Precious memories

R and G took part in their nativity at Christmas. I lost count of the number of people in the run up to the big day that asked me if we were allowed to photograph and film the play. It didn’t occur to me at any point that we wouldn’t be able to and I was proved right. Every single parent had their camera or phone out (in our case Dh had the video camera and I had the camera) and there were so many flashes that it was like a film premiere.

At the unofficial after-party one of the parents got out her laptop and we gathered round it to ooh and aah at our children. When we got home Dh put our video onto his computer and uploaded it to YouTube but made it a private video so that we could send the link to family and friends but no-one else could see it otherwise. I put the photos up on my (locked down) Facebook account, to be viewed by my friends only and I haven’t put any on HoT. I imagine that most of the other parents have done the same.

I’m quite horrified to hear that some parents demand (not ones that I know, but friends in other parts of the country have experienced this) that their little darlings faces are blanked or pixelated out of photos and videos…and I’m not talking things that are publicly available on YouTube here. These are things on locked-down social networking accounts. They are not available to the great unwashed that roam the wilds of the Internet looking for pictures of random cute children and doing god knows what with them.

There seems to be a tension between those parents that choose to put their child’s life online and those that refuse to. The former camp (and I include myself in this) are happy to blog and post photos and videos of their children, although I do have some self-imposed limits on the amount of information I put. For example, I rarely put the girls’ full names online, I don’t mention any of their friends explicitly and certainly not by name and I don’t mention the area we live in because, frankly, I don’t want to get burgled when we go on holiday. (In any case, the house isn’t ours and we don’t have anything worth stealing). I have set my own sharing parameters, based on what I feel comfortable with for my family

The latter camp includes some of the most tech-savvy people I know but they have made a decision to not put their child’s life online. This is sometimes done for perfectly sound reasons e.g. children that have been removed from their parents and are now in foster care placements or have been adopted, so it makes absolute sense for them to be wary about broadcasting a child’s life online. The same goes for fractured or estranged families. I’m talking about the ones who make a deliberate choice for their child without any of these caveats.

Do they genuinely think their child is more precious and special than other children? Are they saying that their child is so wonderful that they arrogantly assume that every single paedophile will be really, really interested in their offspring? Does it say more about the parents’ predilections than anything else? Taking this example to its logical conclusion, do these parents refuse to take their precious offspring to the supermarket for fear that a random stranger will dare to glance at them? Heaven forbid! I’m playing devil’s advocate here but you can probably see what I’m getting it.

I grew up in a world without social networking. I guess I could describe myself as an analogue/digital hybrid. Computers didn’t really feature in my life until I was about 8 years old. I didn’t get my own PC until I was 17. I typed my first year A-Level coursework on an electric typewriter after painstakingly writing it out in longhand. Facebook, Flicker, blogs and Twitter were all yet to come in an unimaginable future.

R and G were born into, and are growing up in, a world where the television programmes they want to watch are available on demand. They know that if Mummy takes a picture of them on her touch-screen phone, she will send it to Daddy and Nanny to see and they’ll probably reply in a matter of minutes. They know to swipe the screen of a smartphone to scroll through pictures of themselves. They can see pictures of their friends at parties on Mummy’s laptop (they’ve finally stopped calling it a Poncuter, sadly) and they’ve watched the hundreds of videos that we’ve taken of them over the last four years.

Of course, they don’t know that Mummy writes a warts ‘n’ all blog about them and that a random video of them babbling when they were 8 months old has had 669,000 views on YouTube in the last year, but there’s plenty of time for that. Their short lives have been documented through various social media platforms, but in a reasonably controlled way. How is Precious Child X going to feel when they reach the age where they understand social media and ask Mummy and Daddy why their faces were blanked out of that nativity video that all their little friends were in? At certain, more sensitive moments in my formative years I would have assumed that it was because I was so hideous that I had been hidden from view for my own good. What about their parents’ Facebook photos? There are lots of pictures of Mummy and Daddy and their family and friends, but the child doesn’t feature at all. I’d feel like I had been written out of my parents’ history.

The childhood narrative has changed since we were growing up. Our digital native offspring will expect to see their lives documented online in some form or other and if they aren’t, they are probably going to wonder why. I’m not arguing that the naysayers are necessarily wrong, but that they are going to have some interesting questions to deal with in a few years’ time. Childhood is changing and we as parents need to keep up with the latest developments.


While we were on holiday I went offline. For five days.

I wouldn’t describe myself as an IT addict but I definitely feel a need to be ‘connected’. I’m reasonably active on Facebook, I’m (begrudgingly) on Linked In and I have three Twitter profiles and two blogs. I like being in touch with my family, friends and professional contacts. My job is entirely web and e-mail based, so I spend a significant amount of time at a computer. I have an iphone so even when I’m away from my laptop, I can still keep tabs on things.

