- September 11, 2014
On Father’s Day, I found out that I am going to be a father. In an instant, my face lit up with joy, became stricken by terror, and finally settled on a mash up of happiness with a tinge of uncertainty. I am about to go on the journey of my life. As I go through the ups and downs of parenthood, I have a source of information that is even greater than Google, my own parents. But after watching Apple unveil the next generation of iGadgets, it struck me: my child is going to experience a childhood very different than mine. And with the boom of the Internet of things, my generation of parents is going to ask questions that parents of past generations never had to answer.
When is the appropriate age for a child to open a Google account? According to Google’s terms of service you need to be 13 years old, but do I really expect my future offspring to abstain from email until he is officially a teenager? As technology absolutely integrates into our every day lives, our Apple and Google accounts have become a 21st century, digital social security number. Will I need to explain to my future offspring the importance of picking a professional Gmail name, because it will stick with you for the rest of your life and xHALO_PWNERx@gmail.com will not look good on a resume?
When I was first exploring the Internet with my 28k dial-up connection and family’s EarthLink account (we were too cool for AOL), I remember my own father worrying over the dangers of chat rooms. I was told to not give out my real name, or any information that could identify me because of e-predators. Now we live in an age were Internet privacy is non-existent. We share everything: pictures of the food we eat, 140-character thoughts, and status updates on our daily experiences.
And, as a parent, not only will I be responsible for teaching my child manners to behave in a civilized society, but I will also be responsible for teaching him or her proper social media etiquette and good online behavior (a.k.a. not being a troll). He or she will need to learn how to interact with people in the real, physical world, as well as interact with people from the hand-held screen that connects him or her to an even bigger, digital world.
I hear from nurses that their profession causes increased anxiety in parenthood because they know every possible, horrible disease that starts with a simple cough. Working in Web, I have insight into the ways that people and companies prey on data. He or she is going to grow up in a world with a new definition of privacy, and as more and more data is harvested, the future of predictive analytics will become more accurate. His or her actions are at risk of being the result of ingenious, slick marketers hiding under the guise of “free will.” At the same time, these same predictive analytics will free him from worrying about the mundane. The promise of wearable technology. He or she will have answers before knowing the question.
The recent water cooler conversation at work revolves around a local elementary school and their decision to provide iPads to all of their elementary school aged students. I am torn on the issue of providing tablets and smart devices to young children. There is science documenting the negative effects of long-term exposure to electronic screens in children and the side effects and health benefits that result. However, my job as a parent is to prepare my child for the future. In the future, interactive screens will be everywhere. Our lives will revolve around electronic smart devices. In order to succeed, he or she needs to be able to navigate this electronically dependent world.
As I await the arrival of my son or daughter, I find myself struggling with those same feelings that hit me this past Father’s Day: elation and trepidation. I can’t wait to welcome the new addition to my family. With my wife, I am preparing our home with cribs, bassinets, and all manner of baby-related “things.” At the same time, I am preparing myself for new challenges, and the new challenges that will face parents of children growing up in this new, interconnected world.