Help, Please: Daniel Sieberg

How the Google exec keeps fatherhood unplugged

We often fantasize about raising our kids in a simpler, screen-free world. Daniel Sieberg, Google exec and author of The Digital Diet, is more realistic: He simply advocates a thoughtful and measured use of digital devices. We chatted with the father of two about finding a balance between i-addiction and going cold turkey on technology.
q&a!What made you realize you needed to change your relationship to digital technology?
It was during the holidays in 2009, when I was visiting family and friends back home in Canada. Despite feeling like the most connected person on the planet, I had somehow lost touch with what was happening in the lives of people I cared about. I had become a terrific broadcaster and a terrible communicator. That, plus my wife repeatedly referring to me as “glowworm,” since my face was always illuminated by some kind of screen while lying in bed — something that does not lend itself to intimacy. Ahem.

What change has made the most difference to you as a parent?
I’m glad I came to this realization (of better tech management) before having children, so I could be in a better position. Overall, it’s about being present as much as possible and not letting my daughters see screens as a barrier between them and Daddy. It’s not always perfect, but I do my best to keep my digital distractions at bay.

We spend a lot of time wringing our hands about the ubiquity of screens in our children’s lives. What’s your take?
I think those concerns are both valid and overblown. I believe face-to-face or disconnect time is still essential for so many reasons, including business relations, empathic communication, and simply a sense of discovery. But, of course, the times are a-changing, and the brains of the next generation are, in some cases, being rewired to process different ways of interacting. I’m excited to see where it all leads but don’t want us to lose our humanity along the way.

I’ll also add that parents who worry about what their children are doing should examine their own behavior. Kids emulate what they see, so if your nose is always buried in a device or you can’t take time away from social media for a hug, then that’s potentially sending the wrong message. I had a professional mom tell me once that when she found her 5-year-old son writhing in bed having night terrors, he called out in his sleep, “Mommy, Mommy, put the BlackBerry down.” It was a stark realization for her to reprioritize her attention.

help, please: daniel sieberg!

Technology obviously isn’t all bad. What innovation has made your life easier as a dad?
I love technology! And I want to be clear about that. I always say: Love your technology, just not unconditionally. As a dad who travels a lot, I couldn’t live without the ability to do video chats from wherever I am in the world (and let the grandparents keep track of the kids). I’ve used various apps to help track our pregnancies (including the contractions during labor), remote cameras in the crib to ensure the baby was okay (we abandoned those the second time around), and tons of ways to organize/share photos with the family (always more photos than time to distribute them, though).

What was your New Year’s resolution?
As our second daughter starts to become aware of what’s around her, I want to resolve to give her just as much attention as our first daughter.

What was your Whoa, I’m a parent moment?
Warning: TMI. When my first daughter did an enormous, squirty poop all over the changing table (and me). There was no turning back.

How about your last big parent fail?
Getting impatient with my oldest daughter as she explored the world around her. Her boundless curiosity should always be a delightful reminder.

The most important advice you’d like to tell your friends without kids: Assuming they want to have kids? Don’t be afraid to fail. It truly takes a village. And don’t listen to any advice.

Something you’ve learned from watching your partner: That there’s a shared experience going on, and it really helps to commiserate or talk about what you’re feeling.

help, please: daniel sieberg!

Your kids are writing a book about you. What’s the title? Daddy & His Digital Doodads.

Your theme song: “Counting Stars.”

The rule you never break: No charging the smartphone in the bedroom.

Thing you miss most since having kids: Movies.

Thing you miss least: Boredom.

Favorite bedtime book: Guess How Much I Love You?

Stroller of choice: City Mini.

Go-to baby gift: Diaper Genie.

Go-to family dinner: Mac ’n’ cheese.

Go-to gourmet dinner when you have time: Sushi (really).

Favorite kid-friendly restaurant: Landmarc at Columbus Circle.

Favorite App: Uber.

Bookmarked websites: CNN.com, NYTimes.com, TVNewser.

TV shows you can’t live without: Homeland, Peppa Pig, Vancouver Canucks games (in no particular order).

On your bedside table: A lamp; an old-school, digital alarm clock; two magazines I have yet to read.

Trick for traveling with kids: Singing. Even badly.

help, please: daniel sieberg!

Photos: Stephania Stanley for DailyCandy