If I were to ask you which came first your physical footprint or your digital footprint, you would almost certainly tell me that it was your physical one. You may even be able to recount a story of that event by a relative or family friend. You would probably also give me a look for asking a question with such an obvious answer.
There are many firsts in the life of a newborn: smiling responsively (around three months old), saying ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ (around eight months), taking their first steps (usually between 9 and 12 months, although some children take a little longer. In dramas and sit-coms these are often the source of parental joy if they witnessed this and if theirs was the first name. At the same time baby’s first steps appear to be one of mixed emotions as baby seems to be taking a first step towards independence. There is, however, another important event that should be added to this list, even though it isn’t a physical development: baby’s digital birth.
Digital technologies are a part of children’s lives, whether we think they should be or not.
Global online security firm AVG commissioned some interesting and important research that found more than a third of children in the United States (US) had digital lives before they had taken their first breath and even more had these digital footprints before they had taken physical footsteps. 34 percent of mothers from the US who took part in the study uploaded antenatal scans of their unborn child, and 33 percent uploaded images of their newborn child.
The number of children with a digital identify who are too young to understand or consent only increases. 92 percent of mothers in the US had uploaded images of their child by the time they were two-years-old. Children’s digital footprints take shape from very young ages and raises several questions, including those of safety, privacy, future employability and training for parents in understanding digital identity more fully. This is, perhaps, more striking when we acknowledge that children’s future ability to find, reclaim or delete material posted by others is uncertain (Holloway, Green and Livingstone, 2013).
The study by AVG throws-up another interesting statistic: the average age for ‘digital birth’ of children worldwide occurs at just six-months old. This is, however, part of a trend of our times. We are witnessing increasing numbers of pre-school children who use devices connected to the Internet, especially touchscreen tablets and smartphones. For example, Ofcom (2012) found that in the UK a third of children aged 3-4 years-old go online, and this figure rises to 87 percent of children aged 5-7, with 11 percent of the later bracket using tablet computers. The range of activities that children engage in on-line increases with age (Holloway, Green and Livingstone, 2013) but, generally, they are watching videos, playing games, searching for information, doing homework and socializing with others (ibid.).
You could take my point here to be that children are creating a digital history that will follow him or her for the rest of their lives – it isn’t. My point is actually that digital technology is already a part of children’s everyday lives. I’ve lost track of the number of educators and researchers who tell us that learning needs to be meaningful and relevant to children’s lives and interests. Digital technologies are a part of children’s lives, whether we think they should be or not, and we would be unwise to ignore them.
There, I’ve started to have my tuppence worth about why digital technologies should be a part of education. Digital technology is a great gift to modern educators and may well be an expectation of learners. You know what they say about gift horses and mouths, right?
(1) 2,200 mothers with children under two-years-old took part in the study. The averages for the sample across participating countries (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and Japan) were 23 percent, 33 percent and 81 percent respectively.
Holloway, D., Green, L. and Livingstone, S. (2013) Zero to Eight. Young Children and their Internet Use. LSE, London: EU Kids Online.
Ofcom (2012) Children and Parents: Media Uses and Attitudes Report. London: Ofcom.
I have been unable to locate a copy of the report from AVG, but the main findings appear here and across several other websites. [Accessed 06 March 2015]
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Christopher A. Dominic.