Babymoons, Push Gifts, And Other Novel Pregnancy-Related Cultural Developments

There hasn’t been a pregnancy in Webner House for more than two decades.  A lot has changed, apparently, since Russell greeted the world back in 1988.

Yesterday I went to lunch with two young female colleagues, one of whom is in her second trimester.  They talked about “babymoons,” whether she expected a “push gift,” and other topics that made me feel like I had been dropped into an alternate world where people speak what seems to be English but the words have no meaning.

It turns out that a “babymoon” is not a reference to a part of fetal anatomy, but rather a honeymoon-like trip that an expectant couple takes before the life-changing birth of their first child.  That sounds like a good idea to me, although if Kish and I had known what the immediate weeks after childbirth would be like our babymoon probably would have focused less on romance and more on racking up as much sleep as possible.  A “push gift,” on the other hand, is a somewhat crass term for a present the mother receives from her fellow parent to compensate for the pain of labor and childbirth.  No word, however, on whether the other parent receives any gift to acknowledge the challenges involved in living for months with a hormone-charged being who might burst into tears at any moment for no readily apparent reason.

What else is new in pregnancy?  Well, thanks to Demi Moore and her famous Vanity Fair cover photo, more pregnant women are having naked photos taken, some at weekly intervals to track their progress, and then posting them on on Facebook and other social media websites.  It’s also apparently popular to take a plaster casting of the pregnant woman’s belly, the better to preserve her condition, in all its three-dimensional glory, for posterity.

I can’t imagine our doing any of that stuff, but then our grandparents undoubtedly would have thought it was weird that we were practicing breathing techniques and back rubs at Lamaze classes, that Kish was wearing anything other than black tent-like garments intended to mask the fact of pregnancy, and that I would want to be in the delivery room when the big moment finally arrived.  How people deal with pregnancy seems like one of those areas where there have been quiet, but profound, changes in our social and cultural mores.

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Facebook Giveth, And Facebook Taketh Away (II)

Facebook often seems like a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that.

There are some people you wish you hadn’t lost touch with, but — due to laziness or disorganization or the demands of your current life — you did.  Friday night Kish and I got together with an old friend we hadn’t seen him in years and had a wonderful time.  (Thanks, Action!)  It would not have happened without Facebook; that’s where we reconnected and communicated about getting together.

But there are negatives, too.  Sometimes Facebook causes you to learn more about people than you really want to know.  Perhaps their posted political, religious, or social views deeply offend you, and then you have to decide whether the situation merits “de-friending” the person.  People really seem to struggle with that decision — and when you think about it, it’s really a new kind of social decision.

In the past you might never have learned that your co-worker or second cousin harbored beliefs that you find upsetting.  Your interactions may never have gotten beyond superficial talk about sports or TV shows.  Ignorance was bliss!  But now, thanks to their airing of views on Facebook, you know.

To be sure, in days of yore people obviously made decisions not to pursue certain friendships.  That process typically involved just avoiding the offending person and letting time and distance work their magic.  With Facebook, that approach no longer works, because exposure to those offensive views is unaffected by physical distance.

The “de-friending” process also has a formality and finality to it that old-fashioned avoidance did not.  If you were the unlucky object of an avoidance campaign, you could always rationalize that you lost touch with someone purely by happenstance and not because they can’t bear the sight of you.  With “de-friending,” however, you know for certain.  Once you were a “friend,” now you’re not — and if the list of the de-friender’s remaining friends is long, getting cut from the roster has a special sting.

People who announce de-friending decisions seem to treat the decisions as momentous ones.  I don’t blame them.  In the old days, you typically had to make public breaks only with unsuccessful boyfriends and girlfriends, and you had to cope with the hurt feelings only from those people.  Now, the “de-friended” person may be a co-worker or family member, and you’ve got to deal with the fallout from your decision in a totally different context.

Manners and etiquette developed to help people deal in an appropriate way with standardized social situations.  I won’t be surprised if the Facebook generation’s version of Emily Post comes up with the proper etiquette for handling a “de-friending” incident.

