The Instagram kids

2013-04-29 10:00

New parents are understandably obsessed with their new arrivals.

Before the digital era, baby photos would be lovingly filed into photo albums.

This would later come back to haunt the child in adulthood when mothers would dust off the albums to show to prospective boyfriends or girlfriends, inducing much embarrassment.

Thanks to social media, this embarrassment is going to be amplified for the current generation of babies as they grow up and, unfortunately – due to the undefined boundaries of the internet – they will have almost no control in containing, or deleting, the documentation of their formative years (diplomaticspeak for pictures of them drooling or running around buck-naked).

It’s hard to imagine that Facebook was only invented in 2004, with a global tipping point of 100?million users as recent as 2008.

With a?billion users currently, it is now the default social media platform that connects families scattered across the planet.

An inordinate number of baby pictures are being shared in cyberspace. But even three years ago, loading a picture on to Facebook required some technical and technological skill.

With the advent of smartphones, any hurdle to sharing your visual life with the rest of the world has been eliminated. All smartphones now come equipped with excellent cameras and, with the help of apps, you can now share the photo essay that is your life, in real time, just by hitting the “send” button.

Instagram was invented three years ago and was quickly snapped up by Facebook. It was a marriage made in heaven. In macrotrend terms, we are evolving into a hypervisual society.

In a multicultural society like South Africa’s, with 11 official languages, the benefits of communicating visually are obvious – especially when it comes to advertising and marketing. For new parents, photo sharing is the perfect toy, hobby and brag channel all rolled into one.

It starts with the ultrasound scan: those fuzzy images that only new parents seem able to decipher. The moment these “cute” foetal images are sent into cyberspace, the documentation process begins in earnest. But there is now a new twist.

Photo sharing brings with it a whole new framework and perspective. It’s no longer okay to just have random happy snaps posted on to your timeline.

Because you have a whole lot of “friends” – who aren’t really close friends – following you, you feel compelled to make more effort – in essence, art directing what people see of you and of your life. They call this the Facebook Eye: framing your life in a more stylised fashion.

I know a couple who recently had a baby. As both are in the creative industries, you could say theirs is a “hipster baby”, whose life has been documented since she was an embryo.

It’s not so much that her short life has been documented – pre, during and post birth – but also her nursery (styled like a décor magazine feature), her clothes (new purchases and a daily wardrobe photo journal), the food she eats, as well as all the moments in between.

There was a posting of a shoot of a photoshoot: the baby’s first professional “portrait sitting” (at three weeks), where the infant was surrounded by light boards and a photographer hovering over her cot. Poor thing, but at least she’ll know how to deal with paparazzi one day.

Like I said, I understand the obsession of new parents, but my heart does go out to the Instagram kids. By the time they get to primary school, they will be legends in their own tuck shop break – like it or not – and by then, parents might just come to the awful realisation that they are the root cause of their child’s cyberbullying.

»?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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