Parenting IRL

Curator's Note

There’s no right way to parent but there are many wrong ways. The risk implied by that statement became inspiration for mobile app developers. A quick survey of the parenting and family app landscape reveals programs tailored for socialization (i.e., eating, arguing, bullying, and tantrums), parental surveillance (i.e., location trackers, vehicle speed alerts, social media use monitors), household organization (i.e., chore charts, recipe books, activity calendars, photo collages), and bodily management (i.e., breastfeeding logs, sleep trackers, diaper alerts, teen menstruation calendars). The scope is hardly surprising when so much of daily living is already appified. App-enabled micromanagement is changing the meaning of quintessential life experiences like rest (hours of sleep) fitness (number of steps), nourishment (calories consumed). And now, parenting.

Appficiation is proximate scientification. In an American culture inundated by “experts” and out of touch with truth, information presented in the form of an app feels reassuring in its concreteness. But nothing about parenthood is reassuring or concrete. That’s why the idea of using an app to decode your baby’s cry is so comical. Parenting—like sleeping, eating, and exercising—is embodied. Moreover, words commonly associated with parenthood like “instinct” and “intuition” position the body as the central arbiter of knowledge. By contrast, apps promote disembodiment. They externalize the hard work of thinking and the risks associated with context-based judgement to some amorphous data set. It’s easy to understand their appeal.

As scary as the vagaries of instinct may seem, we should resist turning the reins over to technology in this case. Parenting requires a particular quality of presence. When you assume responsibility for a child, you become attuned in deeply embodied ways. Hence, primordial descriptors like instinctual, intuitive, and innate. Parenting apps risk disrupting attunement. Furthermore, they ignore parenthood’s inherent reciprocity---the role of the child in parenting.

Parenthood invites novel contexts. Each presents an opportunity to learn, not just about your child’s needs and interests, but about yourself. (i.e., How to respond when your child only wants to sleep in your bed). If you choose to respond from within (as opposed to from without), you can unearth new elements of your personhood. By contrast, automated parenting denies human capacity for context-based judgment and contributes to an endemic loss of wisdom. Drone parenting is not responsive, embodied, or intuitive. It’s not real life. 


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