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Conflicted Thoughts about Unbaby.Me

I heard about Unbaby.Me, the new Chrome extension that allows you to replace pictures of babies in your Facebook news feed with photos of cats, while at BlogHer surrounded by living, breathing babies.  Surrounded is an overstatement; I felt surrounded because I was so acutely aware of all the babies around me (that happens when you’re deeply coveting them).  If I hadn’t been coveting them, my eye would have probably passed right over them.  We tend not to notice what we aren’t focused on at the moment.

My first thought was that I would never be able to mentally manage this extension.  A picture of a cat would pop up, replacing someone’s baby and I would think, “when did they get a cat?”  And then I would mentally note that I need to take allergy medication before going to their house.  And then I’d probably skip going to their house due to the cat.  And finally, the friend would confront me and ask why I haven’t been over, and when I explained it was due to the cat and she said “what cat?,” I would realize that I had missed my friend’s brunch for no reason.  Please remember that I am the woman who went on a trip and forgot to pack pants.  At least I am aware of my limitations.

Then I thought about how if I used this, I would miss out on pictures I actually really do want to see.  I don’t hide anyone in my feed; I prefer to step away from Facebook when I’m not up to seeing pictures of babies and step back when I am up to seeing pictures.  But my friend’s kids are part of my friend’s lives.  And I’m not just interested in certain parts of their life; I’m interested in everything that is important to them, including but not limited to their kids.  The reality is the day I stop caring about my friend’s kids is the day I should probably unfriend them and admit that we don’t really have enough of a relationship to keep in touch via social media.

And then I thought about how sometimes you can be full of pictures (as in, “Oh, no thanks, I’ve had enough.  I’m totally full.”) but the person keeps shoveling pictures onto your plate.  I had a friend who did this with her vacation photos and could never take a hint that I didn’t need her to describe what I was seeing in all 144 pictures in her album.  If you’ve gone someplace that I’m deeply interested in going to myself — for example, Iceland — I want to see every last photo.  I want to vicariously live your trip until I can take my own.  But if you’ve gone someplace that I’m fairly meh about (not going to give an example here because I just know that whatever I name, someone will angrily say in the comment section, “hey, bitch, I live there!”) I have to admit that I just want the highlights.  And I sort of feel that way about kids too: there are some kids that I want to know/see everything because I love them deeply and they’re far away and this is how we keep in close contact.  And there are some kids that I’d like the highlights of their life.

And then I thought about how there are people who need to be on Facebook for one reason or another, and they may not want to see any baby photos.  And this extension will allow them to be on Facebook, doing whatever they need to do on Facebook, and not be distracted and upset every time they log on.

And then I thought about how I couldn’t come up with one situation off the top of my head where you (1) had to be friends with someone on Facebook AND (2) you had to be subscribed to their news feed.  I get the fact that sometimes you need to accept a friend request you don’t want, or that a life situation changes and people start posting things that are bothering you, but why don’t people unsubscribe from the feed rather than replacing the person’s baby photos with pictures of cats?

Then I wondered if they would use pictures of actual cats or whether they were using pictures of actors from Cats! the musical.

And then I thought about how perhaps the mere existence of this extension will change people’s posting habits.  Will it make new parents feel even more self-conscious than they already do about sharing their child’s life with other people?  I get it — a lot of people hate babies.  They hate kids and they want you to know how they feel about kids.  They want kids banned from restaurants and planes.  Crying kids ruin their night out.  Kids running around anywhere acting like kids sucks all the joy out of another person’s time out in public.  I get it I get it I get it — YOU HATE MY KIDS.  Believe me, my kids have even picked up on how many adults feel about kids.  I’m sure this isn’t wrecking anyone’s self-esteem to grow up in a space where you are reviled until you hit a certain age. (Oh, and then you’re reviled again once you pass a certain age.  The western world sucks.)

I am only being partially sarcastic there.  As much as we are also a baby-obsessed culture (pick up any issue of People magazine to see that), there is simultaneously a strong message sent to parents that their baby is unwelcome in the general public.  I think there are a lot of people who are terrified to post their baby’s picture/take their child in public/talk about their child for fear of pissing off everyone around them.  This extension drives that fear home.

And then I thought about how part of the problem is that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t really get how it may not be a good idea to mix all facets of your life because he invented this tool as a college student.  And back when I was a college student, I really didn’t get how the rest of life would unfold.  But I have to tell you that it makes me fairly uncomfortable that everyone in my life is lumped into one account.  And I’m not going to spend hours customizing my Facebook feed so certain people see certain things et al.  I’m just going to use it as if it is a public space that anyone can see and censor myself.

