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Deep in the Shallows

“Between the intellectual and behavioral guardrails set by our genetic code, the road is wide, and we hold the steering wheel. Through what we do and how we do it--moment by moment, day by day, consciously or unconsciously--we alter the chemical flows in our synapses and change our brains. And when we hand down our habits of thought to our children, through the examples we set, the schooling we provide, and the media we use, we hand down as well the modifications in the structure of our brains.” - Nicholas Carr The Shallows

A lazy wave spilled into the moat of the sandcastle, filling it. Janine squealed in delight. Her mother smiled and pinched her fingers to zoom in on her two-year-old’s plump little hands as she patted the water in the moat.

Another soft push of the incoming tide lapped around Janine’s ankles and she danced about. “Get inside the walls, darling. Get inside your castle,” her mother encouraged, zooming out to better capture the action she was streaming.

Janine did as her mother asked, stepping over the sand pail crenelated walls clumsily, perfectly. Janine is gold, she thought tracking the views ticking up on her site. She motioned her daughter to the seat she’d hand packed for her daughter. “Sit on your throne, princess. You’re the ruler of your little kingdom. Safe within your walls.”

Little waves came in and kissed the castle walls and Janine clapped. A quick breeze tousled her hair across her face and her mom streamed it in slow motion. Such simple innocence. It’s what the world was craving.

Janine’s mom believed it. She was reliving one of her best memories as a child. A day at the beach with her mom, building sandcastles in the surf, free, safe, feeling the world a very good place. She wanted that for her daughter: pure play, pristine delight, her moment in an always-shining sun.

And that’s what her followers wanted as well. That’s why her daughter was social media gold. She’d gotten good at capturing the cutest moments. And she worked hard to keep it that way. Like now.

She took out her second phone and stepped inside the sandcastle walls with her daughter. “Hey, JaJa, hey sweetie. Do you want to watch yourself? See what Mommy’s sharing with all your friends out there?”

For some reason, her followers loved this. Loved to see her daughter’s reaction to watching the video she’d taken of her. Janine leapt off her sand throne to take the phone her mom held out and then sat back down starting the video with her sandy little fingers.

With her second phone held high, Janine’s mom crouched down, streaming the mother-daughter moment. Close. Together. So intent on the video. “See, JaJa, see the waves, see them chase you into your castle.. What do you say, princess?”

Janine clapped at the video. Then her eyes shot up. Wide. Wider. “Waaaater!” she squealed.

Precious, Janine’s mother thought. And then she was tumbling over her daughter. Ground into the sand, the surf, her head spinning. The surging wave thrust her up the beach.

She flailed to a stop. Gobsmacked. Blindsided by the sudden wave. Still blinded as she opened her eyes and felt the ocean’s sting, she shook her head and sat up.

“Janine!” she cried, coming around to what had happened. “Where are you, baby?”

She scanned around her. Some folks farther up the beach were running her direction. She got to her feet and looked to the receding wave that had hit them. “Janine!” she shouted in rising panic.

No sign of her daughter. Only the glistening mound of their swamped sandcastle. She ran to it. Other beachgoers followed.

She couldn’t see her daughter. She couldn’t see her. “No! No! No!” she cursed with every stride.


Her daughter was on her side, half buried in sand. Her eyes open. Crying.

Janine’s mother pulled her from the ruins and hugged her. “Janine. You’re okay. We’re okay.” Her daughter continued to cry. She cried. And cried.

One of the trailing beachgoers called 911.

Another was recording the event.

Another fished a phone out of the shallows that had formed around the sandcastle, believing the mother would be grateful.

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