The digital age is redefining the idea of memories. The line between public and private is constantly blurring, and digitally native parents are claiming their kids’ brands at an early age.

What impact does posting images to social networks have on a child’s future perception of their own childhood memories? The idea of memory is evolving and becoming ever more participatory, especially as social networks become an even more embedded part of our everyday lives.

A story in The New York Times last year discussed how parents are using Google searches to help vet potential names for their children. Some parents search for names that are unique, helping the kid one day rise to the top of Google search results. Very few parents prefer that their kids “get lost in the virtual crowd” and thus choose nonunique names. Regardless of what names parents select for their kids, they are fully cognizant of the part that the Internet and social networks will play in the formation of their children’s memories. Images are a large part of the shaping of memory.

“This phenomenon appears to be a reflection of how digital media has become the primary avenue for self-presentation to the world, whether it’s for adults or for children,” says Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, co-author of the study Why Do People Use Facebook?

The Mirror Stage on Social Networks

Today, children are experiencing the virtual version of Lacan’s mirror stage. The child identifies themselves in the mirror – or in this case, the screen – and the formation of ego via identification begins. This will continue to happen offline, in a real, physical mirror – but the child will also have a second mirror stage via their virtual self, which exists on social networks.

“Digital photo biographies may enable recreation of selves that are more fluid,” Nadkarni says. “The role of families and friends in archiving a child’s past allows for collective memory to influence personal memory; thus, imagination and desire can be interwoven into the recreation of a child’s past.”

Parents post images of their kids to social networks, sharing them with fellow friends and parents. One day, those kids will be able to go back and see their own Timeline within their parents’ Facebook Timeline. This ultimately aids the child’s formation of memory in the social-networked era. There is no going back to the once-simple days of printed paper photos.

Interaction With an Image Changes Its Meaning

Facebook likes and comments from friends become part of the images themselves – especially images of children. They are not just fleeting reactions. They imbue the images with additional meaning, making them more than just a moment in time.

“What is unique about ‘downloadable memories,’ as opposed to paper memories, is how activities such as tagging, sharing and commenting, performed by both the individual and others, affect the individual’s archival and recall of that memory,” Nadkarni says. “For instance, comments and tags can introduce biases to recall.”

Memories now exist in a digital space. “They are laying themselves open to the influence of collective memories,” Nadkarni says, “and as a result, have greater malleability.”

Say goodbye to the static, singular documentation of the paper past. Memory is no longer documented – it is shaped and ever-shifting, a constantly altering idea of moments passed.

Lead image via Shutterstock.

alicia eler