On the Internet, it really does start at conception.
Kids born today are live on social networks before they know their names or their body parts. Open your Facebook account, and at the top of the news feed is an image of two proud parents at the hospital with their newborn baby. Scroll down a bit, and there's an ultrasound of another friend's as-of-yet unborn child. For parents with young kids today, and people whose friends are having babies, this happens on a near-daily basis. It is commonplace, just another fact of the Facebooked life. Is that a good thing?
"Typically, when an individual has a child, they are eager to share pictures, stories and milestones with others (family, friends, coworkers, even strangers), and in this digital age, it's only natural that new parents (especially young ones) carry this practice into the cyber world," says Michaelanne Dye, who holds a master's degree in cyberanthropology and now works in social media at Georgia Tech's College of Computing. "Online, people often share about what they are most interested in and what occupies their time; therefore, it makes sense that parents would focus on their children in the pictures and status updates that they post."
Stay-at-Home Parents Facebooking Their Kids
For a parent who has opted to stay at home and raise the kids instead of trying to juggle work-plus-home responsibilities, Facebook may be even more important than just a space for playing Words With Friends.
"I think new parents, especially those who stay at home and may be more isolated, are more eager to share about their experiences with their children - including stories and pictures - in order to form a community of support with other parents and their friends and family," Dye adds. "To them, it probably feels as though they are just sharing about their own lives; however, they are also creating a digital persona for their child, as well."
Personal Branding Begins at an Early Age
Yet sharing photos of one's children on Facebook isn't just about connecting with other parents. Perhaps without realizing it, parents are creating a living, breathing, digital brand for their kids. In doing so, the parent's online persona is extended into the child's realm.
Not everyone believes that sharing photos of one's kids on Facebook is such a good idea.
"Today's parents publish information and photos of their children at a very early age, even about their unborn children," says Christian Sigl, co-founder of Secure.me. "Posting pics of a cute three- or four-year-old can not only affect today's safety of their child, it will also be difficult to explain to their child in the future why they should keep back photos and personal information when they grow old enough to be allowed to use social networks themselves."
Memory Is Digital, Searchable & Live on Social Networks
According to data from 1000memories' photo-sharing app Shoebox, sharing images of one's kids online is the way of the future. Already 86% of a teenager's memories today exist in the digital realm. For kids born in the past five years or so, that number will continue to increase.
"Depending on the amount and types of memories stored in the digital space by their parents, children will have access to a digital persona of themselves that (for many) will date back to their infancy, something that none of us have had in the past," Dye says. "In my own research, individuals have expressed that digital components add a type of depth to traditional memory storage in that they provide the possibility for self-reflection and actualization through the creation and co-creation of a digital narrative."
Whereas before a "paper memory constituted the representation or retrieval of content either in the past or present," Dye says, "the digital age is transforming collective and personal memories."
Databases are searchable, information is stored forever and users do not know who sees or does not see their imagery. After all, not everyone who looks at a Facebook image leaves a comment or a like.
"Maybe we've evolved into such a voyeuristic culture that they may not even blink at it," says Ellen Maliff, a mother of two who lives in the suburb of Oak Park, outside of Chicago. "What is odd is the line between parent/child relationships is forever blended with Facebook. Kids friend with parents and parents' friends. That was nonexistent before."
Back on the Facebook news feed, a status update from someone I know pops up.
"My guys can swim!" he writes, announcing to his 900+ friends that his fiancee is now pregnant, and their little one is on the way.
I look forward to seeing the ultrasounds.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Ellen Maliff.