Born with an Online Identity

My sister is pregnant (hooray!),  and I found out that her baby is a girl (even better!) via this ultrasound:

Yes, you just checked out the labia of a tiny, unborn child.  Pervert.

I currently have more than a few friends and family that are  pregnant or trying to be pregnant.  Every time I turn around someone else is refusing to have a drink with me.  As a result, I’ve become quite skilled at examining ultrasound images and feigning recognition when someone says, “Do you see the profile?”

In all honesty, the technology behind the ultrasound has made this easier and easier.  It’s pretty rare that, at least after a few hints, I can’t identify fingers, toes,or  a spine.

Mothers and grandmothers with grown children will tell you how much the technology surrounding pregnancy and childbirth has changed (if you’re in your late twenties, like me, your grandmother never had an ultrasound and could have been unconscious during delivery).   Many couples opt for 3D ultrasounds, provided by third party vendors charging a hefty fee, which provide unbelievably detailed pictures of your unborn baby.

It’s no surprise that the technology, specifically the ability to know so much about your baby before you meet him or her, has changed the way we talk about pregnancy, motherhood, and babies.  With this new and accurate prenatal information, parents are more likely to refer to their unborn baby by name, speculate on his or future personality, and create an identity for him before he or she is physically in the world.

I’ve written before about the impact of media, social media, and technology on the way we think about the world around us, and I find it particularly compelling that children born today will be born into a world that is already steeped in social media.   In fact, because so many parents post ultrasound photos and baby pictures on Facebook, announcing their children’s entrance into the world and chronicling it with daily photo updates, (which will only be enhanced with Timeline), children born today will always have a virtual identity, beginning with day 1 (or week 12).

How will my niece’s childhood be different than mine or her mother’s because of social media?  How will being born into Facebook (which, were it a country, would be the third largest nation in the world) affect her development?  Will taking over her Facebook account when she turns 13 (or the age that her parents deem appropriate) be a new right of passage, just as important as learning to drive or getting a cell phone?

As I’ve said before, I don’t support a doom-and-gloom outlook of social media, and so I am not implying that modern childhood will be worse, less rich, or less grounded.  But I do think that being born with both a physical and virtual identity is a cultural phenomenon worth investigating.