Snapchat is a social media application that allows people to share pictures/video with each other on a temporary basis.  Once the image, called a Snap, is received it can only be viewed once for 10 seconds before being deleted from the recipient’s device.  A new feature, Stories, allows users to keep a continuous 24-hour feed related to an event. Anything older than 24 hours will be deleted. At least in theory.

Snapchat maintains the present moment as the present by not allowing history to be created through the preservation of the images. A recent article in the Vancouver Sun with Evan Spiegel, founder of Snapchat, sheds some insight on how he feels about the permanence of digital data, “It would be better for everyone if we deleted everything by default and saved the things that are important to us,” he says. “Right now most businesses are built on saving everything and then writing a ton of software to organize it and hopefully find the things that are important later.”  Spiegel says it is only businesses that are built on saving everything, but lots of individuals are also invested in this idea, except usually without the capability to write all the software to find important things later.

One of the reasons that Snapchat is so popular is because it allows people to be authentic, silly, and spontaneous without the worry of leaving a lasting digital impression to be mined later.  Not surprisingly, one of the apps biggest demographic of users is teenagers.  Parents don’t want their children using Snapchat because they’re worried about sexting, which is not the intended purpose of the app.  But if sexting is going to happen, wouldn’t you rather do it where there isn’t a trace left behind?

Not long after I first read about Snapchat, I discovered a few things that are completely contrary to the app’s purpose.

  1. YouTube video instructing Snapchat users (recipients) on how to retrieve images/video that have already been “deleted” from their devices (smartphone,tablets).  
  2. A new app, SnapHack Pro, that allows recipients to save Snaps to their camera roll all without the sender knowing.  And it’s only $1.99.
  3. People (recipients) can take screenshots of Snaps.

Why are we so uncomfortable with deletion?  Or with the idea that something ephemeral by nature, such as spontaneous conversation, can’t stay ephemeral?

Are you interested in using Snapchat?  Cast your vote in this week’s poll.


2 comments for “Snapchat

  1. Donald
    5 November 2013 at 08:40

    A student of mine found this gem of an article that discusses the scary situation of US government employees using SnapChat:

    I think people are becoming more comfortable deleting things because they are more aware of its future implications. The scary part, however, is that people continue to think that once they press Delete or use a service like SnapChat, their stuff cannot no longer be accessed. SnapChat may make it appear like your machine no longer has the information, but is it really deleted or has SnapChat just grabbed it and moved it off your computer or device (out of site, out of mind)? For example, I use Dropbox quite regularly. If I delete a file from my computer, I can log in to Dropbox and, by using the web interface, I can recover the file. The file, in reality, was never deleted, it was just in a different location.

    • The Deletist
      5 November 2013 at 16:15

      This hits on one of the biggest challenges in managing electronic information, the fact that copies can exist in so many places, many of which are unseen or forgotten. One of the hidden dangers with using Snapchat is that the sender thinks everything is deleted on the receiving end. In reality, the recipient has multiple options to capture the content without the sender ever knowing. What kind of system is that? Thanks for the article.

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