Baby photo boom

by Rob Horning

25 May 2006


Breaking news in today’s Wall Street Journal: having baby photos e-mailed to you can be really annoying. Working America is in the midst of “an onslaught of online baby exhibitionism, fed both by Americans’ increasing love affair with digital photography and their obsession with their children.” How do we know this? By 2009, 25.7 billion photos will be sent in e-mails, and “experts beleive that a significant percentage of these photos will be of babies or children.” Hmm, they might have been a little less specific; I’m surprised the fact checkers could verify that “significant percentage.” The story goes on to relate gory instances of birth videos and ultrasounds being disseminated via YouTube. What’s next? Smellograms of dirty diapers? Videos of the bris?

But really, how is this a problem? If this stuff bothered you, couldn’t you just delete the emails? If you can’t muster up the polite effort to look at a picture of a friend’s kid, that what kind of a creep are you, anyway? I refuse to accept that people are truly overwhelmed with the responsibility of responding to baby photos, but then again, I’m the sort of creep who never thought for a minute they required a response. Also, a bullet-pointed etiquette primer is provided for how to send photos appropriately, with such useful advice as “Make sure they are good quality photos.”

So okay, this is probably one of those bogus trend stories, with the half-conscious agenda of making it clear that the office is still basically a masculinzed realm, no place for family talk, baby photos, etc. (Though another article on the same page revisits and refutes the notorious 1986 Newsweek story that argued that women who hadn’t married by 40—who pursued a career, perhaps—were more likely “to be killed by a terrorist” than to get married.) But part of it resonated with me, because I’ve long had the feeling that Americans are obsessed with their own children at the expense of being able to muster up any interest in anyone else’s children or anything else at all in the world. Touting one’s children can seem the worst sort of narcissism, acting as though no one else has ever had children before and that one’s own experience is entirely unique to the universe simply because it is new to oneself. And the consequences of childcentric obsession is to atomize society that much further. Inevitable we prioritize our own families at the expense of society in what seems a perfectly natural act of selfishness that no one could possibly blame us for. Famliy feeling is the wedge driving society further apart from itself; it can be the spike into the heart of cooperation: Justice is irrelevent if our children end up with advantages. The irritation expressed at e-mails of other people’s kids is simply impatience at the very existence of those kids, when we all know that only ours really matter at the end of the day.

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