Ten Seconds

A couple of months ago, I deleted my Snapchat account. In the following weeks, I was barraged with questions about why I did it. It seems that, in today’s social media dominated environment, deleting Snapchat was the equivalent to social suicide. Since 2011, when the app was first released, Snapchat has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular forms of social media.

The general premise of Snapchat is unique: you send a video or photo message up to ten seconds long and after the specified time is up, the message is deleted forever. If something is particularly fascinating, you can add a photograph or video to your story, which is viewable to all of your friends and followers for 24 hours. It’s a fun way to communicate with other people, using photos and video instead of mere text to get a message across.

The only caveat is that whatever you send might never be seen ever again, which can be a good or a bad thing. 

Ten seconds. The developers have recently released an update that allows for an indefinite viewing, but Snapchat is the epitome of a fleeting memory. Have you ever snapped someone only to forget what you sent earlier in the conversation? Additionally, when you have up to dozens of conversations going on at once throughout your day, how can you keep track of where all of them are going when there is no history or context to look back to? Even as a conversational messaging app, it’s severely flawed — you have to manually save your messages with other people, you can easily double tap a photo and delete it on accident, and if you forget to save an actual good photo, you can’t really get that back either.

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Why not take actual photos?

They say that the average human has an attention span of only eight seconds, but that can be increased to 20 minutes with constant refocusing and concentration. By inserting Snapchat’s limited viewing time into that short window, our days can be interrupted dozens of times for a couple of seconds, yet derail any concentration when that iconic notification tone pops up.

An unspoken “peer-pressure” system even is built into the app to make it harder to uninstall or get away from the application: streaks, or a counter of how many consecutive days you’ve sent photos to someone. Friends of mine have taken pride in having several hundred-day streaks with others, and I have even received backlash from losing streaks that I kept with people after purging my Snapchat. People have asked me outside of the app, “why did you lose your streak with me?”, which led me to question the deeper question at hand, stemming off of, “I see that you, breaking our streak, has somehow violated an interpersonal code.” When has the number next to someone’s name in this app, that symbolizes consistent messaging, come to be so important to people?

The system on which Snapchat operates is one psychological phenomenon, yet I also view Snapchat as a festival of useless vanity that at the same time manages to degrade your self-image. The live filters that seem only cute and harmless do wonders making you more attractive: they slim down your face, cover up insecure areas of your face (e.g. nose and mouth), and ultimately remove acne and other blemishes — all which makes us appear better. This constantly gives us an altered vision of what our “ideal self” would look like, but when we see ourselves through that camera lens without the filter, we feel less secure about our appearance. These live filters are an “instant Photoshop” treatment, one that when used enough, begins to degrade self-esteem and perception of self.

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In the end, Snapchat will only continue to grow as a social media giant. People will always want to be able to send funny or embarrassing videos without the fear of it being permanent, coming to haunt them later down the road. Videos of a friend’s drunken stupor, hilarious random sightings, and even the beautiful moments of life can be shared nearly instantly to hundreds of people — it’s the crazier side of social media, one that your employer or parents can’t see. It only gets complicated when we put so much energy into looking good for a 10-second photo, keeping up streaks for its own sake, and trying to show off every aspect of our life to everyone else.

Ironically, Snapchat’s own website includes this in its slogan: “Life’s more fun when you live in the moment!”, which is something that I ultimately have an issue with.

As Logic said, “[…] put down your camera. And live in the moment.”