Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The rise of Snapchat: What the f**k happened?

It looks like a silhouette of Zoidberg from Futurama. Or a condom

I must admit, I'm a bit late to the party. For those of you who don't know I spent 5 months in Ghana on Co-Op so my hitherto excellent and unflappable grasp of popular culture has taken something of a hit. Twerking passed me by, as did most of Miley Cyrus' gallivanting and it was only two weeks ago I discovered that the tall lad from Glee who couldn't really sing or act or dance died in a pool of alcohol, vomit and heroin. 

The most significant change that occurred while I was away in Africa however has to be the rise of the selfie and the main vessel on which it sails, the smartphone app Snapchat. I was a puzzled boy when I returned and found that not only has Snapchat become incongruously popular but that it's so popular that it's threatening to dismantle Facebook's vice-like grip on the teen social networking market. Facebook!? Dear God, when I left it seemed it would take an alien invasion or at the very least a nuclear fallout to stifle Facebook's dominance. I had to get to the bottom of this. I had to see what all the fuss was about. So I asked myself, just why is Snapchat so popular?

The first thing that puzzled me with regards to Snapchat was the selfie. I was familiar with the term before I had left (To be honest, it's not too fucking difficult to work out) but it's become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. It perplexes me though. Before 2013, anyone posting selfies on Facebook or any other website would be, at best, considered a tad self-satisfied and at worst a vain, preening shitcake. 

What happened in between? What made it ok to post teasing, attention-seeking images of your own mug? I was always of the understanding that there was a subtle yet strict moral code which all us decent human beings on the internet abided by. Don't cyberbully. Don't laugh at 9gag. Don't share those inane "One like = One respect for Cancer Victims" facebook posts. Don't be a vain, preening shitcake. 

But this moral code has been flipped upside down and rendered useless by the advent of the selfie. It admonishes and, nay, encourages vanity and self-obsession. The selfie has been assisted in its propulsion to ubiquity with the help of celebrities such as Cara Delevigne and Kendell Jenner. Celebrities are always reliable cheerleaders for any thing which encourages conceitedness, self-adoration and solipsism. (Solipsism is a pushing it a bit but, fuck it, I have a word count and it sounds intelligent.) These celebrities regularly post selfies on their instagram accounts to their adoring followers who number the hundreds of thousands. Instagram, ironically, is owned and operated by Facebook so maybe they aren't the big losers in this selfie explosion. 

So, in an attempt to understand Snapchat's obvious appeal I decided to download it on my own phone and give it a spin. I encountered a number of difficulties, chief among them that my phone, while ostensibly a smartphone, is a steaming pile of cheap dog shite and trying to run Snapchat on it is like trying to run the latest edition of World of Warcraft on Windows 98. I have no front-facing camera and the one on the back is a measly 3MP so the pictures end up about as clear and concise as a Jackson Pollock painting. 

Nevertheless, in the 30 or so minutes I spent faffing about on it I really didn't enjoy it. Jesus it's intrusive, constantly bugging you to "invite your friends" and "sync your contacts" so even more people can be vain, preening shitcakes with you. It sends instant messages to your phone as soon as one of your friends sends you a picture. Jesus. Do people really find their friends that interesting? 

Have we truly reached the stage in digital saturation where we want to be updated instantly as soon as our friends posts a drunken selfie or a picture of their dinner? I've barely tip-toed my way through the incipient stages of my 20s and I still feel too old for this shit. 

I can sort of understand the appeal. Snapchat is much more intimate than Facebook and, as many commentators have pointed out, Facebook has lost its cool factor thanks to the multitude of parents, aunties, uncles and even grandparents who clog up teenagers' news feeds. Is it a fad? Probably not. It's just another rung on this digital ladder which we're all climbing together. In a few years time, we'll probably be discussing the latest social networking craze that teens are flocking to (to the apparent detriment of Snapchat) and wonder if it's the end of Snapchat. But it probably won't be. Like Facebook now it'll still remain relevant and popular long past its peak. Why? Because when you get this big you don't just fall away into anonymity. Now to post a selfie of my twerkie. 

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