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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

September 27, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Born famous: How Seattle’s geekiest YouTuber wants to bring up baby ‘Jedi’

Chris Pirillo  holds his two-week old daughter, Jedi. A  well-known tech figure in the Seattle area, Pirillo now dispenses video-blog advice on fatherhood and being a geek. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Chris Pirillo holds his two-week old daughter, Jedi. A well-known tech figure in the Seattle area, Pirillo now dispenses video-blog advice on fatherhood and being a geek. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

It’s dark, but you can make out Chris Pirillo’s face in the hospital room. He’s crying.

“I’m a daddy,” he says to his video camera. And cut.

Pirillo, one of the region’s earliest and best-known bloggers, has built a business out of sharing his geeky personality with hundreds of thousands of followers over dozens of online channels, including YouTube.

Now that his 2-week-old daughter has joined the cast of his life, he’s having to figure out — in an unusually public way — how to be not just a full-time geek, but a full-time geek dad.

Like father, like daughter. (Image: Chris Pirillo)

Like father, like daughter. (Image: Chris Pirillo)

And did I mention her name is Jedi?

“Jedi has her father’s ears,” Pirillo posted with a photo of himself and his squirmy firstborn. Both wore pointy green Yoda beanies.

Jedi came home to a geek’s palace. The Seattle-area house where Pirillo lives and works with his wife, Diana, features a “library” swarming with “Star Wars” and Lego memorabilia and a “workshop” stacked with gadgets to review and covered with screens to follow fan chatter as Pirillo records live shows on everything from the iPhone 6 to Microsoft’s acquisition of “Minecraft” maker Mojang.

Pirillo is in love, and it shows. Jedi has taken over his photo feeds and made cameos in many of his videos, softening Dad’s high-energy style.

“I’m not yelling at the camera right now. But for good reason,” Pirillo says at the start of one of his five weekly Q&A videos.

A minute later, he accepts a napping Jedi from Mom, holds her up to the camera and beams.

Meanwhile, on the Pirillos’ popular daily video blogs, or vlogs, the couple open baby gift after baby gift — the items were sent by fans and they range from “Star Wars” onesies to baby Jedi fan art.

And her Twitter account — you knew she’d have one of those, right? — already has more than 2,000 followers.

But this baby is not about to drown in the gadgets all around her.

Pirillo knows screens, social media and online sharing better than most. And like many tech influencers, his enthusiasm for technology makes him want to limit, not expand, his child’s tech access.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 6.05.15 PM

She has to use digital tools without letting them use her.

“This does weigh heavily on my mind,” Pirillo told me. “I know the child will be surrounded by tech, but I’d rather spend time doing things that don’t have a battery life.”

When Jedi is ready to enter the digital spaces her dad knows so well, he plans to teach her about everything that’s needed to make the most of them: respect for human beings behind the screen, resilience against negativity and mindful but fearless self-expression.

Then the founder of the Gnomedex conferences and the video bloggers’ mecca — VloggerFair — hopes to give his daughter the skills to build something powerful: a platform from which to share her passions and make them reality.

But all in good time. Mom and Dad are still discussing it, and for now they think they’re going to post a picture a day on @JediPirillo’s Twitter account until she’s old enough to take the keys and drive.

And like many new parents who are active on social media — including myself and my husband when our son was born two years ago — Chris and Diana are finding themselves torn between a happy impulse to share every new joy with their community and a recognition that certain parts of this new family’s new life are too precious for public view.

Not everyone will approve of whatever balance the Pirillos choose to strike. But despite appearances, they keep plenty private, Chris says. As much as he loves sharing his life with thousands of people, he says he knows better than to let them shape it.

Openness and geekiness are not just his family’s business, but its culture. After years of building and managing online communities, he seems eager to train his tiny Jedi apprentice to do good in the digital galaxy.

For now, though, he’s a little more eager to get some sleep.

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

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