Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us

The Kids Will Be All Right


(Photo: Olinchuk/Shutterstock)

Pending Parenthood in the Digital Age

• August 07, 2014 • 6:00 AM

(Photo: Olinchuk/Shutterstock)

As a content strategist for the Washington Post and former media reporter, Josh Sternberg is hyper aware of his digital trail. Now, as a soon-to-be new dad, he wonders what it means that our kids can look up everything we’ve ever done.

I am a week away (give or take a day) from becoming a father. It’s exhilarating and terrifying. I will be responsible for nurturing and caring for another life. How long have I felt that I was barely capable of caring for myself? This is human metamorphosis, isn’t it — transforming from a selfish individual to a provider, willing to do anything for the safety and happiness of another in the blink of a moment. But what makes parenthood in 2014 different than, say, 1978 (the year my parents went from leading their own lives to making sure that mine came first) is that my kid — code named “Cactus” — will know more about me than I knew about my parents.

The day Cactus is old enough to use Google will be the day Cactus learns about Josh, not dad. Cactus will, at some point, come across my Twitter profile; my professional and my personal writing archive; my page; my life as a burgeoning rock star. That will be a frightening day.

Of course, there are many things Cactus will not be able to find about dad on the Internet. My Internet life began after I was an adult, beyond the struggles of being an awkward and gangly teen. Thankfully there is no visual proof of most of my stupidity as a teenager.

Our descendants will have an advantage over previous generations: They will, ostensibly, know what their ancestors, those who lived in a post-Internet world, did on a daily basis.

There is no record of high school parties. Like the one where I learned to never mix vodka, beer, and weed. We didn’t think we’d need to record every moment of our lives back then—there are no pictures. Yet, had there been smartphones and social media, you’re damn right we would’ve captured those youthful indiscretions.

There is no record of my 21st birthday. Though I kind of wish there were. From what I was told, I was fine until the ride home from Hoboken. Apparently I vomited out of a moving vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike. And somehow left my belt and pants in my friend’s car. Why? I have no idea.

There is no record of drug experimentation. Cactus will have to ask me about that.

All of these examples are limits of available information. In order to know them, Cactus will have to engage with me, talk with me.

Everything from my adult life, however—from the mundane to the magical—will be available just a click away. Cactus will quickly learn about my likes and dislikes, my philosophies, even my contradictions. Cactus will see me in a more human way than I do my parents — at least much earlier — because of my digital trail. I didn’t separate mom and dad from Lynn and Jerry until I was in college, gaining a better understanding of myself and the world.

Our descendants will have an advantage over previous generations: They will, ostensibly, know what their ancestors, those who lived in a post-Internet world, did on a daily basis. I have no idea what my great-grandfather did on a random August day in 1914, but my great-grandkids will know—should they want to—exactly what I did on a random August day in 2014.

They’ll have a better understanding of my time, of my day, of me. Sure, diaries have been around for centuries. But not everyone kept one, and not many ever saw the light of day. Whatever we tweet or blog about will remain. 1s and 0s don’t fade like parchment.

WHEN I WAS YOUNGER I’d thumb through my parents’ photo albums to get a sense of what life pre-Josh was like for them. By all measures, it seemed better! They went camping. They traveled. They did things that didn’t involve diapers and crying and worrying. They looked like they were living the life. Their life.

I’d lay on my stomach, legs bent in the air and ask my parents about this trip and that trip. But then I’d learn that many of their travels happened after I was born; They would leave me with grandparents or a babysitter for a week. I like this plan.

Another big signifier of who my parents were before I was pulled out of nothingness and into this universe was their record collection. I’d rifle through their archives, pulling out albums that I wanted to play. I pieced together that my dad was more of a Stones guy, and my mom a Beatles fan. When I talked to my parents about music, I heard stories of Woodstock—stuck in traffic on I-87—and the Doors and seeing Jimi Hendrix open for the Monkees.

I had to ask my parents about their lives. Cactus won’t have to ask; a record of my life, or most of it, is available on the Internet. Cactus will see my playlist stream through my television connected via Apple TV. Will “cover art” or “album” mean anything?

Cactus will enter this world with seemingly infinite knowledge at his or her fingertips. But whether or not Cactus has the ability to find that knowledge, well, that’s something else.

Where my parents may have had discussions about the television’s role in raising their kids, my wife and I debate about the power of the Internet. We see our friends bow down to the altar of Apple, passing iPads and iPhones like communion wafers to their howling children, hoping the devices will restore calm at dinner or in the car or at a friend’s house. My wife and I say we won’t use technology as a child-rearing tool, but until we’re tested, we just don’t know.

Modern parenthood comes with a much different set of instructions than what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had. Every generation says that, of course. But it seems as if we’re light years away from how my parents raised me, with Sesame Street and Dr. Spock. Well, we do have eHow and Yahoo Answers. So that’s something.

Josh Sternberg
Josh Sternberg is a content strategist at the Washington Post and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and soon-to-be child, whom he hopes to one day take to Phish shows.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.

October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.

October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.

October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.

October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.

October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.

October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.

October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.

October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.

October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.

October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”

October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?

October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.

October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.

October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.

October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?

October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.

October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.

October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.

October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.

Follow us

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.