Thursday, September 11, 2008

Social Networking For Tots

Twittering From the Cradle:

IT would be easy to assume that the first month of Cameron Chase’s life followed the monotonous cycle of eat-sleep-poop familiar to any new parent. But anyone who has read his oft-updated profile on Totspot, a site billed as Facebook for children, knows better. Cameron, of Winter Garden, Fla., has lounged poolside in a bouncy seat with his grandparents, noted that Tropical Storm Fay passed by his hometown, and proclaimed that he finds the abstract Kandinsky print above his parents’ bed “very stimulating!”

Hailing from Winnipeg, Ontario, Dominic Miguel Alexander Carrasco, 7 months old, uses his Totspot page to share his obsessions with his entourage. His fave nickname? Buddy or Big Boy. His fave book? “Green Eggs and Ham.” His fave food? Unsurprisingly, “mom’s milk.”
As they say today, "eeeeeww."

Of course, these busy social networkers don’t actually post journal entries or befriend playground acquaintances themselves. Their sleep-deprived parents are behind the curtain, shaping their children’s online identities even before they are diaper-free.

“It does feel a little funny to personalize it in his voice and be connecting to other babies as him,” said Kristin Chase, 29, Cameron’s mother, who updates his page at least every other day.

Funny and perhaps a little creepy?

“We are at a very pro-parenting moment in time,” said Pamela Paul, the author of the book “Parenting, Inc.” “It’s reflected in our offline culture and on the Web. We are all screaming about it at the top of our lungs.”

So much so that some early adopters have become ventriloquists for their children, even those too young to speak for themselves. With a quick glance at a cheerful profile, parents can also handpick their offspring’s playmates much like online daters choose companions.

Keep in mind, this isn't parents crowing or blogging about their tykes...it's parents pretending to be their babies, interacting with other parents pretending to be their babies. I think.

These sites allow parents to create “attractive and compelling versions of a kid’s story,” said John Palfrey, a professor at Harvard Law School and an author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.”

But Mr. Palfrey warns that parents posting the intimate details of their children’s lives need to ask not only who has access to this content, but also who owns it. “Whether or not they realize it as such,” he said, “parents are contributing to their child’s digital dossier. And, who sees that dossier later on may be of concern.”

Not to mention that children whose relatives have traded minutiae about everything from their burp frequencies to the very hour they first rolled over may be, once teenagers, awed — or embarrassed — by the level of detail in their ghostwritten bildungsroman.

Can you imagine? As kids transition into middle and high school, all that digitized navel-gazing your parents did is suddenly right there for all your friends (and not-so-friends) to see? Or for your college admissions committee, future employers, or future spouse to have a gander at?

I'm not suggesting anything nefarious or wrong about this. As a proud parent, I crow about my kids all I can, as do most parents. We even keep a journal of their more important accomplishments.

But assuming their identities, writing a narrative not their own, and blogging about bowel movements? Or putting words into their mouths they might never utter, simply to get "friended" by other infants? Pardon my French, but this is a real "WTF?" moment.

If social networking sites haven't already "jumped the shark" into irrelevancy, certainly this marks the beginning of the end.

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