My brother, Roan, recently told me a story about a friend of his who had set up a Facebook account for his daughter virtually at birth. All her photos were stored there and friends of theirs could add photos of their own, and status updates told of her antics and as each development milestone was hit. The plan is then to give this profile to the daughter when she is old enough to use it, and that it will be cool because it was already be pre-populated with her entire life.
If we ignore that in fifteen years’ time Facebook is likely to have been succeeded by some newfangled networking site or chip in our brains, then although this sounds like a nice idea I think it is quite brave. As a teenager, will their daughter want all their baby photos available to all their friends? Or all the status updates that her parents did on her behalf while projectile pooing or having a temper tantrum? And if she wants a profile with a blank canvas then what happens to the original – do her parents continue to control part of her online identity?
Research released in 2010 by Internet security company AVG Technologies showed that 81% of children under two had some kind of digital footprint: ranging from 73% in the EU-5 (UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) to 92% in the US.
The study found that the average digital birth happened around six months, although 37% of newborns in the UK had an online life from birth and across countries 23% had their prenatal scans online.
7% of babies and toddlers had an email address and 5% a social network profile.
I am obviously not of the school of thought that an internet presence for Elphie is a bad thing, otherwise doing this blog would be a bit strange. Equally, I want to share interesting titbits of my life with my friends and my life is now pretty dominated by her. Then you have the people who are clamouring for more photos, especially my friends who are abroad and don’t get quality Elphie time. And I like sharing photos of her and letting people know how she’s doing, it’s like an online diary of the amazing changes that are happening from week to week with her that I will be able to look back on when she’s all grown up. Plus it’s a great way of seeing photos other people have taken of her that otherwise I might not see.
I also like seeing other people’s photos of their children – I like to see whether I think they resemble their parents; know what they are getting up to (and store their exciting activities as inspiration for the future); to tell Fred “my, hasn’t [insert name] grown”. But then in general I love finding out stuff about people – although I draw the like at constant posts on what you had for dinner, how much you love your partner, or your random obsession (be that new age philosophy or GM crops).
But some people aren’t so keen on babies. Mashable’s staff think that TMI (too much information) parents are the most annoying friends on Facebook, and one friend (you know who you are) has had the audacity to complain about his feed being overrun with babies.
And that’s probably fair enough. I know from the obsessional posters that it is hard to turn their volume down – sure I want to see updates on their life, but multiple daily meditation rituals not so much.
The compromise I have made is to set up a private facebook group and ask people to like a status update if they want to be a member and be deluged with baby photos. This gives people more choice and allows us to know who has access to her photos. And if people don’t like the amount of Elphie-news then they can choose not to have updates from the group in their feed or just leave the group (I won’t be offended!).
With the rise of social media, there has been a shift in the degree to which personal information is shared. For those of our generation, to which the social media party came late, I think for many openess has only extended to an audience of a social network spread across time – continuing to share updates with friends from uni or school that we are never socially in contact with any more. The more media savvy or the youth of today are portrayed as providing a more public profile, tweeting more for example. The portenders of doom cite this as foolishness that will only end in disaster as future employers dismiss these candidates because of an indiscrete photo or idiotic tweet posted online. But it feels like this way of thinking has to change – it is by its nature quite hypocritical, we’ve all had moments we’re not proud of and maybe currently we would judge a person for not managing their digital profile well enough to exclude these photos but in a more open world perhaps this kind of photo shouldn’t matter (within reason) and people should be accepted holistically, not just as whatever persona they present to work.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.