Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is Not My Beautiful Life...

I first noticed this phenomenon in the photos of folks I have on my Yahoo IM chat list. More often than not, women with young children would use the photo of their children as their avatar photo. The first couple times, you figure, hey, they're just really proud of their kids. Then I saw my mom use a photo of my neice and nephew as her user pic on Facebook and I thought... huh?

On the one hand, as the author points out, it's almost refreshing to see a focus other than me-me-me on traditionally me-centric social media sites. On the other hand... um? I'm proud of a good many things in my life, and no doubt if I ever have a child, I'll be proud of them too, but why use the photo as a stand in for... me?

There are plenty of photos of folks with their best friends, mothers *with* their kids, fathers with their kids, and of course, whole families together that sit in as user pics. So it's not like this is as huge a trend as the author points out. But it does come up often enough for me to go "hm," too. I haven't seen any fathers use pics of their children as their user photo, for instance. But I may just not be looking, or I don't note them as much when I see them?

I wonder if it's a mix of pride and guilt? Are you more likely to see working mothers using photos of their kids as avatars? I don't buy that it's about creating anonymity, as there are plenty of folks who just use objects/random scenery shots to hide behind. Is it really a flight from aging, like the author suggests? I don't buy into that so much. I'd be interested to find the commonalities and differences among men and women alike (because there must be some guy, somewhere) who use their children's photos for their social media pics.

I'd be interested, for instance, if it's more likely working moms or stay at home moms who do it. Or is there a class distinction? Is it really an age difference? Do over-30s just view the web differently, and shy away from its me-centric nature more than 20-somethings? Or has our culture really shifted... now that we all have less children, we invest more in them... and more of ourselves in them, and carry them close the same way we would anything else we'd invested so much of our youth in?

Children have always been a source of pride. I just can't ever see my grandmother posting a photo of her children as her user pic, if I could ever get her to join FB...

2 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

David Moles said...

I'm waiting for that trend to collide with this one.

Molly said...

Interesting question. I looked at Facebook profiles of my friends, family and coworkers. I didn't find much of a difference except women were more likely to use group photos as avatars.

For men: 48 of the 70 had just themselves in the photo. 3 didn't have a photo at all. Most of the rest pictured themselves with others (kids, wife, girlfriend, family, a sport mascot, Halloween outfit, with a celebrity, etc). Only 5 avatars didn't picture themselves at all, and those avatars were: 2 sport logos, 1 music logo, 1 BBQ meat photo, and 1 cat playing a guitar.

For women: 36 of 77 had avatars of just themselves. 1 had no avatar photo. Most of the rest pictured themselves with others (husband, kids, family, boyfriend, dogs, cats, horse, grandkids, friends, etc). Only 8 avatars didn't picture themselves at all, and those avatars were: 2 cat, 1 dog, 1 horse, 1 forest, 1 shoes, and 1 a pair of earrings (!).

So it seems women were generally more likely to use a group photo as an avatar, and more likely to picture themselves with a pet. None of the people on my list used a child instead of their own picture. But sadly, the non-avatar photos were also a tad on the gender stereotype side ... sports and BBQ meat for the men, shoes and earrings for the ladies. Ouch.