a new narrative

snapchat and superficiality

I understand now why the Snapchat logo is a ghost: Wherever we are, whatever we do, we inevitably feel the lingering influence of this popular social media app. Eating a meal? See something funny? Snapchat it, or else it didn’t happen. These seemingly silly trends lead many to believe that Snapchat is the most inane form of social media. Is this a fair perspective? What is it about Snapchat that appeals to us so much?

As social creatures, we want and need to understand the people around us–what better way to do this than to experience life from another person’s perspective? Rømë Lansang ‘19 said, “I like the fact that you get to see the world through the literal lens of another human being (…) we don’t realize other people have complex, interesting lives too, and I feel like Snapchat helps to bridge that gap.” When we view a story, we are able to live vicariously through the brief, seconds-long moments of another and therefore understand that individual slightly better. It’s amazing how Snapchat can bring viewers into the intimacy of another user’s moment. Some of my friends went to a Maroon 5 concert, and through their snapchats I almost felt as if I were there beside them. The flashing lights, the roaring crowds, the ear-shattering bass–all important components of the concert experience, condensed into the concise package of a 150-second-long story. The “my stories” appropriate the best moments of an experience and allow them to be shared with Snapchat audiences.

The stories not only communicate experiences, they also communicate personalities. People can express their humor uniquely through the various Snapchat filters and features and present themselves in ways that cannot be achieved in face-to-face interactions. Snapchat does (for the most part) contribute to a unique culture of efficient, highly-personalized communication that permits a different brand of interaction and humor. I’m sure many of you have been keeping up with the Ivy League snap story. That strange dance with the arms (I’m still not sure exactly what it is or where it came from), the common struggle over midterms, the competitive “we do it better” posts–these all unite the otherwise individual Ivy League student bodies. Through these experiences, even if they are not physically shared, the barriers that separate us slowly come down, and our mutualities prevail.

Another Snapchat user, Hannah McMullen ‘19, further commented that “Snapchat is an indicator that our society loves instant gratification.” Perhaps another reason why Snapchat is so popular is that we relish in the immediacy with which we can exchange pictures and videos in a particular moment. I think there is something profound about the ephemeral nature of the stories. They exist for only 24 hours before disappearing, which is something that distinguishes Snapchat from other popular forms of social media. Snaps sent directly to a friend last for an even shorter sliver of time, at a maximum of 10 seconds. Imagine having to send that funny video you took through, say, Facebook. Doesn’t it lose something? There’s a beauty in only being able to see a post for a limited amount of time, and I think it speaks to us more because it more accurately reflects how moments are in life—fleeting, and precious.

All of these qualities make Snapchat one of the most popular apps among millennials. Yet I don’t deny that people aren’t always using Snapchats for the right reasons. Natalie Nguyen ‘19 pointedly asks, “Are the best points in our life only the ones worth sharing?” Snapchatters are constantly on the prowl for “Snapworthy” material—in the process, the slightly less-glamorous moments in life are invalidated. Our need to glorify otherwise normal activities might play into our fear of appearing mundane to others. By seeing all the fun moments that you aren’t a part of, it is easy to get a case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I will admit that this has been at times an issue for me, where I would subconsciously try to post Snapchats that exaggerated how fun my activities were in an effort to compensate for my FOMO. Friends who then viewed my stories might have gotten FOMO, which ironically stemmed from my FOMO, continuing the cycle. This competitive side of social media can blind us from the everyday moments that matter the most.

People can also use Snapchat features to mask their self-perceived imperfections and further feed their insecurities. There are instances where I conveniently place a caption on top of a glaring pimple, or enlarge an emoji to cover unattractive eye-bags the size of Alaska. Don’t get me wrong, this is great, but what are the implications? These filters further the notion that we can’t be appreciated in our natural, unadulterated state. The more features are added, the easier it is to develop a dependency on them. Although Snapchat is an advent for communication, it can also perpetuate a person’s feeling of social or physical inadequacy. Again, though, this depends on how you use it and what you hope to get out if it.

Snapchat is just another evolved form of communication, and its widespread popularity can be attributed to a vast array of reasons that reflect something about human nature: our inherent desire to reach out to others, our demand for instant gratification,our persistent insecurity of self. You may only snap important events, or you may prefer to capture everyday instances—either way, Snapchat is a vehicle of expression and a novel way to write your own narrative. Why and how you use Snapchat exposes how you may identify with others, as well as how you identify with yourself. That said, I think it’s unfair to say that Snaphat lacks substance. Beyond the captions and filters, there is truth to be found about yourself.