I didn’t deliberately plan to go offline. We stopped at a service station on the way to Center Parcs I automatically pulled my phone out of handbag to see if I’d had any messages. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I didn’t feel an urge to check my e-mails, Facebook or Twitter. I waited until we had arrived safety at our lodge and I turned my phone off.

Dh is pretty much wedded to his android phone and I figured that if anyone needed to get hold of me they could contact him. In a dire emergency our families knew where we were staying so could get a message to us. Anything else could wait for a few days.

I didn’t miss my phone at all. In fact, I felt oddly liberated without it. In any case, we were so busy that I didn’t have any time to play even if I had wanted to. I was too busy chucking myself down the water slides and leaping about with R and G to catch up on Facebook or Twitter!

I turned my phone back on just before we left on the Friday and even then I didn’t feel an urge to catch up on anything. As it turned out I hadn’t missed anything at all, aside from a pregnancy announcement on Facebook and that was easily rectified.

I don’t think I could be without my phone for so long in London. Something about living in a city reinforces my need to feel connected. I suspect that if I lived in the country I wouldn’t be quite so reliant on my mobile. Something about the countryside and animals and…nature stuff…makes me feel that the internet isn’t as important, somehow.

Connectivity is a self-feeding beast. You’re online so you Tweet or write a status update or blog. You get a response so you’re encouraged to write more and more and you’re sucked into the ‘If you’re offline you’re missing out’ trap. Normally I like this but I enjoyed living without it for a few days.

The nature of friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject recently. Two of the girls’ friends from nursery have recently moved on: one to a different nursery and the other has emigrated with her family. R and G know that H and M aren’t around anymore but have taken a matter-of-fact approach to it. G told us that H goes to another nursery now and she hoped that he would be going for a walk with his new friends. R said that M had gone away, again to another nursery.

Dh and I feel more upset about this than the girls, which is sign of their resilience as children and our sentimentality as adults. We feel the loss of their friends on their behalf – they just accept it as a part of life. I wish that, as adults, we could all be as resilient as the children. Of course, friendships are much simpler when you’re two. When you’re a grown-up they become complicated and messy.

Contrary to popular belief, friendships were actually much simpler the days before social networks. You made plans to meet people and kept them. If you didn’t want to see someone anymore you stopped returning their calls or replying to their e-mails. Now we’re all friends with people in real-life and many of us have a group or two of virtual friends. It makes our Facebook and Twitter feeds complicated and jumbled, which can be good in some ways but disconcerting in others. What do you do if you want to ‘end’ a friendship?

This is a taboo subject to some and a source of confrontation for others. I’m always amused by the people (usually the arrogant types) that announce to their networks that they are conducting a friend cull on Facebook (also known as going on a de-friending spree) or reducing their ‘Following’ count on Twitter. Apparently you’re supposed to feel pathetically grateful afterwards that you’ve made the cut and they have deemed you worthy of continuing friendship.

Sneakily going through your friends or following list and removing people feels a bit dishonest but it’s the approach I prefer. I also go through phases of ‘hiding’ people on Facebook that I want to keep in touch with but don’t need 25 status updates from them every day. Again, it feels a bit sneaky but it’s probably a bit kinder than sending them a message outlining exactly how much their constant updates about their cats/children/dogs or the really crappy and borderline sexist/racist jokes they post all the flipping time irritate the life out of you and make you want to hurl your iphone at the wall. Not that I’ve ever felt like that of course…

I’ve been de-friended by people in my time, usually by fairly remote acquaintances or by people the friended me and I couldn’t quite work out why but accepted them anyway. I used to get quite worked-up about it and try to analyse why they may have decided I wasn’t worth knowing any more (I suspect it’s because I’m 1. Quite political and 2. Quite irritating) but don’t fret about it quite as much now. I’m lying of course – it bugs the hell out of me.

Now, I’m not in the habit of culling and cutting my friends. I value my friendships extremely highly and I’m lucky enough to have made a diverse collection of friends over the years. However, when people that you previously liked become a source of constant irritation, when they turn out to be self-centred nasty little pieces of work, when they prove to be flaky and unreliable, when they turn out to be two-faced and rude and/or when you start questioning their motives for doing things, I think it’s useful to re-assess whether you should still regard them as friends.

It would actually be tremendously useful for if Facebook developed an application called the Friendship Counselling Service, in which you could air grievances with a view to resolving your differences. If the counselling failed you would be given a date on which your social network ties would be severed, giving you time to de-tag the photos of them and to allow for a sufficient period of mourning or voodoo doll-building, whichever you found more therapeutic.

As you may have guessed, I’m at this stage with a couple of my own friends at the moment and I’m not quite sure how I proceed. I’m aware of how awful and arrogant this is but I suspect that they feel much the same way about me, so one of us needs to do something about it. I can’t decide whether to go for the jugular or do the wimpy sneaky de-friending thing. Neither feels quite right. When you’re two, the ending of a friendship is easy and straightforward. When you’re thirty it’s much harder.