Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m a voyeur or a stalker on Snapchat.
Ever since I joined the messaging app a year ago, I’ve been mainly following some of my favorite Viners and YouTubers as they fill up their “stories” with snapshots and 10-second clips from their daily adventures.
For this is what mostly happens on Snapchat, considered the fastest-growing social app in the world. Snapchat reportedly has about 200 million active users, all sending pics and videos (some naughty, some nice) that are supposed to disappear the moment the recipient has seen them. (I say “supposed to” because the company got in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission last year after complaints that the snaps weren’t disappearing. Snapchat promised fixes and transparency while admitting no wrongdoing.) The photos or clips in the “stories” I mentioned above stick around for 24 hours before vanishing. What was once something Stanford frat boy Evan Spiegel came up with a few short years ago in his dad’s living room now has a value of $19 billion, turning the 25-year-old Spiegel into a tech giant who can usually be seen snuggling in public with supermodel Miranda Kerr.
While I’m on Snapchat (you can hit me up at “unclecrizzle” if you’re interested), I don’t contribute much to the party. I rarely send snaps or photos to anyone. I prefer living vicariously through other people who have more exciting lives than me – or, at least, they think they do. Not to mention that, being the middle-aged fogey I am, I still haven’t gotten the hang of actually sending pics or videos through this thing. I sent a video to a friend and he said it had no sound.
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It turns out I’m not the only person who feels like a senior citizen trying to work a TV remote when it comes to Snapchat. Earlier this year, Will Oremus, Slate’s senior technology writer, wrote a piece for the online magazine about how getting on Snapchat often turns him into an anxious, out-of-step square. “I end up flustered and sweating,” he wrote, “haplessly punching runic symbols in a doomed bid to accomplish the basic task of viewing my friends’ messages before they expire. Snapchat, in short, makes me feel old.” Oremus is 32.
But there are 30-somethings I know who haven’t been scared off by the app. In fact, they use it to their advantage. Durham rapper Jay “The Real Laww” Lawrence is someone I follow on Snapchat, and he finds it to be a useful tool for both texting and promoting himself. “It’s pretty cool as a new form of texting,” Lawrence told me. “Other than that, quite a few people have attended shows because of it.”
The same goes for Charlotte stand-up comic Mimi J. Benfield. “I have had people come to shows just because of my Snapchatting,” she says. “I use Snapchat more than text messaging now because it seems more personal and I can add an artistic flair to a short message.”
But just as Snapchat came on the scene looking to be a younger, more instant alternative to Facebook and other on-the-wane, social-media platforms, newer social-media apps have been popping up for people who want to immediately broadcast their lives to the world. Two recently launched apps that have been going head-to-head for the title of best live-video streaming app are Meerkat and Periscope (which was acquired by Twitter for around $100 million).
Benfield has already jumped on the Periscope bandwagon. “I just started using Periscope, so I’m not sure how I feel about it yet,” she says. “But it’ll probably take over my life soon enough.” Lawrence is on Periscope too, but hasn’t made any major moves yet. “I did see a pretty sweet stream of Bill Nye the science guy talking about Pluto, which was pretty dope,” he says.
It’s both amazing and a little insane that we officially live in an age where I can go on my smartphone, slip into one of these apps and follow a person through his or her day. Just as Twitter and Facebook invited people to publish their news, thoughts and opinions on the World Wide Web, Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat and other apps are making people the stars of their own ongoing reality show.
While I’m not clamoring to broadcast every waking moment of my life, I (and others like me) will watch those who do – at least if their lives are interestinge. So if you’re going to get on one (or all) of these things, at least have something to say or do. I don’t want to see photos of your food or your cat! Live for me, dammit!