A Complicated Question with a Complicated Answer
I started listening to a new podcast, Note to Self, which is produced by WNYC and hosted by Manoush Zomorodi. It’s about the Internet. It’s nice to hear a fellow Internet naval gazer talk about the way we comport ourselves online. Sometimes, I pretend Manoush and I are just chatting in the car; two girls, talking about the Internet. Except that it’s a one-sided conversation.
As I am wont to do, I focused on entirely the wrong thing in a recent episode titled, “Should You Post Pictures of Your Kids Online?” I already know how I feel about that, so maybe that is why I focused on this one, passing line. It begins at 5:50.
Marcia from Austin admits that she is very hesitant to post pictures of her kids online because she has friends experiencing infertility, and she knows those pictures are salt in the wound. So she mindfully limits how often she shares, finding a balance between paying attention to her audience and sharing her life.
Very nice, right?
Then a woman (I believe it’s Jen Poyant) responds to it with a story about a friend who miscarried twins, and her inclination right after the death was to not post as much, though she has never asked her friend if she is bothered by the numerous photos she posts of her child on Instagram.
The emphasis is obviously mine.
So the first thing that struck me is that her impulse was to be sensitive only immediately after the event. I don’t know what your experience with loss has been like, but for me, my feelings linger long after people stop asking about the loss. In fact, right after a loss, I’m so numb that I’m not sure I would notice anything online. But six months after the fact, a year after the fact? It’s a different, but certainly no less relevant type of pain.
So the first thing I thought about is does sensitivity have an expiration date? Or once we’ve made the choice to be thoughtful, should we continue in that vein indefinitely? I don’t think it’s possible to never upset anyone else online, but it’s interesting that she had the impulse but it disappeared.
The second thing that struck me is that she says she never asked the woman if the baby pictures bothered her. She mentions that they’re not close, but they’re close enough to know facts about one another and interact online. And I wondered why she didn’t ask, and whether that was too forward a question: “do the pictures that I post bother you?” We’re not talking about asking a general question to her entire list of friends, but instead reaching out to this one woman and asking her a straightforward question, admitting that the reason for doing so is to be sensitive.
I tried to imagine how I would feel if someone asked me if their baby pictures bothered me. I guess it’s a very complicated answer. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I seek out baby photos, wanting the cuteness. And sometimes I scroll past any picture of a child younger than the twins.
This isn’t a judgment on the woman speaking — I think all of us could give some variation of her statement admitting that we know something but haven’t really reached out properly — but I thought it was an interesting moment in an always interesting podcast.
Would you be upset to be on the receiving end of that question? Or would you welcome it if the person was asking because they were trying to be thoughtful?