Dear Ms. Smartphone: Am I out-of-date when it comes to birth announcements? I had a baby earlier this year, so I sent my friends and work-associates a small photo card with newborn vitals (weight, height, delivery date). My BFF is having a baby soon and says sending out these print cards is old-fashioned. She plans to post the baby picture by text and on the Internet (social media). She thinks it’s more personalized to reach out this way. Scarlet, San Francisco
Dear Scarlet: First, congratulations to you and your friend. No matter how you announce this to the world, at the end of the day, parents rule and you must personally navigate these changing times of disclosure and sharing.
But, I rather agree with you, and would prefer that baby announcements be sent by mail, not by text or social media. And, I don’t think it’s out-of-date. When I searched on the web, there was a divide between those who still followed this practice, and those who found it arcane.
It’s fun to pin these print announcements to the refrigerator door and oogle at the newborn- they are a visual reminder of how precious life is. That is a moment lost by social media. There, pictures flash by and get our attention for five or six seconds. Occasionally, we upload them to a cloud shared with a jumble of unconnected photos. Not everyone will save your printed cards, but recall that they also have useful information: babies weight, height, spelling of name, and, of course, a return address should they send a gift.
You probably don’t care if people send a gift, but the natural response of many people is to do this – even if you post on social media. In that case, the gift givers will need your address, and- surprise of surprise- we are back in the business of sending and receiving things in the mail.
My major issue with posting on social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram) is that we cannot be sure that your announcements will actually be seen. On Facebook, the average reach of an organic post hovers around 5.20%. That means roughly one in every 19 fans sees the page’s non-promoted content. Some of your friends may not hear about the baby if the algorithm finds other priorities that day.
Speaking of which, we give a lot of power to the algorithm when we use social media. Businesses, both large and small, are likely to scrape the public feed to identify new parents so they can tailor ads for them- e.g., rural/urban; baby boy/ baby girl, one parent/two parent home; etc. I don’t know if this issue is real yet, but posting pictures also opens up the door to train algorithms on facial recognition from birth onwards!
That’s a long run concern. For the short term, your friends are going to be wrapped up in their social media, checking to see who liked the post and going back to the platform to comment. That is going to take time away from baby.
This is the same issue if your friends choose text instead to post about the new arrival. Friends will want to say congratulations and get a home address. But, a phone that pings and rings is an annoyance. It diverts our focus and attention, as well as that rare sleep. The first couple of weeks are precious, and deserve ‘time off’ from notifications and badges.
In closing, I do recognize that the way we celebrate things publicly does change over time. Newspapers used to print birth announcements, and they got their data from the public registry. I personally enjoyed reading them to learn what baby names were in vogue! No matter what medium your friend chooses, I am sure that her closest friends and families will find out and that is what counts.