And I think we also have a skewed vision of our Facebook feed.  Just as I felt surrounded by babies at BlogHer whereas other people went through the conference saying, “what babies?,” I’m sure that people are either hyper-aware of the baby photos or their eye glosses over them barely realizing how many there are.  Our perception probably doesn’t mirror reality.

Uh… where was I?

Posting habits.

Or will it change the amount of pictures a person uploads, making them mindful of the fact that not everyone in their feed wants to see all the pictures?  Will it make them more circumspect in what they post?  There are ways to unapologetically share your child while still being mindful of the life situations of other people in your feed.  Maybe talking about this extension will make people aware that not everyone is in an emotional space where they want to see dozens of pictures of babies.

So… where did I end up after all these thoughts?  I’m not going to use unbaby.me, nor will I use any of the spin-offs in the future because there is nothing that I really really really need to block.  But I also completely understand why other people will use this extension.  And I’m not personally offended if you replace my images with pictures of cats.

P.S. Josh does not want to incur the wrath of cat people, but he casually mentioned as he asked what I was writing that he’d love an extension that replaces all pictures of cats with pictures of dead cats.  Which probably comes closest to getting to the heart of the matter: we wouldn’t be laughing or cheering at that, we wouldn’t snicker over an extension that replaces all pictures of women with pictures of beer (you know, since women suck and who the hell wants to see pictures of women?  More beer!).  We wouldn’t be laughing if we found out that a culture who suppressed women had invented an extension blotting their image from news feeds in order to keep the eyes of men pure.  So thinking of it in those terms, why would an extension replacing all images of women be sexist, but unbaby.me okay?


1 sushigirl { 08.09.12 at 7:51 am }

I think the vast majority of people are unaware that a minority might not want to see their baby photos. I think it would be unhealthy to use unbaby.me permanently, but sometimes, perhaps in the aftermath of a loss, you need to do what you have to do to make life a bit easier.

On the argument about “a culture” blocking women… that’s a bit different. If an individual had some sort of terrible fear of pictures of women, then well, I could understand not wanting to see them on a FB feed. If it’s a cultural issue then that’s a bit sad, but it’s their choice. If someone else starts to block things for other people, then it starts getting a bit creepy and Big Brother ish. So I think individual choice is the key here.

2 Gail { 08.09.12 at 9:42 am }

I don’t think replacing pictures is sexists or anti-child or anything. It just allows someone to have an alternate reality on their personal Facebook while still keeping in contact with people they need/want to. The pictures of children can be replaced by anything, not just cats. They can be replaced with cars or bacon or dogs or even artist pieces. I would not install this extension for myself because 1) I don’t use Chrome and 2) I don’t know how I’d turn it off if I decided I didn’t want it. However, I don’t think it is wrong for other people to turn it off. And, if they decide that they no longer want to look at vacation pictures because they can’t afford to go on a trip and think it is mean of others to post their vacation photos, then I don’t care if they download an extension and replace my vacation photos with sweat shop photos. At the end of the day, I can’t see what another person’s Facebook account looks like and could care less what they are seeing. on their end of the conversation. If it is easier to hide something than to confront the issue in real life, then I’m okay with letting them hide it.
(By the way, I am one of those people that don’t have kids due to IF. I also believe that not ALL places should be open to children because there are places that I’d like to go for peace and quiet (and spend a lot of money to do so) and then am disappointed to find a screaming child there, but that is just me.)

3 a { 08.09.12 at 10:21 am }

Who knew Facebook would be such an influence in people’s lives that apps to make it less painful would need to be developed? The more Facebook annoys me, the less likely I am to use it…because it’s really not necessary.

So, in essence, I don’t care if you replace my pictures with cats (living or dead) or beer or whatever, if that’s what gets you through the day. I would suggest you spend less energy worrying about what’s on Facebook, though. (That’s a general you, not you specifically)

4 a { 08.09.12 at 10:22 am }

Also, thank for yet another reason for sticking with sad old IE. 🙂

5 EC { 08.09.12 at 10:27 am }

There are days when I am just not up to seeing baby photos. On those days, I either don’t look at Facebook, or I only give it a quick look. Generally, though, and for reasons I don’t fully grasp, pregnancy announcements bother me more than baby photos. Maybe it’s that pregnancy announcements always catch me off guard. Even those, though, I wouldn’t want to replace with a cat photo, because I want to know what’s going on in people’s lives, even if it’s not always comfortable for me in that moment.

I wouldn’t mind having a cat photo replace comments that my husband’s ex-wife makes on photos that are posted by mutual friends/acquaintances, though. That infuriates me, and it’s something I truly would be better off not seeing. If it were a photo of a puppy, that would be even better.

