Tech + Health

02.25.14

Introducing the Internet’s New Bundle of Joy: The Baby Selfie

An absurd new app employs sounds and pictures to con babies into snapping their own headshots. Competitive parents: ready, set, selfie.

Worried that there aren’t enough dribble shots of your friends’ newborns incessantly leaking out of every social media orifice? Well fear not, because new software enabling babies, yes, actual human babies, to take snaps of themselves has just been unleashed into the app-mosphere. Indeed, if you thought that belfies (butt selfies), pelfies (pet selfies) and felfies (farm selfies) were the depths of cell phone snapping depravity, a new contender has emerged in the form of Baby Selfie. The app uses sounds and pictures to grab a kid’s attention, encouraging them to beat their chubby little paws against the smartphone screen until they achieve the perfect pose.

Software developer and new dad Matthew Pegula, who wanted to facilitate a “mash up” of his roles at work and home, created the app. “Baby Selfie started out as a much more ambitious project that was going to try to determine when a baby was smiling, and report back to parents what the baby liked,” Pegula explains.  “But as I was working on that, the much simpler idea of Baby Selfie arose, and seemed like a good starting point to gauge interest.”

Part of me thinks this sounds sort of sweet–not to mention how lucrative it could be if your six-month-old turns out to be Annie Leibo-baby. Conversely, though, it’s entirely possible that the only thing worse than mom and dad taking endless photos of their babies and putting them on social media is babies taking endless photos of themselves and putting them on social media. A shot of an ugly baby and it’s out of focus? There’s only so much the long-suffering of Facebook can take.

Maybe it is modern to pimp out your kid in exchange for likes, but it really can’t be good for either party.

Because there was a time when the only footprint babies needed was the iddy biddy one taken at the hospital, but newborns these days seem to require a solid online presence before they’ve even exited womb. Just when did parents get so into plastering their kids all over their social networks? And who are they actually doing it for? It’s one thing to share a cute photo every once in a while, and sure, maybe a few are for the benefit of long-distance relatives, but some of these creations are bordering on the obsessive.

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Take, for example, Bellabeat Global–a “pregnancy social platform” currently in the works that will transfer pregnancy-tracking data directly to your networks. Due to be rolled out in the fall, this experiment in interactive childbearing allows users to share their baby’s heartbeat using a pocket-sized ultrasound tool that connects to your smartphone. Bellabeat also tracks data using its “kick counter,” which measures the baby’s important stats by how hard it pummels you.

The device’s COO and co-founder Urska Srsen says the motivation behind Bellabeat is that “it allows pregnant women to share their experience and bring them closer with their loved ones, who then feel more involved in the pregnancy.” Again, this is kind of understandable, but can’t grandpops in Florida get this info through the old-fashioned means of phone, or text, or email? Why does this information always have to make its way into the public sphere?

Given the constant stream of baby sharing apps and sites emerging at pace, it’s not much of a surprise that moms with young kids are statistically the most habitual users of social networks, visiting the likes of Facebook twice as often as the rest of the population. At what point, though, does a bit of light online posting start turning into a problem? If that’s how parents want to spend their time, it’s their business, but transferring this fixation onto their very young kids surely can’t be healthy.

The common trope among all of these newly developed apps and sites is that they always cite “modern parents” as their target demographic.  And sure, maybe it is modern to pimp out your kid in exchange for likes, but it really can’t be good for either party. Plus, there’s nothing particularly modern about sharing photos of your baby, it’s just the way we do it now reaches a far wider audience far quicker than it would have ever done before. And therein lies the problem.

Because some of these forums are genuinely helpful for exchanging information, but others just appear to be bizarre enablers for the share-obsessed moms of the Western world. Like the self-proclaimed “Instagram for babies” oogababy, yet another medium for “modern parents” collating stats like the head circumference of your tiny child and then posting it into other users’ feed. Perhaps I’m being skeptical, but this just sounds really freaking odd. Firstly, an Instagram-esque timeline full of images of babies’ head circumferences?! This compulsion is clearly worse than we thought. It also allows parents to post the latest milestone their baby has achieved, and tracks the time taken between each one. Isn’t this just an obvious way of baiting moms into being super-competitive with one another? I can see it now: as soon as baby Megan starts crawling before baby Jessica, you can bet that a flurry of one-upmanship will abound, with parents claiming that their bundle of joy actually did it first. Between the head circumferences and crawling contests, Oogababy has all the necessary elements for a “modern parenting” car crash.

It makes sense that businesses want to capitalize on parents’ excitement about their little ones, but it’s harder to figure out why public baby-photo-sharing has become so huge, and how private distribution has become so passé. Is this entire thing just one big scheme to cash in on excessively proud moms and dads?

Well, perhaps not quite yet for Pegula. “No one is getting rich off of Baby Selfie,” he says. “We've sold enough to buy my daughter a box or two of Pampers so far, so I'm happy with the results of my little weekend project.”