Now there’s one more thing that parents can give their children to ensure their future success in life – a digital trust fund. Yep, that’s right, it's no longer enough for well-to-do parents to set up financial trust funds for their kids and hand off personal fortunes at the age of 18, they now must consider creating digital trust funds and handing off pre-packaged digital legacies to children as young as three. While social networking sites like Facebook restrict parents from etablishing personal profiles for children under the age of 13, they are gradually yielding to parents who want their children to have an online presence earlier than that with features like "Facebook for unborn children." These digital trust fund kids will be the true digital natives – kids who have a digital footprint by the time they’re old enough to talk and are ready to tweet by the time they're in kindergarten.
It used to be that the first years of a child’s life were a blank slate. Maybe an embarrassing photo or two, a few family scrapbooks with sentimental mementos, but certainly nothing that could be shared by thousands of people online in a digital format. Think about it – what’s the first memory you have of your own life? Most likely, it came around age five, which is when psychologists and baby philosophers say most of us start creating permanent memories. To get around this "memory problem," parents are embracing the implied permanance of the Internet: they are creating Facebook accounts, claiming passwords and usernames on other social sites, and creating a digital identity for their children even before they’re born. They are fake-tweeting for babies the same way PR flacks fake-tweet for celebrities. They are relentlessly over-sharing every moment of their babies' lives, to the point where it has even become an Internet meme, STFU, Parents.
Not only that, but they are embracing mobile apps that allow them to track every step of a baby's life. This obsession surely has its roots in the helicopter style of parenting so in vogue these days. Beyond just taking an interest in every aspect of a child’s development, parents are actually intruding into personal areas that have no precedent. Some even call it "hijacking" a child's identity. Imagine a child using Twitter for the first time and realizing that - surprise! - you've been sending ridiculous 140-character tweets for years. Parents have always wanted their memories to intertwine with the memories of their children - now they have a way to do this with off-the-shelf digital tools.
By creating a digital trust fund that contains all the building blocks of a digital identity, parents are theoretically girding their children for success in a digital world. During the first Internet boom, parents took steps like reserving personal domain names for their children. Now, with the social networking boom, they have a mind-boggling number of social sites to keep in mind. Should they start signing up for Twitter and Pinterest accounts - or is it simply too creepy to assume a child's identity before he or she's even had a chance to say anything in the matter (literally)?
A digital trust fund comprises more than just a URL held in perpetuity and profiles across all the major social networking sites. It also means that parents should establish a baseline of historical reference, as in Google Chrome's "Dear Sophie" ad:
"Lots of parents think it’s cool to buy a domain name for their kid, but few will make the time to explain to their kids how technology has evolved over time. Explaining this evolution will give your child a deeper perspective from which to operate their business or brand going forward. Drop a Gmail message to your kid in their new account from time to time, upload a YouTube video and write down your thoughts on the state of the Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare-sphere so they have a better understanding of the limits and breakthroughs made by technology each year."
Of course, as with anything related to digital data and social networking, there’s rampant debate about what exactly parents are doing to their children by creating “digital trust funds.” Should parents really be breathlessly documenting every moment of their young ones' lives via photos and videos and Facebook status updates? In the Wall Street Journal, for example, there was discussion on the relative merits of creating a “Facebook-free baby." Just as there are adults who pledge to stay away from Facebook, there are parents who pledge to keep their kids away from The Social Network.
But what if having a digital trust fund turns out to be just as desirable as having a financial trust fund? At the end of the day, we are surely headed to digital Day Zero – the point when our digital legacies and digital identities start at the day of birth, not at some arbitrary point in childhood - like age 13 - when we think “our kids can handle it.” In places like Sweden, nearly one-half of all toddlers age 3 are already using the Internet. In New York City's TriBeCa, kindergartners are getting crash courses in Twitter. Speeding up the point of digital entry for the average toddler may turn out to be a fabulously misguided experiment driven as much by parental ego as by some altruistic concern about the future -- but can we really afford not to give our children every advantage in life if the opportunity already exists today?
image: Little Child Playing With Tablet / Shutterstock