November 13, 2013

FORBATH: Why Snapchat Is Here to Stay

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard of Snapchat: the iPhone and Android application that allows users to send and receive pictures and videos that are visible for just a few seconds. I have to admit, when my friends initially pressured me into downloading Snapchat last November, I thought it was really bizarre and predicted it would be popular for a period shorter than Britney Spears’ first marriage. Turns out I was seriously mistaken. Today, with 350 million “snaps” sent per day, the app was recently valued at a whopping $3 to 4 billion. Although snaps may disappear in seconds, Snapchat is definitely here to stay. Here are four reasons why:

1. You naturally communicate ephemerally face-to-face.

Snapchat transposes that quality to the digital realm. When you talk to someone in person, you can’t go over every word you plan on uttering with a fine-toothed comb, as you can with a digital message (I sure am guilty of that). You can’t revisit a conversation months or years later to analyze, reanalyze, and overanalyze the placement of punctuation marks and the use of emoticons (guilty again). Snapchat hinders the former and makes the latter impossible. You are physically restrained from composing a message the length of a short novel because the app only allows you to type one line of text per snap. Since snaps only last for a few seconds, you can’t revisit the conversation minutes— much less months or years — later.

2. You don’t have to keep up an image.

I admit: I treat my Instagram account like a carefully curated curio cabinet. I only share the most beautiful moments of my life and make them look even more flawless with some strategic cropping and the trusty Valencia filter. But my Snapchat mantra is “no trace, more duck face.” You can take selfies imitating any sort of duck or bird or animal and not worry if you don’t look like Megan Fox. You can take mundane snaps sitting on your couch in your PJs, studying in the library stacks, or sweating at the gym.

3. Your snap won’t come back to haunt you (even though the Snapchat icon is an illustration of a ghost).

It has been heavily drilled into people of my generation not to post any content online that you might regret later. You’ve learned that before you share anything, you should ask yourself, “What would a potential employer and/or my parents and/or my grandparents think if they saw this picture?” Sure, you can always delete a picture off of Facebook, but you don’t know how many people have already downloaded it or how many people they could subsequently spread it in years to come (freaky, I know). Unless the receiver can stealthily contort their hands to take a screenshot, your snap isn’t likely to resurface from the depths of someone’s hard drive in a decade or two.

4. You can be creative.

If my Instagram is a carefully curated curio cabinet, then my Snapchat is a children’s coloring book in the hands of a four-year-old with a 100-pack of Crayolas. The app allows users to draw on their pictures and videos with a multitude of colors, giving them a playful, ludic quality. Instead of partaking in “Movember,” you can easily draw a full moustache on yourself with just a few strokes. You can sketch a green crown on your head to pretend you’re Lady Liberty or doodle a Ronald McDonald-like ’do before actually dying your hair bright red. In a world where we can remove blemishes with a touch of a button and where some camera phones have a “beauty face” feature, it’s nice to feel like a kid again.

Snapchat is a breath of fresh air amongst the million apps in the App Store: it emulates the way we naturally communicate and frees us from the shackles of our digital personas. Maybe more developers should consider releasing what may currently seem like strange apps that challenge the paradigm of how we communicate online. It is by defying the norm that more innovation will come about.