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Overview and introduction to "Cybertraps for Expecting Moms & Dads" (2017).
This is an online version of my 2017 book, Cybertraps for Expecting Moms & Dads. This Introduction and Chapter One are available to the public at large; the remainder is available to paid subscribers of The Cybertraps Newsletter.
[Note: I am adding approximately 2-3 chapter per week; check back for each installment.]
The idea for this book arose out a series of conversations I had with my former upstairs neighbor, Tami Mnoian, not long after the birth of her daughter in early 2015. Tami knew about my research and work in the area of cybersafety, and mentioned that she and some other new mothers had a number of questions about pregnancy-related technology and privacy issues. She thought that a book summarizing and discussing those issues would be helpful. So here it is — not quite as quickly as I planned, but still timely.
My initial plan was to write a short e-book focusing solely on the privacy issues involving women who are actually pregnant, as well as their spouses, partners, family members, etc., etc. As I began exploring this topic in more depth, however, it quickly became apparent that technology is having a warp field effect on virtually every aspect of human reproduction, from the first hints of emoji-laced courtship to the moment a newly-sentient human being is handed his or her first digital device.
As someone who researches, writes, and lectures about emerging technologies and privacy (among other topics), I was already aware of the enormous interest that retailers and manufacturers have in families who are expecting a baby. Pregnant women are one of the most valuable target demographics in the advertising business (just ahead of pre-mid-life crisis men), since they are a sure bet to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on pregnancy and newborn supplies.
After researching this topic, however, I concluded that it’s only a small but useful stretch to expand the definition of “expecting moms and dads” to include pretty much anyone of child-bearing years, or frankly, anyone who hopes one day to become a grandparent. That’s not to say that everyone in that demographic will have children. In fact, as we’ll see, there’s considerable concern about the falling birthrate among millennials.
A couple’s decision to have a child or not is a conversation well beyond the scope of this book. But one of the goals of Cybertraps for Expecting Moms & Dads is to remind those who might someday procreate, or who are under seemingly endless pressure from parents to do so, that there are technological issues that they should consider long before they start posting photos of their pregnancy test stick or first sonogram on Facebook or Instagram.
In contemporary society, it is important to acknowledge that the phrase “expecting mom and dad” is no longer synonymous, to the extent it ever fully was, with “husband and wife.” I intend the phrase to encompass married and unmarried heterosexual couples, married and unmarried gay couples, single parents, and the myriad other variations on family structure that exist in our society. To reflect that intent, I have avoided the use of “husband,” “wife,” and “spouse,” and have used the term “partner” to encompass all of the people who collaborate intimately or otherwise in the conception, birthing, and rearing of a child. My sincere wish is for every mother to have the partner or partners she needs throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Above all, the purpose of this book is not to present vast quantities of detailed research data; I’ll leave that to formally-trained social scientists and Ph.D. candidates. Instead, my intent to provide a thoughtful and hopefully entertaining overview of some of the more interesting issues that possible, soon-to-be, and even new parents should consider. My hope is that this book will spur reflection and conversation among potential parents about the numerous effects that technology is having on the seemingly straightforward process of creating a new human being. In many ways, we can thank technology for making us better informed about procreation and pregnancy than ever before; more often than not, however, we are unaware that the identical technology is informing Web site owners, advertisers, retailers, and even the government about the details of this most intimate and fascinating of human events.
So what exactly is a “cybertrap”? I define the term as follows: “an unintended or unexpected consequence resulting from the use and/or misuse of a digital device, a social media platform, or any other form of electronic communication.” As will become evident, some of the issues that I discuss in this book predate the digital era; what brings those issues into the category of “cybertraps” is the remarkable speed with which those issues now arise, the potential for the global spread of collected information, and the unforeseen threats arising out of the increasingly powerful mining of data, much of it user-generated.
This book is divided into three parts. The first section deals with preconception cybertraps, from courtship to fertilization. The second section covers cybertraps that arise during pregnancy itself. The third section takes a look at some of cybertraps that can arise during the birth of a child and during the first bleary, sleep-deprived days and weeks of new parenthood.
Section One: The Cybertraps of Conception
Disconcertingly, there is a possibility that our use of mobile devices in particular may damage the quality of our reproductive cells years before we actually try to conceive. In Chapter One, I take a look at the debate over the impact of mobile technology on human fertility.
It is much more difficult, although not impossible, for someone to conceive if he or she has been severely injured or has died in an accident. In Chapter Two, I discuss the ways in which our obsession with mobile devices is heightening our risk of serious physical injury and even death.
