Privacy in the Age of the Internet
Originally published January 18, 2013
When Nomi and I were first approached by Brookline Patch to write a parenting column, it seemed to us an obvious fit. We were new parents, surrounded by many other new parents in town, and we fell into a few demographics that were either already well represented in our world or growing. Our experiences as parents could help illuminate this part of our culture and maybe serve as helpful advice to others, and so we eagerly became members of the Patch team.
The one issue that concerned us, though, was privacy. When Nomi was pregnant, we had made a point of not talking about her pregnancy on our blogs, and it worked. Once our kids were born, friends of ours who didn’t see us regularly were actually surprised to discover that Nomi had been pregnant. Part of the reason we kept our own counsel was the Jewish custom of not tempting the “evil eye” while pregnant, but there was also the fact that the world had changed and the private sphere had become much more public. We didn’t expect to stop communicating with our friends over the Internet after our children were born, but we knew that what we shared publicly about our lives was no longer going to affect just ourselves. How could we balance our desire to share stories about our lives with our kids’ privacy?
In the end, we came up with a solution that all of you are quite familiar with. As far as the Internet is concerned, our twin daughters are named Muffin and Squeaker. Those names are, as Nomi is fond of saying, their noms de blog, and we use them whenever we talk about them. (As an amusing side note, when people meet us for the first time, they almost always ask which one of our kids is Muffin and which one is Squeaker.) We know this isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best one we could think of.
In an earlier time, were we writing this column for a newspaper, privacy concerns would be less of an issue. The point is almost too obvious to belabor, but the Internet has made it much easier to search for and find out about people. Even if the Patch website were associated with a print edition and we wrote our column for the newspaper, it wouldn’t matter, as the columns would still be available for anyone on the planet. Furthermore, the stories we tell are possibly going to be findable in perpetuity. It’s something that Muffin and Squeaker will have to deal with. But then again, the simple fact that we chose to bring them into this world means that there will be things they have to deal with.
I recently began following the blog of writer Jane Roper, author of Double Time: How I Survived—And Mostly Thrived—Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins. Sadly, one of her twin daughters has developed cancer, and Roper has been blogging about it quite frankly. For me, it opens up the question of privacy again and highlights how life-changing the decision to write about one’s kids can be.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a former student of mine about how the Internet was changing the world, and I brought up an example. At the time, many parents I knew were blogging about their kids down to the level of their daily diaper changes and potty training. I asked my former student how we would feel if, when he had been in high school, his friends could have done a search on his childhood toddler habits and teased him with all this information. He was horrified at the prospect. Then I pointed out that he might very well be able to do the same thing to his friends, and suddenly he realized how the dynamic would change. In a way, with so much “mommy blogging” going on, the level playing field continues to exist; it just moves to a different location.
But there’s one advantage to our writing about our kids that I hope Muffin and Squeaker will appreciate in due time.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of those “parentless parents”that writer Allison Gilbert discusses in her book. Many times, a question has come up about raising our kids that makes me wish I could go to my father or mother and ask them how they handled the issue when raising my brothers and me. It occurs to me that I would have loved to be able to read a series of columns written by my parents about raising their family, as it would give me the advice and information that they sadly can no longer provide.
Our hope is that in the end, Muffin and Squeaker will be happy with how we’ve chronicled their lives on these pages (as it were). At the very least, I hope they realize that these words are an expression of our love.
This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.
About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2013 by Brookline Patch.