This article features no hastily snapped nudity.
Try explaining the concept of Snapchat to anyone over 24 and you’re met with goggle-eyed incredulity and the twisted visage of someone searching desperately for an answer to the question, “Why?”
The website tells us it’s “a new way to share moments with friends.” Ephemeral moments that vanish after 10 seconds.
The last thing to make the word ephemeral popular was street art, as it transitioned from the label “graffiti” into something altogether more shareable. More art, less vandalism. More street, less ghetto.
The analogy is worth exploring. Street art was and is maligned by the many, but treasured, expounded upon and taken to new heights by the few. It takes a millenium-old human behaviour, that of making our mark, staking out our territory, and fuses it with popular culture, borrowing and remixing motifs from our everyday.
It’s a reactive behaviour, anti-establishment. A very visual two fingers up at the well-stuffed art establishment and advertisers.
Snapchat is a fuck-you to our over-sharing, information age avarice. In days of yore, it would have been a garage-made Molotov cocktail, a sweat-soaked bandana and the fervour of a mob that’s forgotten what it’s fighting for.
But Millenials, the Snapchat massive, use their cognitive and digital smarts to outwit their every watchful oppressors.
Take a photo, no filters, no tweaks, a raw goofy face in-the-moment snap. Send it to someone you already have the number of. They open it, wince, then smile at your goofy visage, before it evaporates into the digital ether.
Importantly, this moment isn’t stored, it’s not searchable, it’s anti-Google in everything it embodies; it is resolutely not information that can be indexed by anything that crawls. It’s reclaiming the moment when social media has made the very notion of a moment defunct.
Given the hoopla about Edward Snowden, the lightly bearded, bespectacled geek spy revealing that the US government has been ordering Facebook, Twitter and Google to aid their covert surveillance of us, Snapchat seems wonderfully prescient. It’s the spies’ social network of choice.
Just as the porn industry drove the development of video streaming technology, so the press have focused on Snapchat’s enabling of sexting. No one looks good snapping themselves in a mirror, but now there is an app for that!
That’s 98 percent bullshit. Perhaps 2 percent of the activity on Snapchat is merkin themed. Given 200 million pictures are shared daily, that’s 4 million salacious pics. Okay, that’s a fair amount, but it obfuscates the point. It’s a minority behaviour, not a means to categorise a whole community.
Millenials are reacting to the permanence of the social web. They are the forever indexed generation. The next generation are being endlessly catalogued by their parents, with their entire lives from cradle to spring break catalogued and searchable. This is the dawn of digital over-exposure.
Snapchat, despite presenting itself with a ghost motif and pretty girls, is the weapon of choice for the anti-establishment. The place to hang out and not get spied on, where the only indexing is the speed at which your index finger can hit screengrab and circumvent the ephermal nature of the app.
But Snapchat represents something much, much deeper. A rare behavioural inflection point. Twitter was the last such occurence, but it was a much slower burn. It narrowed the divide between the aspiring and aspirationalists. Suddenly you might share a pixelated hashtag with Ashton Kutcher.
Snapchat is growing at an exponential rate, both in user numbers and pre-income valuation. It’s racing to the $1 billion line, faster than the last fastest-finger wizard, Instagram.
What seemed throwaway and disposable has come to symbolise everything that Facetwoogle is not. It’s not filtered, it’s not searchable, it’s not permanent. It’s a raw, instant reflection of who we are in a moment that simply vanishes.
The social media spring is upon us, clothing optional.
[This post was originally posted here.]