My Preschooler Has Her Own Instagram
A decade ago, I read the first 3 books of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. This young adult sci-fi series follows a teenage protagonist who flees the city to escape the cosmetic surgery all teens undergo at age 16 to become “Pretties.” The books were engrossing; I was in my early 20s, and I connected deeply to Westerfeld’s vital commentary on beauty standards, the pressure to conform, and how hard it’s becoming to live authentically.
Then I got to the 4th book: Extras. Extras is set in future Japan, where citizens use a “reputation economy.” Everyone has a face rank, which measures their popularity, and if you know someone’s name, you can check their feed to see how popular they are. The premise is reminiscent of the fantastic Black Mirror episode Nosedive, but Westerfeld published it back in 2007.
At the time, I couldn’t get through Extras. The premise, to me, seemed so ridiculous. Too ridiculous to even consider. Everyone trying to make their livelihoods through fame? No way.
I was wrong.
Today, 11 years after Extras was published, my 4-year-old has her own Instagram, and I think about that book all the time. I think how, over and over, the unfathomable becomes real; how sci-fi writers are prophets; how we seem powerless to stop technology, as it reshapes society, changes what it means to be a human in this world.
My brother, mom and I mostly communicate through a group Facebook message. Today, my brother messaged to tell us he’d just made his niece, my daughter, her own Instagram page. He gave my husband, mom and I all the password, so we could control it as well.
“What’s the endgame?” I asked. And we got in a discussion of the possibilities Instagram can, rarely, present.
My mom can certainly find her way around the internet, but she’s bewildered by the idea that someone you don’t know might follow you. (I envy her. Ignorance sounds blissful, when it comes to the idea of social media fame.)
So my brother and I filled her in about Instagram influencers. I showed her Christine Look’s super-interesting Medium piece How I Made a Living with an Instagram Famous Cat. Christine details how companies pay her $1,800 to $7,000 to post her cat with a product. (Her cat is indeed ridiculously adorable.)
Is this what my brother’s attempting with my daughter’s new account?
No, he says it’s just a placeholder: reserving her name now in case she wants to use it when she gets older. (Ohhhh, like reserving the Gmail address for your future married name, just in case, even though you seriously just started dating…. oh, or was that just me?)
Selling Pieces of Her Childhood
I shelter her from screens, but the whole world can watch our home movies.
Right now, my Instagram is almost entirely pictures of my daughter and her art. She’s already all over the internet. But she’s not involved in it; she doesn’t know about likes; that’s very intentional on my part.
The most my 4-year-old ever hears about her online presence is when a grownup she knows tells her, IRL, they saw some photo or video of her. Sometimes they phrase it in a confusing way:
“I love those ballerina drawings you did,” when she never showed that person her art before.
Each time, I quickly explain to her that I was so proud of her and showed her art off online. This makes her happy. She’s proud of herself too.
It’s a recent thing, but she wants me to take a photo of every piece of art she creates now. Her art is seriously advanced, and I imagine her being a visual artist into adulthood and what a treasure it will be to have a record of her progress (without keeping too much of the massive stacks of paper we’ve accumulated). So I’m glad we’re taking photos. But…
I daydream often about if my family had some sort of full-time steady income, completely unattached to online clicks or likes. What freedom to think about a precious video of my kid only as a family keepsake and not as a possible revenue stream.
In my piece Living in the Moment, or Living for the Photo?, one of the things I touch on is “mommy blogger” Katie Bower, who got flack for posting on her son’s birthday about how sad she is that photos of him get the least likes of all her children.
Luckily, I only have one kid. But, really, with or without my help, I don’t want my kid’s feelings to ever be tied up in how many likes she gets. This feels less and less avoidable, as more of our life goes online, and the gig economy forces every bit of us to be available for consumption.
Right now, my kid is blissfully unaware of all of this.
I am so freaking proud of her. But when I speak to her, I try to remember to replace the words, “I’m proud of you” with, “I think you should feel really proud of yourself. Do you?” My thought process is I want her self-esteem to come from inside, not from anywhere external. I want to nudge her towards self-love, always letting her know how much I love her, but hoping her strength doesn’t come from me, or from strangers, but from deep inside.
Here’s something else you’ll enjoy: