"There's only one brand now, and that's family."
Those wise words come from Kanye West. West's visit to Kris Jenner's talk show aired Friday, and after he transitioned into a full-blown Kardashian, he debuted the first public picture of his 2-month-old daughter with Kim Kardashian: North West.
Like much of the Western-pop-culture-following world, I was very eager to see the first picture of baby North. Partly to confirm that two attractive people made an adorable baby, and partly because I just really love looking at pictures of other people's babies.
In fact, the only thing more exciting to me than a celebrity baby is the baby of a friend. If I had a choice, my Facebook feed would be solely pictures of people's babies — with, perhaps, a few pets sprinkled in the mix. Fat cheeks, messy faces, big eyes, chubby hands reaching out — babies are surely the best part of Facebook.
And yet, there are amazingly wrongheaded humans out there who claim that infants are "annoying."
The line seems split between people who find babies in general annoying and people who find the volume of pictures annoying.
"Baby pictures, by and large, creep me out," my friend Rashid told me. "Real-life babies creep me out too. They're just gross and fat and defenseless and GROSS. And bald. I'd prefer to see pictures of toddlers. Or, you know, whatever age they are when they start having personalities."
Meanwhile, my friend Fee wrote, "People take it too far. Is a daily photo of your child really necessary? NO, not under any circumstance!"
Unbaby.me is a Google Chrome extension that uses keywords to replace pictures of babies on Facebook and Twitter with pictures of dogs, or bacon, or other "awesome stuff." I tried it out, and it sort of worked — a picture of a cute baby on Facebook was replaced by a picture of mini horses, but most of the other baby pictures in my feed were unaffected.
When I emailed the creator of the extension to ask what prompted its development, I received a one-line response: "Just annoyed by the growing trend."
Some baby-picture haters try to get cute and mask their disdain with a question like this one sent to The New York Times Magazine's Ethicist:
Now, I love babies and feel it's acceptable to post a photo from a holiday gathering or a first picture of a newborn. But when this happens every day from a specific acquaintance, is it a violation of the baby's privacy? The baby did not sign up for a Facebook account, does not understand the concept of Facebook and obviously was not asked permission to have its pictures on the site
Obviously this is ridiculous. (The Ethicist's Chuck Klosterman concludes: "There's no best case in which a newborn can comprehend the abstraction of privacy. The world's smartest baby still doesn't know anything.")
It's OK not to like babies. It's OK not to like baby pictures. But complaining about them being on Facebook is like complaining about a dog park being overrun with dogs.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons to hate being inundated with babies every time you log on to Facebook — for people with fertility issues, or those who have lost a child, it can be particularly painful. But with some selective blocking and disconnecting, that can be mitigated.
And largely speaking, the anti-baby-picture brigade seems to be most frequently motivated by a peculiar narcissism. The hater often assumes his or her own reactions matter far more than they actually do. Were I a parent, I believe I'd find it hard to care whether the college roommate I haven't spoken to in years thinks my baby pictures are annoying. I doubt I'd count the number of "likes" on each picture and stress about whether the colleague from three jobs ago thinks the baby is cute. I'd be past that — rather, I'd be thinking about the family I've created, the friends and family members who love and care for me and my children, who cheer us on as we figure out this adventure.
One young couple, Jameil and Rashan, who I've known via the internet for years — in fact, they met through their respective (now-defunct) blogs back in the mid-aughts — is now expecting their first child. One of the attendant anxieties of having a new baby is their Facebook picture strategy.
"I want to have a teeny bit of sense," Jameil said. "Maybe not post 15 pics of the same outfit the same day. But no pics isn't an option. We know too many people solely or chiefly online." (Her husband, Rashan, added: "Tons of pictures. If they don't like it they can get over it.")
Getting over it — or getting past it — seems to be a theme among some new parents.
"I like seeing pics of my friends' kids, but I think I'm biased as a new father," said my friend Tom. He and his wife Julie welcomed their first child, Zeke, last month. "I can't actually imagine that others would find it annoying, especially since you can scroll past those posts in a fraction of a second."
Tom's pictures of Zeke are currently one of the best parts of my Facebook feed:
The Great Baby Photo Divide is obviously just a new manifestation of people finding dumb reasons to be annoyed with one another. And despite the fact that it's taking place on a social media platform, it is certainly not a sign of "the way we live now." It is, however, an opportunity to eschew the kind of my-way-or-the-highway thinking that so often freights our personal lives.
The divide is an opportunity to be kind.
At the very least, just keep scrolling past the babies until you find the picture of a cat or fancy brunch or whatever it is that makes your heart sing.
For the battle is already lost. As my friend Jamilah, another new parent who calls herself a Facebook photo "oversharer" noted, "Naima has gotten thousands of likes, so I reckon I'm not the only one who's into it."