Now That We Have Facebook, Let’s Kill the Family Newsletter

Hint: No one cares that your son is good at science.

I have to admit, at first I thought it was a joke. The email came with the subject line, “The Smith Family Quarterly Report” (well, not the Smith family—I am changing names to protect the guilty, for reasons which will become obvious shortly) and was from a distant cousin I had bumped into during Easter dinner out with my parents. I come from a stereotypically large Irish Catholic family, so it’s not that unusual to come face-to-face with people who somehow share my bloodline but whom I know barely, if at all.

This particular cousin had accosted me at the dinner and asked for my email, so I did what I do in all of these types of situations: I gave her the one I never use, where all my Amazon and PayPal receipts go to die. But curious as to what she was sending me, I logged on a few days later and there it was: Her family’s quarterly newsletter.

Now I am sure there are some families whose prominence or interesting lives warrant a quarterly update: the Windsors, Brangelina, Bob and Deb Brady. But the Smiths, who live in a strip mall-heavy stretch of Bucks County and have two of the most disaffected teenagers I have ever seen? Not so much.

The SFQR opened with a detailed recanting of the family’s excursion to see the Mummers on New Year’s Day and only went downhill from there, a mind-numbing recitation of three months’ worth of errands disguised as interesting occurrences. There was Caitlin’s evidently bravura performance in the school musical (the chorus of Oklahoma!), and Brian’s amazing proficiency for grammar-school science, which of course will “hopefully result in a scholarship to a great college, because Momma and Daddy are going to have a tough time putting two kids through school!” I have no idea why his mother decided suddenly adopting a Southern persona was appropriate here, but then again, I have even less of an idea of why I was reading it.

I was hoping that this sort of “family update,” once scribbled on Christmas cards until it gradually morphed into the annual holiday/New Year’s “newsletter,” had at least been contained to that foul brand of navel-gazing. Facebook helped in this regard, because now people could document the arcana of their (mostly stiflingly dull) lives for daily consumption, and those of us tech-savvy enough could hide their updates, and everyone co-existed happily.

Alas, it now appears that Facebook narcissism isn’t sating all the masses, which has foisted an even more virulent strain of navel-gazing onto the rest of us, in the form of e-newsletters and occasional postcards sent via snail mail to keep up with the Joneses. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the days when people mailed a Hallmark card (“When you care enough to send the very best”) with a simple line or two at the bottom wishing you a wonderful yuletide—and left it at that.

Typical of most of these kinds of outsized-ego trends, I don’t get it. Who cares where you went on vacation, or that you’re redoing your kitchen, or that your kid got straight A’s? I don’t, and I suspect no one else does, either. We all put up with the annual New Year’s update thing because it was once a year and seemingly harmless, an extension (albeit an obnoxious one) of the trend of people sending Christmas cards not featuring Santa or the Christ child, but rather their adorable spawn all wearing Santa hats. Because really, aren’t my kids adorable? Couldn’t you just eat them up? Don’t you wish they were yours? Well, don’t you?

No, I don’t.

I do not have children, so no doubt some of my loathing of all of this relentless journaling of the Kodak moments of our lives comes from the fact that I cannot sling back any quid pro quo on this situation. And in fact I think that is a large part of the issue: We who have either not yet procreated or are clearly never going to are seen not as friends or family but as audience, there for the sole purpose of affirming the (pick one or all) cuteness/cuddliness/smarts/talent/beauty of our friends’ and relatives’ children. See? We’re good parents.

Before you start caterwauling, let me make one thing clear: I love kids, and am godfather to several, a duty I don’t take lightly. I tried my best to be a good uncle to my nephews and my niece as they were growing up, and now that they are all basically adults (my oldest nephew graduates medical school this month), I like to think I have managed to forge relationships with them based on the fact that I was there for them, in a real way. (That and the fact that I am far cooler than my brothers.) Likewise, I have a good gaggle of friends who have had kids in recent years, with whom I am always happy to spend time, play, and on occasion spoil rotten. I’m the single gay uncle—it’s my job.

However, that doesn’t mean I want to hear about every burp and Band-Aid, or that I am going to find updates on their bowel movements and “this thing she does with her lip when she’s happy” endlessly fascinating. And it most certainly does not mean that it is appropriate that I continue to get these updates well into these kids’ teen years. Is it any wonder so many young people today won’t grow up, when their parents are still camped out in the front row of their lives, holding the camcorder and clapping at every smile?

Perhaps the solution here is a simple and timeless one: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I’ll pen an update of my own, “The Michael Quarterly Report,” and zip it out to all of those dutifully keeping me informed of their goings-on. In it I can detail the Hangover-style weekend I just spent in Atlantic City two weeks ago, a tale replete with a raunchy monologue delivered on the Boardwalk in front of Caesar’s, a painful karaoke rendition (that would be mine) of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, a doughy male stripper (who also sang karaoke), a spirited argument with a casino host at a blackjack table, way too many vodka tonics, and a questionable hamburger consumed at four in the morning.

Yeah, that should solve it.