TMI Social media clogged with oversharing about babies, life in general
It all starts with a grainy, blackand- white photo of a kidney bean-sized ...something.
This something is destined to be a tiny human, but months before baby X is born, it is introduced to the world via social media. The parents cannot wait to share their news with everyone on the Internet.
Often, an ultrasound photo is the first step a baby takes into the digital world, before it even sets foot on the planet. But that footprint will last a lifetime and beyond, experts say.
Depending on the parents’ social media habits, this baby’s life could be fully documented from conception to birth and beyond, sometimes to the extreme. In fact, some experts say a habit of oversharing is clogging Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds with TMI, or too much information, from detailed accounts of baby’s first poo to booger eating, barfing and broken limbs.
Oversharing about babies and kids and about life in general is at an all-time high, thanks to social media and cell phones. “People have lost the ability to be in the moment without their devices,” said Dr. David Greenfield, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
Parents make themselves particularly easy targets for oversharing, and experts say they’re not setting a good example for their offspring.
In 2009, Blair Koenig started stfuparentsblog.com as a “public service blog” that mocks parents’ overshare on social media. The 33-year-old author also published a book called “STFU, Parents: The Jaw-Dropping, Self-Indulgent, and Occasionally Rage-Inducing World of Parent Overshare.” She’s now a columnist for mommyish.com.
The sharing behavior soon-to-be parents have before their baby is born is an indicator of what friends are in for after baby arrives, Koenig said. If they announced their pregnancy by holding up a jar of Prego pasta sauce for a photo, polled you about baby names or asked contestants to guess when the baby will be born, it’s a sign those parents likely will post later about diaper blowouts and rashes.
“I understand that they want it to be fun and they want it to be engaging for other people but sometimes people just don’t care,” she said. “That, to me is very narcissistic.
Isn’t that more of a private decision?”
Koenig has noticed that oversharing has evolved into predictable trends, such as all her mom friends posting monthly milestone photos simultaneously, the kind in which they detail everything their infant does every month (or even in weekly increments). It goes something like, “baby X likes to roll over, eat rice cereal and squeal when he wants something.”
“There’s something about all your friends on Facebook doing it at once,” she said. “It’s like everyone is doing it and it’s overwhelming.”
The sharing evolves over time into waves of first day of school pictures, Halloween costumes, pictures of kids losing teeth, wish lists for Christmas, even kids’ report cards and hospital visits or photos of kids’ tonsils after surgery.
Before smartphones and social media, the closest thing to this kind of habit was when parents pulled out wallets and flashed a handful of photos from Olan Mills. But oversharing on social media has eclipsed that level of sharing many times over.
“Imagine back in 1985, you’d pull out your wallet and have six photos, and today if someone took out their phone and started showing you 800 photos, can you imagine?” Koenig asked, then noted that back then parents weren’t pulling photos of their kids’ potty training to share.
Today, “the poop and vomit go too far,” she said.
Bottom line, Koenig said she’s noticed a lot of over-announcing of everything online, and she thinks some of it is attributable to narcissism.
“I think that’s the inherent quality,” She said. “It’s like parents just want to pat themselves on the back in some ways. They’re proud of themselves and they’re proud of their children ... but sometimes it just goes too far.”
It’s about more than that, said Greenfield, who is also the chief executive director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. Greenfield said oversharing behavior isn’t unique to parents. It is a phenomenon he refers to as “broadcast intoxication,” a term he coined back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “It’s the first time in the history of humankind that every person has had the capability to record and broadcast their lives in the palms of their hands,” he said. “The second thing is this idea that’s evolved over the past 15 years that a life not recorded and shared is a life that wasn’t experienced.”
The reality is, exactly the opposite is true. You can’t really experience life while you’re recording and broadcasting your life, Greenfield said.
“If I’m worried about getting the right photo of the bacon and eggs that my kid is eating at breakfast then I’m not paying attention to my kid,” he said.
This lack of living in the present can affect relationships and make people feel as though they missed out on actually experiencing something because their attention was divided by documenting and sharing the moment.
“This idea that you can be present in two places is erroneous,” Greenfield said.
In addition to the ease of documenting an event with a smartphone and broadcasting it immediately, Greenfield counts social expectations as another driver of this behavior.
“If you’re not doing it, on some level you’re not competing on a social basis effectively,” he said. In other words, everyone else is doing it so people feel pressured to keep up and join in.
Society also expects us to share experiences as they’re happening, not afterward, he said, which exacerbates the problem. “Social capital is all present-centered now, so it’s not, ‘Hey, we went to the beach last week and we had a great time,’ it’s if you don’t send the photos of the beach while you’re at the beach, it doesn’t exist,” he said.
Greenfield calls this concept “eternal nowness.” It’s the idea is that things only exist and only have value in the now.
Another problem with oversharing is the permanence of that data on the Internet, Greenfield said, noting that anything transmitted creates a digital footprint. “That photo of your kid’s cute diaper explosion will follow that kid for the rest of his life forever. It becomes part of your digital identity that extends way beyond what your intentions are,” he said.
His advice? Parents should take control of their technology before it takes control of them.
“It’s very hard to teach the kids conscious digital citizenship when the parents are not using it in a healthy way,” he said. “If you’re having a family moment, turn off the phone. Maybe it’s a good idea to leave the phone in the car when you’re out to dinner. Be with your people and don’t think you have to transmit something for it to exist.”