When I first heard of Snapchat I immediately thought, “This sounds like something that could go horribly wrong.” In the age we live in, where females are sexualized all over media, not to mention pressured into sexualizing themselves to compete for men’s attention, an app that allows people to take a photo that will self-destruct after a few seconds sounds like throwing gasoline on the fire.
That’s because of course no data in the world self-destructs, really; it’s just hidden out there in cyberspace where someone could find it if he wanted to (a sad reality for all too many female celebrities). Plus, given the screen-shot tool, Snapchatters can grab an image for perpetuity even before its few-seconds lifespan is up. Senders also get a little note as a compliment: theirs was a picture worth keeping (wink, wink).
To be fair, I also had the same snap judgement when I first heard about Uber. But I now love and rely on the car-service app so frequently that I’ve eaten my words. Not everything that can be abused will be, and just like the Internet, which sadly contains loads of porn and exploitative imagery of women, still has loads of valuable content, so Snapchat might have some value that makes it worth a try.
Before I get into that, a brief disclaimer: No, this article is not an endorsement of Snapchat for young women. If you asked me, I’d say no smartphone for any kids until they can pay for it themselves! That would mean they have proven themselves responsible, because these devices increasingly require better judgment than I could have trusted with my 14-year-old self.
Given that I am not 14 years old anymore and have no boys pressuring me for half-dressed photos they’ll send around my high school as revenge when I stop talking to them, and given that Snapchat is a growing avenue for media outlets to reach young people, I thought it wouldn’t hurt giving it a try. Oh, and I have a 14-year-old niece on Snapchat.
Here are just a few of the things I learned from using the cute-if-creepy-little-white-ghost app I thought I’d never use.
1. It’s Not All Sexting
Thank God I have seen nothing remotely close to a sext. But this is largely skewed by the company I keep which, on my Snapchat account, is restricted to the people whose phone numbers I have already in my phone. Which is to say, intelligent people who carry greater amounts of discretion than teen hormones.
2. It’s Not All Narcissistic
A lot of the gems on Snapchat that I and friends have captured are funny moments with our kids. Group shots with family members. A sunset. A humorous message to a friend of you rapping to Lauryn Hill music in the car.
3. That’s Not To Say It’s Not Narcissistic
After just a few days of snapping, it’s very easy to develop the distinct temptation to record everything in your life for others. Here’s what my workspace looks like. Here’s what my coffee looks like (which, for me in the morning, can be as beautiful as a sunset). Here’s my neighborhood where I’m taking my kids for a walk in the park. This may produce an ethical dilemma for the more philosophical Snapchatters who want to actually show a real picture of what their lives look like, versus just photo-worthy things you’d see in a catalogue. But more on that later.
4. Stories Are the Best
The best thing about Snapchat, bar none, is its “stories” feature. From my one month of usage, I have easily sent more snaps to my “story” than in time-limited messages to people. On Snapchat, your “story” is a compilation of short videos or pictures that accumulate throughout your day, available for those connected to you to view at will.
It’s not necessarily public; for me, the automated setting was only to allow people already connected to me by phone to connect with me on Snapchat. Even though these stories last longer than a few seconds and can be downloaded as video files to your phone, it still keeps the tempus fugit theme of the app by disappearing from others’ view in about a day.
5. Snapchat Allows You to Highlight Beautiful Moments
Thanks to this story feature, I have recorded tons of family moments and delightful things my kids do, and downloaded them daily onto my device to be saved forever. I can later upload them to my computer where I’ll file them among the family video files. Tea time with my husband. The sky when it’s that gorgeous twilight-color blue. Some of my favorite quiet moments can ironically be captured, remembered, and shared on an otherwise-silly app.
6. It Also Allows You to Highlight Useless Moments
If you can capture beauty on Snapchat, of course, the opposite is true too. Here’s a picture of my diffuser, I snap, as if somehow the Citrus Bliss vibes can transfer positive energy to those following my thread. Here’s a shot of my kids running around the room, except I’ve modified it to be playing backwards (thank you, Snapchat playback options). Harmless fun? Yes. But after my three-year-old daughter kept recounting the event as the most amazing thing that happened that day, I realized I’ve created a monster.
