a point about how technology dehumanizes us—just not in the way they intended.
But Lensing has just learned to let the haters roll off her back:
“I ignore the photos and the comments and lean on those close to me who know the real me,” she told Today.
“I am powerless compared to the internet, and I know that I am the best momma to my girls and I know that I cherish them and am raising them the best I can.”