On the Permanence of the Internet

I got a MySpace account sometime around 2002. I didn’t ask my parents. We didn’t have a talk about Internet safety. In fact, I can hardly remember what MySpace was for back in those days. I remember the importance of the “top six”. And all of the MySpace quizzes, which were much better there than circulated through email.

MySpace, while it pretends to still exist, has basically been deleted from our collective consciousness. I probably had pictures posted and embarrassing stories I wouldn’t want people reading 12 years later. But I also can’t think of a way to access them. I tried. I promise.

I got a Facebook account in January 2006 – the moment I was able to, since at the time it was still limited to those with .edu email addresses. I was 17 then. I posted a few pictures from my senior year of high school. My Facebook wall, in its earliest iterations, is full of meeting people from school and “Yeah we’re old enough for Facebook!” comments from friends my own age.

Awhile ago, one of my Facebook friends added pictures of us from a missions trip in 2004, and they show up in 2004 on that mysterious Timeline feature that none but the most stalkerish of people could ever want to use.

I stole a picture taken in 1990 of my cousins and me. At least, the ones who were born at the time. (Wasn’t I cute?)

Image

And of my awkward middle school years there is precisely one picture as well. It’s a group photo, I’m in the background, and you can hardly tell that it’s my awkward middle school years. Oh, and I posted a #tbt recently of me at nearly 13 holding my now-nearly-13-year-old cousin as a newborn. But in that case, it was a picture I chose to post.

I was just on Facebook today, looking at a picture of that cousin whose newborn picture I posted recently. Her friend’s mom tags my aunt in tons of pictures of my cousin. And assuming Facebook is still around in 10 years, those pictures will be there when she’s looking for a job. When she’s starting to date, or applying for colleges. And this is a girl born in 2001.

These days, I feel like there are more parents on Facebook than not. After all, those of us who joined in college are now plenty old enough for children. My best friend from high school has three. I have 2/3 of one.

When my mom joined Facebook in 2008, she populated an album with pictures of my sister and me. Not a single picture predated me joining Facebook in the first place.

When my friends who already had Facebook became parents, gender reveal ultrasounds were posted. Hundreds of baby pictures that used to be destined to live out their days in a photo album became public property. In thirteen years, will their children be tagged in these images? Will they list their parents as being related to them? If so, in twenty years, if Facebook hasn’t gone the way of MySpace, our kids—who will be adults—will have their lives documented in real time, forever, relatively easily accessible.

As I’m starting the process of parenthood myself, it’s a question I take seriously. What rights to privacy should my currently unborn daughter have in eighteen years? Will it be considered a cultural norm to peruse the baby albums of their middle school classmates? Will it be perfectly normal to check out pictures of your crush as a toddler, to see if the two of you would make cute babies? (Oh come on, we talked about it in middle school before the Internet. I highly doubt that will change.) Or will these kids want some autonomy, some way to separate themselves from Facebook-happy parents?

Maybe Facebook will become a place where the old people hang out and continue to post pictures, but the young kids will have moved on to something new and better. (Anyone remember “classmates.com”? My mom had an account during my MySpace days…)

I’ve posted pictures of my growing bump, and ultrasound images of my daughter’s head. And her bean-sized body from the first ultrasound we had. I chose not to share our gender reveal photograph.

What do you do? During a time when our kids’ privacy is ours to decide, how much do you share?

Comments

  1. Generally I avoid giving pictures to Facebook (who claim ownership when you do). That said there are carefully selected pictures of my kids on Flickr that are cross linked to Facebook so that the distant grannies and uncles etc can see them. Also it’s considered normal to share at least some these days.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I definitely know it’s considered normal these days – like I said, my news feed is overwhelmed with pictures of children. I’m sure I’ll share pictures myself when my daughter is born. I was more thinking about how I would feel if my whole life was documented on my parents’ social media accounts, and how my daughter might feel. It will likely be different for her because, like you said, it’s a social norm these days.

  2. Regardless of which route you decide to go, your forethought shows respect for your kids and as long as you maintain that over the years, they will appreciate it. As a labor and delivery nurse, I had no problems posting ultrasound photos and photos from the hospital because half of my friends were there anyway. And as a photographer I end up posting tons of pictures of my kids because they’re my favorite subject (although I think doing photography as a profession helps you to limit the photos to ones that would never embarrass your subject). And since we’re currently living in Rwanda there’s almost an obligation to post pictures of the kids for all our friends and family back home. Without the internet giving us that bridge, it would be a very lonely life out here.

    On a side note, I think people have to be careful about what they write in their posts as well. I see so many people comment on their kids’ poor behavior, or their pooping habits, or their mean little friends at school. Even though the kids are less likely to come across those comments when they’re older, the family and friends that read them are likely to keep those memories associated with the kids, long after the kids are grown.

    Even so, I think it’s natural for all of us to be embarrassed about photos and stories from our childhood. As we get older some of that embarrassment falls away as we get mature enough to just acknowledge everyone’s a little embarrassed about their past. And as a parent, you can minimize the amount you embarrass your kids, but eventually you will embarrass them with your presence alone. =)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *