Watching Children Grow Up in Public Spaces: “Lotte Time Lapse” in the Age of Sharing


4.30.12 | Nearly 5 million of us have watched Lotte Hofmeester grow up, literally before our eyes. And anyone can do it, even though Lotte is now entering adolescence.

This isn’t a brain teaser—it’s a video. Lotte’s father, Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester, turned 12 years of weekly footage of his daughter into the viral sensation titled “Lotte Time Lapse: Birth to 12 years in 2 min. 45.”

“She was changing at such a rapid pace that I felt the need to document the way she looked, to keep my memories in tact,” Hofmeester said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.

The short film is quite engaging to watch, and every parent I know who has seen it wishes they had had the foresight and skill to create something at least half as captivating to mark their child’s growth. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how Lotte will feel about sharing her early development with the world when she is 16, or further down the road. Her father said he intends to continue filming, so maybe Lotte’s transformation into a young woman will continue to unfold in a very public way.

Here’s the complicated question: At what age should kids be able to decide for themselves whether they want their past, or their present, on public display?

In 2010, the computer security company AVG found that 81 percent of children in the countries it surveyed (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan) had some kind of digital footprint by age 2; in the United States, it was more than 92 percent. The “digital dossier” mostly consisted of photos and videos posted by family members. More than one-third of children in the United States made their online debut before their real one, via sonogram images posted online.

More than one-third of children in the United States made their online debut before their real one, via sonogram images posted online.

Most parents I know enthusiastically use social media networks to share photos of their children—indeed, some say it’s practically a requirement. There are still some parents, however, who are wary of putting images of their children online, either because they’re concerned about safety, or because they want their children to make their own decisions about how to build and shape their online identify. And most of them say they feel pressure from other family members to be more carefree about sharing.

One couple told me they would post their kids’ photos if they could be assured they were doing so in a controlled enviroment. Though they’re both on Facebook, they decided not to post family photos there because they don’t trust the privacy settings. They’re looking into setting up a password-protected Tumblr even though it doesn’t satisfy all their ownership and privacy concerns.

On the other side of the spectrum are parents who think nothing of uploading to Facebook the messy moments of their children’s lives—backseat meltdowns, for example—along with the expected cute and quirky pics. There is solidarity to sharing, and no better feeling, perhaps, than when a reader not only likes a post but writes, “I’ve been there.”

These same evolving, often diverging attitudes toward public and private space apply to relationships between adults as well. As Laura M. Holson outlines in a recent New York Times article, one of the major conflicts a couple can face develops from differing senses about what parts of their own relationship—what previously had been quirky, private behavior—are or are not appropriate to post or tweet for all the world to see:

If one half of a couple is not interested in broadcasting the details of a botched dinner or romantic weekend, Facebook postings or tweets can create irritation, embarrassment, miscommunication and bruised egos.

After a few relationship-testing episodes, some spouses have started insisting that their partners ask for approval before posting comments and photographs that include them. Couples also are talking through rules as early as the first date (a kind of social media prenup) about what is O.K. to share. Even tweeting about something as seemingly innocent as a house repair can become a lesson in boundary-setting.

It appears that no matter what our age, sometimes each of us requires a time-out—or, at least, time to consider and think through the benefits and pitfalls of sharing our lives and the lives of our loved ones.


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