By Lindsey W.
You may see an increase in young people taking comically unattractive photos of themselves and looking delighted with the results. What is this stark change from the aesthetics-obsessed youth we know, who pore over fashion magazines and antagonize over wearing the latest trendy fashions? It’s the Snapchat effect.
What is Snapchat? It’s a free, mobile app for iOS and Android devices that lets users share photos that then “disappear” after a selected period of time, from 1 to 10 seconds. If a receiver tries to take a screenshot of the photo, the app doesn’t allow it, and will notify the sender of the attempted screenshot. The app has caught on like wildfire amongst young people from high schools to college campuses nationwide. According to Forbes, it’s used 30 million times a day, who called Snapchat “the biggest no-revenue app since Instagram.”
Snapchat claims it sends photos up to ten times faster than MMS. It also lets you add short messages and draw in a myriad of colors on your photo. This means blue steel + blue mustache. The creative possibilities are endless. Draw smiley faces, hearts, cats, streamers, balloons, colored hair, mustaches, glasses, you name it. Quite simply, Snapchat is fun. And what’s more, it’s fun to receive Snapchats. Snapchat makes it socially acceptable for you to publically share secrets. It’s the ultimate inside-joke machine. It’s become so rampant that it earned itself a place in our language with a highly coveted verb: “Did you Snapchat me?” “I just Snapchatted that.” People send them when they’re in class, in meetings, across the country, or in the same room.
It’s clear that young people are highly driven by imagery. We’ve seen the meteoric rise of both Pinterest and Instagram, photo-fueled social networks. Both involve sharing images with a community. Snapchat doesn’t involve sharing pictures with wide audiences, getting “followers”, repins, or likes. Snapchat caters to our photo-obsessed youth while infusing another key aspect of young culture today: transience. And it adds novel features that keep things exciting.
Today’s youth grew up with lightening fast technology, bypassed the days of dial up Internet and don’t know a world without smartphones. With the ability to access information and purchase anything with the swipe of a finger, young people no longer sit out on the porch and swing the days away. They’re impatient and crave high stimulation around the clock. They want things now.
There’s also a fascination with documentation. These days, we can record so easily, with virtually no limitation. Documenting our lives is no longer limited to special events and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
What does this mean? Youth have more reason than ever to take photos all the time. When we were restricted to disposable and film cameras, we got really choosy about what photos we took. No one wanted to waste film, and the process to get photos developed was laborious and lengthy. Now we can take photos on a whim. We can see them instantaneously, and can take an unlimited amount without any consequences. Snapchat has taken this to the extreme. It pushes beyond the image-conscious youth and gets them to send silly, spur of the moment, and sometimes really ugly photos to one-another. It doesn’t matter, because the photos of Snapchat live in a period of time that lasts 10 seconds or less, soon to be replaced by another photo.
If this has you thinking that Snapchat could be used for less carefree and wholesome experiences such as competing with friends to see who can make the ugliest face, you’re probably right. Though this app seems like it was engineered to be the perfect sexting accessory, founder Evan Spiegel claims their intention was to “make social media fun again.” Regardless of his intentions, the app can be used both ways.
This presents a potential problem for young people who are convinced it’s a secure way to send risqué photos. Despite features that attempt to prohibit users from taking screenshots, if there’s a will, there’s often a way. And it’s definitely possible to take screenshots. I have personally tested this out and confirmed its’ viability.
This comes back to a central theme of social media that youth sometimes forget: nothing, nothing, nothing in this (new) world is completely private, and in reality, it’s unlikely that anything can ever be completely and permanently erased. So if you’re thinking of sending a photo that would cause you to absolutely die if it got published on Facebook, try to reconsider it.
But for most people, it’s still simply an app that provides a good dose of silly, carefree fun. It’s a breath of fresh air to have people throwing self-consciousness out the window and willingly take unattractive photos of themselves. The potential for friends to share awkward photos of you online has probably stifled the young adult goofy-meter for too long.