7. Be Prepared to Get More Addicted to Your Smartphone
It’s hard to say when it happens, but somewhere between the second and third week of using Snapchat, I began to find it really hard to not check my phone on any free moment. What did my friends post? Let’s review my day again. What else would look funny if I recorded it and played it backwards? Or in slow-mo? Or super-sped-up? In a way, Snapchat’s creators are geniuses. Especially with all the lenses to put goofy masks on people’s faces, those at Snapchat have managed to sync meme-worthy backgrounds with the ever-powerful phenomenon of the selfie. Suffice it to say this is not going away any time soon.
8. Be Prepared to Always Charge Your Phone
This is when you realize maybe you have become a teen with a smartphone. Try as you might to pretend your phone battery is getting old and needs to be replaced, you’re actually just draining your phone by using Snapchat all day. If you decide to use the app regularly, you’ll have to be that person who remembers to #bringyourcharger because very likely it will be depleted midday.
9. Watch Out for Accidental Photos
Every Snapper has probably been there. You click the little white ghost icon to see what’s up on Snapchat, and instantly you see your not-camera-ready face grimacing back. Ah! One time Snapchat somehow took that photo and saved it to my story, where it lived there for about an hour before I realized it. Anyone who came across it would have read it as a desperate cry for help. Thankfully the only person who saw it was my visually impaired niece (yes, Snapchat has a feature allowing you to see who has viewed your “story”).
10. Watch Out for Freaky Lenses
Then there are the creepy lenses. Get ready for the brilliant merger of face-mapping technology and creatives on drugs, because if you haven’t tried this yet, you’re in for a treat. Imagine a digital mask superimposed on your face. Yes there are silly family-friendly ones like the puppy-dog face, not unlike Google Hangouts special features.
But app developers have to keep in mind the fact that nothing can shock kids anymore, so we also have the alien, skull face, and seductress with pink eyes and a blown kiss that lingers in the air before disappearing. There are moments when you wonder “Is it really good for me to view this over my face? For my impressionable kids, could it confuse them about their identity?” Oh, and don’t even get me started on the face-swapping technology.
11. It’s So Far from Capturing Real Life
That’s what Snapchat mostly brings—a visual representation of snapshots of your day that can culminate in a story that is worlds away from reality. Wondering what a bad day would look like when captured in Snapchat? It looks like a silent day followed by one snap of someone’s leg injury or bandaged foot. For me, it looks like no photos for a span of three hours, during which I had been trying to get my one-year-old out from a locked room.
In reality, social media can’t help but show a version of our lives that is incomplete. That struggle we’re going through? Not likely to make it into your online mosaic. That panic attack? Not likely, either, although someone recently posted before and after photos of her experience.
It brings that conundrum the selfie has magnified in many ways—often it’s when we’re most lonely or feeling unconnected with others that we feel like snapping a photo of ourselves and sharing it. But that will never come close to capturing what we’re really experiencing.
The same is true of some of the most beautiful moments of real connection in our days. Some things are just too private and sacred to be shared with others. My daughter singing with me as she goes to bed. The music at a church service. Some things lose their shine simply by being recorded. (That, in a way, gets to the heart of the problem with sexting.)
12. Like Everything Else, It’s What You Make of It
Can I use my Snapchat app to record that neighborhood boy who just walked by my house singing an emotional rendition of Rihanna? Yes. Can I also use it to record the step-by-step process of our building my daughter’s first snowman in April? Yes. That’s where, like everything else online, Snapchat is what you make of it.
Will the little ghost icon known as Snapchat eat your soul? Not if you don’t let him. But if you decide to take the plunge and download the app, heed these warnings: Practice limiting phone usage when in the presence of loved ones. Bring your charger. Don’t face-swap with your dad. And don’t open Snapchat on the toilet. Just trust me.