Bionic Parenting

by Matthew Flisfeder and Robyn Flisfeder

As parents of a young child with type 1 diabetes (T1D), we have seen firsthand some of the more advantageous aspects of proliferating new digital and social media for parents and children. Keeping children safe and healthy can be challenging at the best of times, but the stakes get even higher when parenting a young child with T1D as the parents become responsible for taking over the relentless, around-the-clock, job of the human pancreas: life and death decisions about T1D management have to be made all day, every day. It is often seen as walking on a tightrope, as we aim for the target range for blood glucose numbers. Vigilance is needed at all times, as low blood glucose levels represent an immediate and acute threat that can lead to seizures, coma, and even death when missed or not treated promptly. The ever-present task of balancing blood glucose levels is so great that it is often seen as taking care of an “invisible family member,” because T1D is not a visible disease or disability, but it is always there and in need of care. The particular circumstances of our parenting, therefore, provide an alternative lens through which we perceive and experience the role of new media and the internet in our home, as it has become an essential part of the living and lifestyle of our family. Given the proliferation of digital and algorithmic new media, screens, and devices in the home, as well as concerns about their influence and the possibly deleterious effects of biometric technologies on children and families, we ask the question: what are some of the more enabling dimensions and future potentials of these technologies for T1D families?

Seemingly ordinary devices such as cell phones for text messaging and tablets for entertainment have proven to be immensely valuable in raising a child with T1D. The various pages, groups, and organizations on social media have given us access to new information about T1D from around the world, a sense of community and camaraderie through the sharing of personal stories of trials and triumphs, and have empowered us to believe our daughter will not be held back from anything because of her diagnosis. In material terms, the devices and practices for monitoring blood glucose and administering insulin have also improved dramatically since the discovery of insulin by Dr. Banting in 1921, thanks to advances in new digital technology; but, they remain somewhat cumbersome, require vigilance, and are susceptible to human error. Looking forward, we are optimistic about the new developments on the horizon that use algorithmic new media and cloud-based technologies, or even potential biotechnologies and biohypermedia, to create a liberating “functional cure,” which will remove and alleviate the risks, variables, and dangers from ongoing and daily life and death decisions. We read our narrative against proliferating scholarly discourses about new, posthumanist, and biopolitical ethics to rethink the future of human and societal possibilities, and parenting practices; the future, we claim, is bionic.

Robyn Flisfeder teaches in the Department of Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications at The University of Winnipeg, where she teaches courses on Academic Writing. She received her M.A. in Sociology at Queen’s University, and her B.Ed. at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of The University of Toronto.

Matthew Flisfeder is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Communications at The University of Winnipeg, where he teaches courses on Communication Theory, Critical Studies of Social Media, and Critical Theories of Discourse and Ideology. He is the author and editor of four books, including Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media (2021).

In their chapter “Bionic Parenting: On the Enabling Possibilities and Practices for Parenting with Digital New Media” in Parenting/Internet/Kids these parents of a young child with type 1 diabetes read their narrative against proliferating scholarly discourses about new, posthumanist, and biopolitical ethics to rethink the future of human and societal possibilities, including parenting practices, for those managing chronic illness.

2 replies on “Bionic Parenting”

Interesting and so accurate to refer to a lurking disease as like an invisible family member. If it doesn’t get attention, it will act up! It has its own agenda and is not interested in what others want (so maybe a nasty family member!).
Also interesting how parenting is immensely improved by access to tablet and smart phone–but we shouldn’t ever imagine these as common place: more like marvels and wonders, that we somehow quickly learned to take for granted because camouflaged by ubiquity.

What an interesting read. Having just read Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, I am frequently reminded of the dependence we all have on technology, and how this destabilizes notions of what is natural, vs. what is not.

Like Dallas said, much technology is ubiquitous, and we take much of it for granted. Amongst all the criticism of new technology, it’s great to be reminded of its uses that are so important, and productive.

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