Hey Gen Y, Can You Please Cut Snapchat Some Slack?

Pop Culture

Hey Gen Y, Can You Please Cut Snapchat Some Slack?

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré


ou want me to take a video of you brushing your teeth?!”

My sister, on the cusp of turning 30, and too busy with her newborn baby girl to play around on social media, was looking at me with a mixture of exasperation and amusement. “It’s for my Snap story,” I whined, making her look at me like I was completely insane.

“Oh my God, Snapchat again? Do you guys have nothing better to do?”

I’m basically a nice person, so I didn’t explode and yell that it was certainly better than posting “here’re my baby burping” pics on stupid old Facebook. I breathed in deeply and explained to her that I hung out on Snapchat because if I didn’t, I would miss many stories… that they didn’t hang around waiting for you to come back until the baby had been burped. On Snapchat if you take a picture and send it, it disappears in 20 seconds. If you send a text, it disappears as soon as you close the window. You can post short pictures and videos to your story, but that auto-deletes itself in 24 hours too.  

“So what’s the point?” she shot back.  

I don’t think I was prepared for the question because I looked at her as if she’d suddenly asked me about the Pythagoras theorem. Was there really any point in putting effort into creating something that self-destructs in 24 hours?

Snapchat is a product of the digital era. Snapchatters spend time and effort making the perfect story every day, only to start all over again the next day. It isn’t permanent; it won’t be immortalised. But then, haven’t Buddhists been creating and destroying gorgeous, intricate sand mandalas for like a millions years?

As artists (and wannabe artists) are fond of reminding us, art needn’t have a purpose and if it does, it isn’t art by definition. I think there’s something very Zen and beautiful about that.

Snapchat exemplifies everything that’s different between millennials and Gen Y. It’s natural that the urgency and minute-to-minute nature of Snapchat is addictive to a generation that’s always connected. It seems Snapchatters have internalised the sentiments we once shared so insistently on Instagram, actually bringing the idea of “living in the moment” to practice through social media.

My sister’s Facebook is full of milestones, work details, life events, and the occasional baby burp (to her rose-tinted mama eyes, a daily milestone in itself). My Snapchat, on the other hand, has video snippets of me walking to the store (sped up), eating a cupcake (in reverse), and brushing my teeth (in slow motion). Remember, Facebook was launched at a time when using it was a novelty in itself: The first users of Facebook accessed it deliberately, from a laptop or personal computer, not a cell phone. This, of course, sets the tone for how its used and what its used for: It was meant for the special, not the every day. The very name comes from the concept of a high school yearbook: A space for creating lasting memories of important life events. Snapchat, on the other hand, was created for the generation that expects to be online, one that has abandoned the term “brb” because we’re never away from our devices. Snapchat exemplifies the hipster notion of fetishising the normal by letting us literally live our lives on social media, ephemeral and all, it’s in many ways far more authentic than Facebook can ever be.

“And your daughter and her generation,” I told my sister, “will grow up in a world way more transient, ephemeral than mine.”

Remember, millennials don’t have to value permanence. When the internet is at your disposal from the moment you’re born, you don’t need to worry about “learning by heart”. The internet has changed the way we think about and store information, and Snapchat makes similar demands of us. When you know that you have only 20 seconds to view an image, you look at it more closely, absorb it differently. There’s a sense of urgency about Snapchat that demands our complete attention, and it’s a pretty effective way of remembering.

New mama waited patiently for me to finish my spiel and then hit me with, “Pray, why is brushing your teeth a thing worth remembering?”

Once again the urge to yell, “That’s the point!” and stomp my feet for added effect took over. Of course brushing your teeth is not worth remembering, but Snapchat can make it worth remembering. My story turns my average day of seemingly pedestrian actions into a little movie of photos and video clips with lovely experiments with lighting, camera shots, filters, audio-visual effects, and even minor plots. I told her how Snapchat is creating a generation of young filmmakers who don’t even know they’re filmmakers and how every filmmaker can be their own hero. And a hero brushing his teeth heroically in slow motion with the filter of a fire-breathing dragon can be a pretty awesome thing.

“Life can be an endless series of meaningless actions if you give them no shape, no filter,” I concluded rather eloquently (thus earning an eye-roll). Snapchat, I argued, embodies the first principle of existentialism: Life isn’t about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself. I silently congratulated myself on this Sartre level of insight.

“Sorry,” the new mama says unconvincingly, “but it still sounds a bit stupid to me.”   

Now I love my sister, but I must say she was being exceedingly difficult. Still, I patiently and adroitly changed tack and told her about Yusuf Omar.

Yusuf Omar, mobile editor of the Hindustan Times, has been using Snapchat filters to help sexual abuse victims speak out about their experiences in their own words without being identified. Filters like the bee and the fire-breathing dragon disguise people’s faces enough that their facial features are completely obscured, while still allowing them to be in control of telling their stories in their own words, instead of having them sensationalised by the people who write the news. It’s an amazing idea, and only a millennial could have come up with it.

“And your daughter and her generation,” I told my sister, “will grow up in a world way more transient, ephemeral than mine.”

New mama suddenly went quiet and then grabbed her phone.

“So,” she says, “this is what all the kids are going to be on, huh?”

I grinned as I watched her download the app. I’d finally got her! Sure, it had taken some shrewd baby-leverage, but suddenly she wanted to be in on anything that her daughter would be on in a few years.

I didn’t have the heart, of course, to tell her that her daughter’s generation would be tripping on something that would make Snapchat look like snail mail but then, I thought – why bother?

Let’s take the fight one generation at a time.