6 tigger62077 { 08.09.12 at 11:30 am }

I am always mindful that there are people who don’t care to a picture of my child, for whatever reason. I don’t THINK I have any kid haters on my feed – if they were, they’d have left by now, I think – but I do have several friends who are still childless and I try to be sensitive to that. I do not post every picture of my son that gets taken, or every video. I try to post ones that I think most of the people will find cute and leave it at that.

I would like to strongly worded political images replaced by cats. I’d like to see those whiny self-affirmation images replaced by Eeyore. I have nothing wrong with self-affirmation. I have a problem with it being whiny and/or seriously angry. If you can’t do it right, post an Eeyore. We’ll get the picture!

7 Sharon { 08.09.12 at 1:44 pm }

Gah, *so* many thoughts on this post. I personally would be totally OK with anyone on my FB friends list choosing to replace photos of my sons with photos of cats, if that’s their preference. I am mindful of trying not to post too much, too often, in that regard anyway. . . . not so much because of infertile friends but more because there is a limit to how much anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member (or just an unabashed baby love) wants to see of my children. I get that.

I’m with tigger (above) on the political images and posts. I’d like to eliminate anything with a political or religious bent from my news feed entirely. When will someone invent an app for that?

8 Alexicographer { 08.09.12 at 1:46 pm }

As described elsewhere in comments on this blog (a) I have two FB accounts, one for “work” me and one for “social life” me and (b) I’m not a fan of FB, for pretty much the reason you mention. By the same token, if I get updates about your life only through FB? You’re not really a friend — not a non-friend, not an anti-friend, just someone currently doesn’t occupy an important place in my life (or vice-versa).

I guess my first reaction to the extension you mention is to think that it’s funny. I mean, take pictures of one thing lots of people like to post pics of on the internet, cats, and replace it with another, cats. Ha! More or less on the level of the Ryan Gosling meme. But I don’t actually think that the basic concept is totally harmless, I mean, that replacing any picture with any other picture is equally funny/OK/neutral (I’m reminded here of Anita Sarkeesian, as described on this blog: http://incisive.nu/2012/how-to-kill-a-troll/). Or that replacing any word(s) with any other word(s) would be ditto. So — (potentially) cute/funny, but not inherently so.

I’ll note here as an aside that I still access both my work and personal emails principally through alpine (I’ll pause, while the under-40 set goes to find out what this is, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_(email_client) ). What this means is that you can send me … textual information, and links to websites. If you send me a picture or an attachment, I will not see it; I just get informed that it’s there. I then get to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to go look at the picture, or open the document. I’m not a very visual person, and I don’t go look at pictures as often as … one might expect.

I suppose I should return to Lynx for accessing the internet, for the same reason (conveniently I don’t much need to, as my eyes are usually drawn to words, not images. Take that, advertisers!). This of course ignores the reality @EC mentions, that words can be as or more painful to encounter as/than pictures, but somehow, more seemingly semi-random pictures than textual information reach me (I’m not surprised to see the picture of a friend-of-a-friend’s baby on FB but would be surprised to see ditto’s pregnancy announcement). And I want news of friends, even if it is new that provokes pangs of envy, but I don’t need to know that your second cousin’s just welcomed her fifth (adorable!) baby.

9 Alexicographer { 08.09.12 at 1:49 pm }

… whoops, above should read, “… take pictures of one thing lots of people like to post pics of on the internet, babies, and replace it with another, cats …” Freudian slip, much?

10 jjiraffe { 08.09.12 at 4:22 pm }

OMG: the idea of the cast of Cats, the Musical, replacing baby pictures made me laugh a lot. Cats the Musical is never not funny to me.

This sounds complicated. Just like Facebook is incredibly complicated. I don’t know the answer, but I personally hardly use my personal Facebook account. I think people are acting out highly stylized versions of themselves on there. Like they’re on stage. I don’t enjoy it.

11 Esperanza { 08.09.12 at 5:24 pm }

I’ve been wondering, how does th app know when a picture is of a baby or kid? It’s not like you can tag them because they don’t have their own accounts, or aren’t supposed to. Does it use some kind of recognition software?

I’m with you in that I wouldn’t use this app but instead unsubscribe to people’s feeds. I’ve recently done this with a few high school acquaintances that I feel too mean just unfollowing but whose constant pregnancy announcements and ultrasound photos I want to avoid. That kind of stuff used to bother me until I realized that a lot of people use Facebook to share every aspect of these big parts of their lives with far away family, so now I just decide that I don’t want to be a part of that and unsunscribe. But I think you’re right, that having a levels (or dare I say it, circles like on Google+) would be really helpful on Facebook because then I could still see other random stuff from my acquaintance’s life (like say, just the highlights from her recent wedding and not SEVEN huge photo dumps over one day). She could share the entire wedding experience with her family and close friends and just pick the highlights for the rest of us.

