When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online
I’m going to quote a lot of this article because it’s important, and even though it’s The Atlantic, I still don’t trust them to maintain the permalink for more than half a decade:
For several months, Cara has been working up the courage to approach her mom about what she saw on Instagram. Not long ago, the 11-year-old—who, like all the other kids in this story, is referred to by a pseudonym—discovered that her mom had been posting photos of her, without prior approval, for much of her life. “I’ve wanted to bring it up. It’s weird seeing myself up there, and sometimes there’s pics I don’t like of myself,” she said…
Recently a parenting blogger wrote in a Washington Post essay that despite her 14-year-old daughter’s horror at discovering that her mother had shared years of highly personal stories and information about her online, she simply could not stop posting on her blog and social media. The writer claimed that promising her daughter that she would stop posting about her publicly on the internet “would mean shutting down a vital part of myself, which isn’t necessarily good for me or her.”
When Ellen, an 11-year-old, finally decided to Google herself, she didn’t expect to find anything, because she doesn’t yet have her own social-media accounts…“I didn’t think I would be out there like this on the internet,” she told me.
Ellen said that while she didn’t find anything too sensitive or personal, she was frustrated that all the information about herself had been posted seemingly without her consent.
And the other side of the coin:
Natalie, now 13, said that in fifth grade she and her friends competed with one another over the amount of information about themselves on the internet. “We thought it was so cool that we had pics of ourselves online,” she said. “We would brag like, ‘I have this many pics of myself on the internet.’ You look yourself up, and it’s like, ‘Whoa, it’s you!’ We were all shocked when we realized we were out there. We were like, ‘Whoa, we’re real people.’”
Natalie’s parents are stringent about not posting photos of her to social media, so there are only a handful of photos of her out there, but she yearns for more. “I don’t want to live in a hole and only have two pics of me online. I want to be a person who is a person. I want people to know who I am,” she said.
“I want to be a person who is a person” might be the saddest thing I read all week. Pics or you don’t exist.
We mostly post photos of our children online to validate our own self-worth. It’s really just a weird, human, psychological extension of the biological imperative.
There are obviously privacy concerns with posting photos and videos of one’s children online. I’m guilty of doing so and after reading this article am considering removing any I’ve posted. (Of course, this won’t help in the case of Lucy and Milo as their mother posts pictures and videos of them every single day.) But it is the aspect described in the article that most intrigues me–to not just become self-aware, but to become self-aware, want to start crafting one’s authentic self, and to find out that there is a full representation of yourself on the internet. There is already a vast narrative about your personality and interests and even your idiosyncrasies but you haven’t written it. It’s not really you but it’s the you everyone already knows.
Also this other, darker side: I don’t already have a vast online narrative about myself, therefore I’m of less value than my peers who do. You can’t win! Who are we without the gaze of the Internet? From where does our self-worth come any more if not from the social graphs we inhabit?
I’m all for technologically-assisted personal connections, but where we have found ourselves in 2019 is really poisonous.