The Snapchat Shift

I don’t like Snapchat.

I probably should have preceded that statement with a request for the young whippersnappers to get off my lawn. It seems common for me to have less enthusiasm for the “progress” that gets made each passing year, and my aversion to Snapchat probably seems to be more of the same. However, my issue is not with the app, but with the principle behind it.
Image sharing is nothing new. Instagram is the big name in one-to-many sharing (and Flikr before it, and Photobucket before that, and Xanga before that…). One-to-one photo sharing is effectively done by WhatsApp and Viber, and before them, BBM and plain MMS. 
Why is Snapchat so popular? I’ll admit that it’s got lots of creative filters, though it’s rather creepy that they want location data in order to access some of them. That’s certainly part of it. There has to be more to it though, because face filters have come on Logitech webcams for a decade. 
I submit that Snapchat’s big selling point is its 24-hour retention. I say this because Snapchat has spent a nontrivial amount of time enforcing that limit. The only apps that are more stringent about not installing on rooted Android phones are ones related to money like Samsung Pay. The reason for this is because there are modifications that make it possible to save pictures and videos beyond the one-day retention, and apparently the possibility of such a function is sufficiently concerning that it warrants some of the most comprehensive root checking procedures on the market. For this to be with anyone’s time, enforcement must be a feature worth protecting. In other words, one of the most popular apps on the market today is popular because it deletes data and makes it nearly impossible to avoid.
I’m pretty obsessive about data retention. My data is pretty solidly backed up, and I’ve got a 9TB NAS making that possible. I seldom lose data because I’m really big on making sure it’s available to me even if something breaks. Even my blog can be restored in a few hours if HostGator decides to pull my account. Snapchat is the antithesis of backing data up. Data that has value is forcibly deleted – and that is a core tenet of the app.
Now, I know one of the main reasons this is popular – girls send guys naughty pictures (and, probably, the other way around) and are more likely to do so because they don’t have to worry about them disseminating around the internet. Most internet progress depends on porn – it sure wasn’t Amazon that normalized online payments, Netflix wasn’t the first to stream video, and the proliferation of broadband was, to be fair, partially Napster.
Amongst the things that worries me is whether Snapchat really deletes the pictures – there’s not really a way to prove it, but if they don’t, they’re undoubtedly sitting on a massive bed of what is legally considered child porn. I would not want to be in charge of something like that…but I digress.
Now, I’m certain that a handful of astute readers are trying to put two and two together and assume I’m saying something like this: Snapchat is used to send nudes, and Joey is concerned about data retention, therefore he wants to keep naughty pictures but can’t and is complaining about it under the guise of data integrity. No. Not what I’m saying at all. Nobody has ever sent me a nude photo using any service, including Snapchat. I’m saying that its popularity for one reason inevitably leads to its use in others. Pictures of events worth remembering get the same fate at images worth keeping, and so do text-based communications. Snapchat does not distinguish, and that is my point of contention. They are two separate concepts.
Ultimately, the fact that Snapchat treats data as disposable is a mindset that I simply can’t get behind. “So don’t use it, Joey!” Don’t worry, I don’t – but the point I’m making isn’t because I don’t like the app itself, so much as I have concerns regarding the change it represents. Treating data as fleeting and disposable is a cultural shift that I don’t believe is a positive direction.
Now, I shall formally request that the whippersnappers get off my lawn. I have surveillance footage…and it won’t be gone tomorrow.
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