I am painfully aware that the internet is a wide-open, public space that lives beyond the moment. It’s like if you could go to the mall and not only see what everyone is doing there right now, but also see everyone who was there yesterday, and last week, and last year. I realized that, just as scientists have long known that observing an environment inevitably changes it, posting about my child online for any and everyone to read could significantly impact how my child grows up. The internet is still new and we don’t know how it is impacting the lives of children who can’t remember the world without it. All those Generation X memes encouraging me to remember a time when Nintendo controllers only had two buttons and they made wallets for CDs constantly remind me that we have no idea how the new digital area is going to shape the brains of our children.
So during those early days where I was deluded into thinking I was going to create an internationally celebrated literary exploration of parenting and spiritual experience, I decided that I would protect my child’s identity the best I could. I would not use her name. In fact, I decided not to use anyone’s name other than my own. After all, newspapers require a person’s consent before quoting them, and I felt I should adhere to a similar standard. My child is not old enough to give such consent, and until she is, I should conceal it in order to protect her.
Of course, there were little places where I struggled with this. I’ve posted pictures of her in some of my blogs. After all, she’s adorable! Privacy or not, you have to see what she looks like when she smiles! I mean, here she is holding a Beatles record! What’s a little breach of privacy when she’s so cute? Besides, she doesn’t even look like that anymore. (Here’s what she looks like now.) And, I reasoned to myself, it’s harder to find someone in the real world using a picture. You can do Google searches on names and addresses, but so far, the software for locating people based on photos is not widely available to the public. So a picture is safe to post, right? I suppose this is why otherwise intelligent young adults post pictures of themselves passed out on a stack of red Dixie cups while wearing sexy Halloween costumes on their Facebook pages.
Still, I adhered to my rule not to use her name. I came up with a nickname to use when writing about her. In an early blog post, I wrote about how we chose our daughter’s name. I didn’t write her name – and I also didn’t write the name of her namesake. This protected her privacy, I thought. But it ran me into a problem: everyone who knows me and my family (which is probably 95% of the people who ever read my blog) already knows our names and would sometimes use them in comments. Then came my own dilemma: do I leave these comments, or do I delete them and request the posters not use our names? I went with the latter, feeling committed to my quest to keep her identity private. (If that was you, thank you.)
Then I realized some time back that I linked to a YouTube video featuring an adorable curly-headed two-year-old whose video title had her name attached. Hmm. I went into a small panic, wondering if I should delete the video from my page or if I should have the girl’s mother edit the title on YouTube. Which then made me wonder: why don’t I have a problem with her name being on YouTube?
The internet is a vast and infinite place. I suppose I don’t have a problem with her name being on a video on YouTube because there are gajillions of videos on YouTube, most of them far more interesting than the ones we’ve posted. And if you search by her name – an uncommon name at that – her videos are not the first to pop up. So there’s some privacy afforded by the sheer volume of crap on the internet. (This is, I’m sure, the prime reason my blog has not become the internationally acclaimed literary presence I once imagined. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the quality of my writing...) And if everyone who reads my blog already knows us personally, what does it matter if they use a name online that they already know?
I don’t know. This is new terrain, and I’m not sure how much of this I should be fretting over. I suppose a personal website is not that different from any other community place, like a church. If someone wanted to find me, they could go to my church on a Sunday morning. The doors are not locked and I’ll be there, often with my name even printed somewhere in the bulletin. But of all the churches in the state, or even our town, I don’t usually feel the need to have my privacy protected when I worship at our church.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to start broadcasting her name across the internet. I suppose this is really just a bit of “thinking-out-loud” about what it means to have a private life, for ourselves and for our children. How do I balance my intense desires to both protect her and show off how much I delight in her? And how much do I bare to the universe? What will she think ten years from now that last week I admitted online that there are moments when I kind of hate her? I’m sure my parents complained about my temper trantrums when I was a kid, but there’s not a permanent record of it online. And even if there were, who would even want to read it?
Well, I would. And that would no doubt create some interesting conversations in our family. So maybe my concerns are less about protecting her from strangers in cyberspace and more about protecting her from me. From what I really think, moment to moment.
It’s scary to think that the vulnerable, naked thoughts that pass through our brains in the middle of difficult, chaotic moments might be captured somewhere forever, enabling them to be revisited over and over again. There are plenty of those words that have floated through my head that I don’t ever want to read again, let alone have anyone else read. But I wonder if it would really be so bad to let other people read those thoughts. Maybe that’s what this is all about: conversation. Part of why I chose the “blog” format is that it’s so conducive to a conversation, inviting people to leave comments and to share links with one another. It certainly prompts real face-to-face conversations with friends who’ve read my posts. And if it does this same thing with my own child, at whatever point in her development, could this not be a wonderful thing? After all, the world is already shifting that way. Whatever the changing digital age brings, it will definitely make more sense to me – and to my child – if we can talk about it in real time. Sometimes a little thinking out loud is exactly what is needed to bring us closer to one another.