the future

I Hope the Internet Ends Before My Kid Needs a Cool Screen Name

Photo: Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

Before I had a kid, I didn’t really have mom friends, but I did have dad co-workers. I spent much of my 20s working at nascent tech start-ups, where there were few women but lots of well-compensated dads-to-be. They had their own listserv; they’d get lunch together, have their own happy hour; the paternity-leave policy was written long before the maternity one. I loved talking to them about this impending life change, asking them about baby names and how their wives were doing. “It’s crazy,” they’d say. Their wives were good; everyone was tired. They had a few baby-name ideas, and were weighing them based on domain availability and current Google results.

What. I remember laughing, chiding them, but also totally understanding. This digital land-grab on behalf of the unborn was something fathomable; it was an area of expertise in the strange land of parenthood. I shook my head while they showed me the avatars they’d chosen for their fetuses — but just thinking of all the usernames, disappearing every second, made me feel anxious and acquisitive. After all, aren’t we supposed to want more for our children than we had ourselves? Is this not the American Dream? By God, my child will never know the shame of putting his birth year at the end of his AOL screen name. No one will ever ask my son whether he is even actually straight edge, or if he just used xxHisNamexx because otherwise he would have had to be fartknocker84.

The period when my co-worker dads started procreating (2011–2012 — maybe it coincided with a funding round) was around the time that Google Chrome ad came out. You know the one, the one you can’t watch without crying even if you’ve seen it before, even if you’re watching it just to see if you can watch it without crying. A dad opens a Gmail account for his daughter when she’s born and sends her messages, photos, YouTube videos of her crying on a kiddie train at the mall. The idea is he hands it over to her when she grows up and BOOM: crytown.

This video is not about reserving an email address for your progeny before they are born so that when they grow up, they gave a “good” Gmail address. (The FTC forbids anyone under 13 from signing up for accounts with most internet companies — enjoy your privacy being valued while you still can, kids.) But it’s also not not about that — or at least that’s how I remember taking it at the time. Plan for the future! Give your child the gift of firstname + lastname respectability! Also it’s way easier to send an email than write in a baby book!

Now that I have had a child, well, first: What I most want for him in this life, much more than a good domain name, is for there to be no more internet. But I wondered if my old dad colleagues could confirm my memories — did they really worry about this? Was this really on the list of things to do?

Yes, said Sam, a front-end developer who now works at a music start-up. Then his wife, Katie, jumped in. “Oh God, I just had a flashback to Sam looking up domain names while I was in labor,” she said. “One of the last things I remember before my epidural completely stopped working is him frantically checking domain names and social networks to make sure there were options available and that no one horrible with the name existed already.”

Picturing Sam hunched over his laptop in the delivery room makes perfect sense: clinging to something familiar, trying to help in a way he knew how.

My friend Marco told me he spent some of his first hours as a father registering his son’s domain name. “I wanted to make sure he could have his Twitter username and his .com domain name,” he said.  Marco, too, recalls a frantic scramble at the hospital: He bought the domain name and registered for Twitter on his laptop shortly after the baby was born, before announcing the birth online.  

My son does not have a Twitter account. Partially because, and maybe this is wishful thinking, I truly do not think Twitter will exist when my son comes of tweeting age. He is a year old. Tweens and teens that are existing right now don’t even use Twitter; it isn’t cool. They barely use email. (Did you know inbox is a verb for teens and it refers to sending someone a Facebook message?)

“Twitter will be dead,” said my friend Jessica, who had her second baby a few weeks ago. “Email will be dead?” Her missives have a poetic disjointedness I have come to treasure, and I appreciated her confidence. “Only squares and recent graduates have lastname.firstname@gmail anyway,” she went on. “It would be like my parents carefully curating me a video library. Not helpful.”

I just checked on behalf of my son, and his is available as a domain, but this would mean paying $19.99/year for who knows how many years to keep up his potential for respectable personal branding and I guess I’m just not willing to make that kind of investment. (Shhh, don’t talk to me about college.)

While I do share Jessica’s hope that the internet will cease to exist by the time our children are preteens, ripe for cyberbullying and ready to read every first-person essay I’ve written, I’ll admit there is a chance we might still be surfing the information superhighway. However. If Twitter still exists when my son is of networking age, when he is looking for a job or has a, God forbid, book or DJ set to promote, in the year 2030, I can’t really imagine him accepting the keys to the internet-person castle I dutifully chose for him, way back when. If I know anything about teens, he will probably want to include some reference to a heretofore unknown sex act, or the street name for a designer drug. Plus @admiralstormgutters will never in a million years want his mom as a Twitter follower.

Even Marco, whose son is 3 years old now, echoed this sentiment. “By the time he’s old enough to care, he won’t care about the same things we do, even if [the services] are still around. Who are we kidding? We do this for ourselves.”

I think he’s right.

In the course of writing this piece, I got my son a Gmail address. I see it in my pull-down menu whenever I am signed into my own account, and it makes me feel both ridiculous and happy, reminded of him. I can’t wait to see what kind of dumbass handle he chooses for himself instead.

I Hope the Internet Ends Before My Kid Grows Up