Lately, the social media news cycle has been dominated by a most unusual viral video from Sam and Nia, a YouTube-obsessed married couple who have been sharing their lives, and the lives of their children, on social media for years. They've posted tons of videos, the biggest one of all being an August 5th upload entitled "HUSBAND SHOCKS WIFE WITH PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENT!" that as of this writing has just under 14 million views. That's right, just under 14 MILLION views.
And one of those 14 million views wasn't mine.
I didn't watch the surprise pregnancy reveal video when it became the subject of intense online debate, even after Nia's miscarriage , in part because I didn't want to support something that seemed creepy and narcissistic and wrong. It didn't just go a little too far, even for a Too Much Information culture like ours, it went way too far, which is probably why I'm writing about it now.
What the videos highlight are the narcissism beneath so much parental pride, the underlying sense that underneath the celebrations of family and children lies an egotistical desire to be honored for having created such amazing creatures and done such a great job turning them into perfect little Disney-ready moppets. Children are accessories, rather than complicated, sometimes-infuriating little individuals.
But I also didn't click on the video because I felt weirdly implicated by it. I'm not a stage dad or a YouTuber. My wife and I do not have a YouTube Channel called "Suspiciously Attractive Jewish Parents" where we share our antics and heartbreak with the world. But I am unmistakably a social media dad, which I fear is just a step or two removed from being the next Sam and Nia.
For example, when I recently received an email asking if I wanted today.com to write a story about a blog post I wrote for this site, my response was not, "I dunno, this is perhaps a private matter between me and my family" or "I would prefer for my son to avoid the media spotlight." My response was an instant, enthusiastic, "Hell yes!" and when they asked for pictures, I flooded them with images of my wonderful little guy being adorable.
...it's important to recognize the thin, blurry line that separates healthy sharing from unhealthy oversharing, and parental pride from grotesque, disingenuous narcissism.
I love posting pictures of my son on Facebook and Twitter and showing images of him to anyone who might be interested because I think he's amazing and believe he's a force for joy and happiness in the universe. But, of course, there's an unmistakable element of narcissism at play as well. As with Sam and Nia, I can't ever get over the fact that something so beautiful and wonderful and pure could have ever originated with me. And just as Sam and Nia undoubtedly angle nakedly for views and subscribers and popularity, I care way too much about how many likes or retweets each of the pictures of my son I post online gets.
If I could make a six-figure income hanging out with my son, wife and dog making goofy videos about how awesome our life is, I would choose that in a heartbeat over trying to scrape together enough money as a freelance writer to provide for my family. So part of my vague resentment towards Sam and Nia is probably rooted in jealousy as well.
My son Declan is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I want to share his cuteness, and beauty, and the joy I get from being his father, with the world. I think that's a healthy feeling, but it's important to recognize the thin, blurry line that separates healthy sharing from unhealthy over-sharing, and parental pride from grotesque, disingenuous narcissism.
That, I suspect, is the ultimate value of Sam and Nia's stunt: it indelibly established what going too far looks and feels like. It's unclear at this early point exactly what lesson people will learn from Sam and Nia's very strange journey. It's equally unclear whether social media savvy parents of the future will see their experience as a cautionary warning about the dangers of sharing too much, too early, or if they'll instead be seen as pioneers whose immense visibility and fame is aspirational.
I don't know the answer, but in about 30 years, Declan, who I can only assume will still be riding high over being inducted into the Guinness Book Of World Records for being the most retweeted baby ever, hopefully will.