I don’t really go on Facebook that much anymore and I post there even less so I think I’m relatively safe to have in a feed and I hope I always remember to be respectful to others with what I put up there.

12 Justine { 08.09.12 at 8:22 pm }

I am experiencing this right now. Not the cat replacement, but the baby photos from an old sort-of-friend. She went through some rough patches, and now has a beautiful baby. The thing is, I’m happy for her and want to see the baby, I’m still interested in her C25K progress, and I like hearing her other news. It’s just that I don’t want to see the ten THOUSANDTH picture of her baby.

But here’s a thought … maybe I could TELL her that? Instead of replacing him with a cat? I think people aren’t always aware that they’re making poor choices. It was the same when we were trying to educate college students about their choices in the early days of social media. If you (I) don’t tell my “friends” about how their posts affect me, they’ll never know.

Until Facebook has a setting that will allow me to set gradations of picture-viewing on my feed (which will happen never), I think I’m stuck with what I’ve got, and with the reality that I may need to communicate in non-virtual ways once in a while, to optimize the virtual ones.

13 loribeth { 08.09.12 at 9:27 pm }

When I first heard about this, I thought it sounded like every infertile person’s dream app, lol. But I see your point, particularly re: just unsubbing vs substituting an image that’s more to our liking. I’m not in favour of needlessly tormenting ourselves, but I also think that shielding ourselves so totally from reality or unpleasantness isn’t really the solution either . It’s getting so that people are able to pick & choose so much that they only have to see what they want to see and listen to the viewpoints that agree with theirs. Of course, at one time, we had no choices and had to take whatever the TV networks or other powers that be saw fit to dole out to us, and that wasn’t good either. There has to be a balance somewhere…

14 Mali { 08.10.12 at 1:52 am }

I laughed at the idea of the cats from Cats! being used. Classic Mel! And I loved following your train of thought too. But when it comes down to it, I quite like the idea of this software, though I couldn’t be bothered using it myself. If I could, though, I’d rather blank scan photos that are used as people’s profile photos. Babies I can handle – hey, they’re not my baby – but scan photos all look the same. And I never had a good scan, so what I see are instant bad memories. A nice cat instead would be a nice idea. (Even one from Cats!) So I can understand people feeling this way about babies. In the same way (as you pointed out), I can understand that people wouldn’t necessarily want to see my profile pic when it was a leopard from a trip to South Africa (now that’s only my Tripadvisor avatar), or be inundated with my travel pics. And just because I don’t want to see some pics of scans (or babies or leopards or whatever), it doesn’t mean I don’t want to use Facebook, or should have to block people I don’t want to block.

And I know you were being sarcastic – though as you yourself said, only partially sarcaastic – but to clarify … just because I don’t want kids to sit next to me when I’m on a night out at a fine dining restaurant, or when I’ve paid a fortune for a 14 hour int’l business class flight I don’t want a screaming baby in the same cabin, it doesn’t mean I hate kids. I don’t think you really think that. Do you? I don’t hate kids. I love and adore certain kids in my life. I suspect if I knew your kids I’d love and adore them. (I kinda do already). But I don’t love and adore everyone’s kids. I don’t think I should have to.

15 Cherish { 08.10.12 at 8:23 pm }

That sounds…strange. I just hide people when I can’t deal with them – whether that be their frequent pregnancy whining or their million cute quote pictures a day. Then I check in on them when I can deal with it.

16 Bea { 08.13.12 at 7:15 am }

Somebody, somewhere, right now, is writing that woman/beer one. And it is going to be HUGE and hilarious. Well, huge and hilarious in certain circles, not mine.

“the day I stop caring about my friend’s kids is the day I should probably unfriend them and admit that we don’t really have enough of a relationship to keep in touch via social media”

I was trying to make this point once to someone who actually broke up with a friend because the friend’s infertility was a real drag. It was all the friend’s fault, of course. The friend had just been too sensitive about everything. I suggested she should just admit they weren’t very good friends in the first place and accept mutual blame. But I digress.

I think it must be hard for people who are on facebook for business reasons and having a bad day. If it’s just social media you can make easier choices than if it’s your living.

Honestly, I don’t post many photos of anything, but if you want to cat my baby on your feed, it doesn’t particularly excite me. Or if you want to beer myself. This in the context of a society where I can still get on with my own life, knowing that it says more about you – someone I’m not really connected enough to in real life to be anything more than “facebook friends” anyway.

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