In Chapter Three, I look at the myriad ways in which technology in general and mobile devices in particular are changing dating and courtship. In Chapter Four, I examine the possible impact that mobile apps like Grindr and Tinder are having on the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) [0.1] and pregnancy rates in general.
In the normal course of events, intercourse is a necessary predicate to pregnancy. Chapter Five raises the questions of whether our numerous digital devices are either preventing or interfering with the emotional and physical intimacy that facilitates procreation.
“There’s an App for That (Even If You Don’t Know It).” As digital devices and mobile apps play a bigger and bigger role in our everyday lives, those tools often know much more about our physical health and mental state than we do. Chapter Six explores the ways in which digital devices and services might know that you are pregnant before you do.
Section Two: Your Little Bundle of Data
Chapter Seven begins the discussion of cybertraps during pregnancy, beginning with social media posts of pregnancy tests and the etiquette of contemporary pregnancy announcements.
In Chapter Eight, I revisit some of the physical harm that can result
from the use of mobile devices, but this time with a focus on the impact on
the developing fetus.
One of the main areas of concentration of my work is personal privacy. Chapter Nine explores the tremendous economic value of your personal data when pregnant and the privacy issues that inevitably arise.
Chapter Ten brings the discussion back to social media, through a discussion of some of the issues you and your partner might want to consider during the course of your pregnancy. The primary question, as always, is how much do you want to share and with whom. Underlying that question should be the realization that once you share, it is virtually impossible to maintain control over the spread and use of that information.
Section Three: The Cybertraps of Birthing and Infancy
As your newborn gets ready to make an appearance, you will want to think about who will be present in the delivery room to meet him or her, and how the new arrival should be announced. Chapter Eleven reviews some of the pitfalls that can arise.
Choosing a name for your baby can be an exciting process. It can be an opportunity to merge two family identities, reaffirm traditions, or acknowledge some meaningful aspect of the parents’ relationship. Thanks to technology and the realities of online identification, as Chapter Twelve illustrates, it can also be frustrating and complicated.
New parents, particularly those in the millennial generation, will see an endless wave of “smart” parenting products marketed to them. Chapter Thirteen reviews some of the options and highlights potential concerns.
With the arrival of a newborn, parents are immediately confronted with serious decisions about how their own use of technology will affect their child. Chapter Fourteen illustrates the need for every parent of a newborn to think carefully about the example they are setting.
In Chapter Fifteen, I look at the issue of self-determination. Parents need to balance between their desire to share kid photos with relatives and friends, and the right of any child to shape his or her own identity. It is a task made much more difficult when there are hundreds or thousands of photos of him or her on social media.
Chapter Sixteen presents increasingly powerful medical evidence that child use of digital devices should be delayed as long as possible. Are mobile devices replacing the television as our de facto babysitter? If so, what are the possible consequences for kids themselves and society as a whole?
Any couple that is expecting or is planning to do so should take the time to write out a digital technology plan to discuss assumptions, expectations, and values. Appendix A contains a list of topics and guiding questions to facilitate that discussion.
I have organized notes and references by chapter; they can be found [at] the end of [each chapter] in the section labeled ["Chapter Notes."] The material referenced in the endnotes is drawn from my research files, which have been compiled over the past twenty years, as well as ongoing research that I have done specifically for this project. In many cases, I have copies of articles which may have been moved from the original electronic location, or which may be from sources that no longer exist. Every effort has been made to provide thorough and accurate citations, but inevitably, it may not be possible to access some of these articles directly. If anyone is attempting to locate a cited article that cannot be found online, please feel free to contact me through the contact form on my Web site.
At various points in this book, I have referred to various devices, products, apps, software, privacy policies, and terms of service. Each of those items was online and viewable at the time this book was published but there is no guarantee, nor do I offer one, that any of the items is available and unchanged at the time you are reading this. Even if one or more changes has occurred in the specific items I cite, the lessons I’ve drawn from these examples are still relevant. Undoubtedly, similar examples can easily be found.
Note 0.1 – In recent years, many medical and public health professionals have started using the phrase “sexually transmitted infection” in place of the more well-known “sexually transmitted disease” (STD). The reason for the change, according to the American Sexual Health Association, is to better acknowledge that an individual may be infected through sexual contact but not fall sick or display any obvious symptoms of a “disease.” “STDS/STIS,” American Sexual Health Association, [n.d.] [ last accessed on 16 June 2016 at http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/ ]. I will use the phrase “sexually transmitted infection” throughout this book, except when quoting someone directly.
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