Thursday, September 05, 2013

Scatological spreadsheets and digital trust funds

And now, the latest installment of the parental overshare debate. This time, we have - amazing! - a woman who has made it her mission to keep stuff about her kids from ending up on the internet. I saw the headline - noticing that it was Slate's most-read, above even Prudie - and thought, whoa, parental overshare has met its match! And then I read the thing and, no. Parental overshare has, instead, come full circle.

Amy Webb begins with a reasonable-enough premise: parents are too cavalier about what they put about their kids on the internet. Webb objects to photos of a friend's child "in a bathtub and an awkward moment posing in her mother’s lacy pink bra," and who can blame her? "I completely understood her parents’ desire to capture Kate’s everyday moments, because early childhood is so ephemeral. I also knew how those posts would affect Kate as an adult [...]." Indeed. Too few people think about this. And,

It’s hard enough to get through puberty. Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates? If Kate’s mother writes about a negative parenting experience, could that affect her ability to get into a good college? 
Yes, so many times yes.

And then things get... interesting. Webb segues into a paranoid exposé of facial-recognition technology and its potential. While it's straightforward enough how a high-profile article about how a particular, identifiable child is a brat, or is mentally ill, might impact said child's later life, even if the technology exists to track down the location of random infants, who's interested?

And then it becomes about how they had to choose their child's name as one that was not yet associated with anything negative (although, as a friend just pointed out on Facebook, someone could well be born later with this name and create an unpleasant track record), and then I basically couldn't follow the thing anymore. "On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we’ve never posted any content." They, I mean, I don't even know what Github is, nor do I have Instagram, nor can I at all figure out what the advantage is to your parents making you-the-fetus a Facebook page or Twitter account. I mean, what does this mean?:
When we think she’s mature enough (an important distinction from her being technically old enough), we’ll hand her an envelope with her master password inside. She’ll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we’ll ensure that she’s making informed decisions about what’s appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom.
Wouldn't you just make your own, when you saw fit, assuming these platforms still had any significance once you reached adolescence? How could this ever, just logistically, work?

But the more important detail comes from the fact that Webb is herself guilty of some of the most out-there parental overshare. Another friend linked to this similarly viral piece, about the spreadsheets Webb would use to keep track of her baby's... functions. The article includes details such as "Poop Scale (1 = Dijon mustard, 5 = pâté, 10 = tar)," and where on that spectrum a particular turd happened to lie. As I've said so many times regarding parental overshare, it's not some kind of state secret who the child of some writer is, even if the parents are not shouting the kid's full name from the rooftops. While this scatological overshare is maybe not the absolute worst sort of TMI, in that it ultimately humiliates the parents and doesn't reveal anything all that special about the kid (it poops, how remarkable!), it's the kind of thing one probably wouldn't be too thrilled to read about one's self.


caryatis said...

Parents of young children sometimes seem to have forgotten their own childhoods completely. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation. After the age of 12, any Facebook account to which a child's parents have the password is going to be a front.

I guess the accounts starting at birth are because the author reallyreally cares about getting certain usernames? "We certainly had a front-runner for her name, but we would have chosen something different if the KnowEm results produced limited availability..."

So if there's already a KateMarieSmith on Twitter or Instagram, they'd pick a different name for the baby? Am I interpreting that wrong because it seems pretty crazy. Most people I know use pseudonyms on Twitter anyway. Plus, as you point out, 15 years from now tweeting might be the last thing teenagers want to do.

Sigivald said...

Github is an open-source-y programming project source code repository system.

I hope that was included as a self-deprecating joke about how crazy it all sounds, because otherwise, well... actually crazy.

(Unless she picked very, very good passwords, I'd expect those accounts to be more likely than not hijacked before the kid's an adult.)

Phoebe said...


I think it is "pretty crazy," and that's the only interpretation. It misses that giant puzzle piece that is, your kid will be their own person. Not an extension of their parents. I think it's only normal for parents - including parents of adults - to forget this from time to time, but this is extreme.


Explanation appreciated. And unfortunately I don't think this was self-deprecation.