There’s a lot of social change rolled up into that one website.

Facebook Giveth, And Facebook Taketh Away

I’m sure that sociologists and psychologists are studying the impact of Facebook and will do so for years to come.  There are big effects — like the stories about so-called “Facebook divorces” — but I think the website also has altered our interactions with family, friends, and acquaintances in less noticeable, but perhaps more profound, ways.

Never before have so many people stayed in regular touch with so many other people.  Isn’t it great to have so many friends, and in such a quantifiable way!

From the perspective of those us who grew up well before Facebook was developed, however, the website seems to have produced a curious phenomenon.  We went to high school and college, moved on, and lost touch with high school and college friends.  We took initial jobs, went to grad school, or lived in a particular place, moved on, and lost touch with people we knew in those contexts.  In short, we have a past, with past friends.

If you grew up with Facebook, you may never have a past in the same sense.  Instead, you’ll just have one long present, with a constantly accumulating list of present friends.  You’ll always be in touch with that kid from eighth grade, or the woman who was on the high school newspaper with you, or that odd guy you worked with at your first job.

There is value in having a past, and leaving behind the people who remember all too well what a jerk you were in high school.  The members of the Facebook generation may never really know the relief of seeing those awkward or embarrassing past incidents recede into life’s rear view mirror.  What does it mean to always be in touch with people whose main connection is that they shared goofy behavior with you when you were a kid?  Are you less likely to really grow up, or will you at some point feel hopelessly weighted down by your long roster of friends and want to sweep the slate clean?  What will that constant, ongoing connectedness mean for the Facebook generation?

The March Of Civilization, Writ Small (Cont.)

The Occupy Wall Street protests continue to teach us useful lessons about how civilization works and how individuals react in different social situations.

The latest story is of the revolt of the OWS kitchen staff.  They have been slaving over a hot stove — or whatever they use for cooking — for 18-hour days, turning out high-end grub.  They serve things like organic chicken and vegetables, spaghetti bolognese, and sheep’s milk cheese and roasted beet salad.  Now they’re ticked because they believe “professional homeless” people, ex-cons, and other freeloaders are showing up at Zuccotti Park, eating the free food and otherwise acting as leeches on the buttocks of the “movement.”  So the kitchen staff protested by not serving food and then providing only low-end food like brown rice and PB and J sandwiches.  And in other developments, a 10-person volunteer security force patrolled the “trouble-prone southwest section” of Zuccotti Park in a “show of force” to clear out the rabble.

It’s like that Sim City game that Richard played years ago.  The OWS protesters were the “have-nots” until they became the “haves” — and then other “have-nots” showed up to try to get theirs.  So, the budding OWS civilization has to police who gets the chow and set up a security force to keep order.  If they don’t budget carefully and devote some of their energy and resources to security and preservation of property, their civilization will fail.

How long do you think it will be before the “professional homeless” launch an Occupy “Occupy Wall Street” protest?

The March Of Civilization, Writ Small

Say what you will about the Occupy Wall Street group — it’s helping to provide people with an education about how civilization works.

It’s one thing to spend one night in a park, enraptured by your freedom and the spirit of the protest, listening to the tom toms and the snares of the “drum circle.”  But what to do when you’ve been there for a week?  Hey, how long can that damn drum circle play?  How are we going to divide the tips that those drummers get, anyway?  Are we going to let just anyone in?  Who’s going to make sure that my stuff doesn’t get taken?  This particular patch of the park is my patch, and I’m not going to move for the johnny-come-latelys who probably are here just to look for a good time.  Who is going to make sure that things are cleaned up?  Where’s my food?

New York magazine has a classic article on the growing pains of the OWS group, as “facilitators” and drummers clash, the old guard and the newbies bump heads, the “General Assembly” gets denounced as “unwieldy” and “cumbersome,” those who want to sleep and those who want to just let the music flow jostle for power, and property rights get asserted and exercised. It’s a living sociology class, confined to a smelly park in Manhattan.