#153: Snapchat

An open-ended Sunday, my first real one in a long time. Room to explore and wander, and not have to be back at a certain time to go anywhere, or do anything. I spent most of the day downtown on my bike and posted my movements to Snapchat, which, like many apps, I use in fits and starts, and have started using again.^[And now, in February of 2022, I am no longer using it.] More friends I know are on Snapchat now. Don’t underestimate the power of faceswapping, I guess. And some friends, like C or N, are Snapchat savants. By seeing their daily stories something clicked for me this time around, in a way that it hadn’t before: Snapchat is the closest thing we have to a live-action comic book. You have text overlaid on top of still and moving image, front-camera explainers, rear-camera close-ups, panning establishing shots and, by joining these cuts into a continuous “story”, physical real-estate becomes temporal real-estate – the five-second snap is the equivalent of a full-page spread.

This audio-visual-textual collage also makes Snapchat a kind of uber-medium – its own language, that borrows from and encompasses other languages. The verbs of Snapchat are untensed; its sentences convey meaning using word sequence and context. Like the language of a lost Amazonian tribe: You see me. I eat lunch. It is tree. The letterforms – i.e. the interface – are a series of directional swipes, a gestural Arabic. And the phonology is abrupt with hard consonants, like Japanese.

Every social media to some extent is its own language. And every app, too (meaning, that would make Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines … Latin?) Being languages they each have their values, and thus, biases and distortions. They condition how we think and shape our perception of reality. Snapchat is a language of show-and-tell. It values discovery, and immediacy, at the cost, perhaps, of a deeper, steadier, more continuous attention. (And it’s taken me longer than usual this Sunday night to clarify these thoughts into paragraphs, maybe because my brain is still trying to “speak” Snapchat, and now I’m trying to get it to speak prose.)

So then the question at the end of the day – at the end of this open-ended Sunday – becomes, as it often does for me, Which values do I want to cultivate? And, once I’ve found them, which languages best speak those values?