Snapchat a social media platform originally created in 2011 for the sharing of unsavoury images has for reasons unknown managed to become a major social media platform in 2016 and break into the mainstream. For those who have been lucky enough not to hear about this “social” media platform before, it is, in essence, a messaging service which allows users to quickly add crude sprites and text onto their images. The key gimmick Snapchat has is that messages it sends are self-deleting meaning they don’t leave any obvious trail for parents to find. A feature useful during its origin as a sharing service for unsavoury images.
Based on this feature you might think the primary users of these services are 20 something creeps but surprisingly the popularity of the platform has exploded among high school students of all stripes becoming users of the service. Before you run for your kid’s phone understand that most kids aren’t using the service to share unsavoury images but instead images from their lives and those who are could easily do it some other way so it’s not Snapchat fault for what your kids are doing. However, the way the platform promotes spammy zero-value content is completely their fault and is making me increasingly disconnected from my own generation.
One of the major parts of Snapchat is something called “Streaks” which is basically the number of images you have sent to another person that have been replied to within a 24-hour period. This number is displayed next to your account name and is the only form of scoring on the Snapchat platform. A cursory glance might make you think that this feature is innocent and at worst only slightly annoying. This view, however, get’s disapproved almost as soon as someone uses Snapchat where most streaks are pictures of walls with the word streak used to describe it. This is not just some isolated incident, I have received the snap image of walls or dark spaces with the word streak written on them on almost 50 occasions despite the fact that I never respond to them. Snapchat expresses streaks in a score, which is a sum of all messages you sent and received to individual people. It’s not uncommon for normal users to have a score of up to hundred thousand and this is what’s killing communication.
It encourages people to focus on quantity over quality, which is the opposite of how communication should work. A million images of a wall aren’t even comparable to the monopolise but using the way Snapchat scores content they would be equal in value. People have stopped thinking about what they want to say and are instead focused on saying as much as possible. Snapchat is meant for sharing pictures that tell a story and mean something not increasing an arbitrary
score and streaks encourage the latter over the former. Saying something meaningful takes time and effort while just communicating takes very little. In a generation where the means to communicate are so accessible, we struggle with what we have to say.
Snapchat offers a smoke and mirror answer of saying everything deserves to be communicated which might work in the short run but will end up blowing up in the long run as nobody listens to you even when you have something meaningful to say. Meaningful doesn’t mean answering a tough question. It simply means that it has some importance no matter how trivial to you and that you would like to share it. It could be as small as liking a food or an amusing picture you found/created. It isn’t a picture of a wall with the word streaks lazily captioned at the bottom.
I confess to once having fallen for the smoke and mirror offers of streaks. It’s easy to fall into their illusion that simply sending images is communicating and that increasing number next to your username just reinforces the illusion. That however just makes it more insidious and harmful in the way it positions our communication and our ideas. This trend of more communication over meaningful communication has already spread to all levels of our society. Currently, the President of the United States communicates primarily via incoherent tweets which are less than a 150 words. I fear for the day that our world leaders decide to communicate via snapchat.You can start by taking 10 seconds before you snap to ask yourself “why am I sending this picture ?”