Am I a Hypocrite If I Shield My Child From the Digital Tools I Help Create?

This is my promise to my son, to reconcile my hopes for technology's role in our lives with my fears for what it might do to him.

learn more about Jennifer Zimnowski

By Jennifer Zimnowski • Aug 16, 2018

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I work for a digital agency where I partner with brands to design and build creative solutions and experiences. I'm also a mom with the very vital job of keeping my 5-year-old alive while trying to teach him how to be a socialized, empathetic and critical-thinking human being.

Related: 3 Ways to Raise Your Kids to Think -- and Solve Problems -- Like an Entrepreneur

We all play many different parts in our lives, but in my two latest roles I'm finding pure contradiction ...

ME: That's enough on the phone. Your brain is going to melt if you play with that app too long.

HIM: But Mom, didn't you build this app?

Yep, I'm a hypocrite! And even worse, I justify both my executive and maternal beliefs and actions on a daily basis: Really creative digital solutions, I truly believe, will propel a more advanced, efficient, and generally more sophisticated, society. And yet, I fear that by using technology, my child will become a lazy, unenthusiastic, emotionally inoperative, impressionable lemming, following life's path at the suggestion of a corporation or government.

By no means am I the first to struggle with this oscillating position. It's been widely reported that Silicon Valley parents and even tech giants like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Cook consider the implications of the products for which they're responsible and go as far as limiting device usage or forbidding social media conversation.

Related: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Raised Their Kids Tech-Free -- and It Should've Been a Red Flag

While I don't believe the absence of technology is the answer, I am compelled by accountability and an ethical obligation to both roles. To this, I offer a contract to my work, to my son and to myself ...

When I talk about the importance of collecting customer data and reaching your customers through personalized experiences ...

I promise, my son, to teach you how to be a leader and not to merely follow the suggestions of others. To practice educated decision-making and to question the intent, value and accuracy of information that you read, hear or discuss.

When I preach about automation's ability to streamline marketing efforts, to make process-oriented tasks easier to implement and to render the outcomes of both endeavors more efficient and consistent...

For you, my son, I promise to teach you that repetition makes you better at just about everything. Go practice the violin before you play with your iPad.

When I advocate for machine learning, pontificating on how self-diagnosis and the programmatic treatment of systems is fucking amazing and crucial for rapid development ...

I promise to teach you accountability and consequence. To know that the world is not black and white, but filled with gray areas that should be explored and comprehended; diversity of thought is positive.

Related: Why You Should Hire Your Kids This Summer

When I claim that we can predict your emotions through biometric sensors ...

I promise to teach you that no one can tell you how you feel; it's important to learn that you recognize your own emotions and to understand what they mean and how to control them.

When I speak on behalf of open source, believing that without constraint comes the freedom of new ideas ...

Darling, I promise to teach you that there are just manipulative, even diabolical people creating content with the purpose of wielding power and control over others. Proceed cautiously and be aware.

When we create and develop virtual, augmented and mixed realities...

My dear son, I promise to teach you that you have one life and that your perception is the only reality.

I never thought I'd have to ethically reconcile the roles in my life. I thought the challenge I'd face and the balance I needed to find would be one of time. But, I'm realizing that all of us in the digital industry are responsible for shaping our society; and that society shapes human beings.

Marketing, software development -- maybe we don't think about it often, but we create tools of manipulation for a living. We're subtly promoting passiveness through the personalized and automated experiences that we design and build. And while I'm one of the first to advocate for the innovation that we foster, I urge us all to consider and start talking about the consequences of our ideas. It's not machines or robots overtaking jobs that should have us concerned. The hazard is people's lack of thought, the absence of individualism and identity; the loss of zest, mindfulness and rationality. The real risk is the possibility that we become the robots. But, through open conversations, acknowledgment and an equitable view of our advancements, we can help each other remain awake to the reality (and for me -- hypocrisy) of our roles.

Jennifer Zimnowski

Vice President at Isobar

Jen Zimnowski is a VP at Isobar, a digital agency with a focus on designing and developing creative customer experiences. From the start, Zimnowski has worked in the digital space and has experience in software consulting, advertising agencies and client-side, giving her a well-rounded view of the industry.

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