The Story Behind the Snap

By Talia Land and Hannah Kahn

Forget handwritten notes and sweet phone calls; there’s a new way to show some “how much you care.” High-schoolers are now connecting through Snapchat, which we would explain, but chances are you already have one. The selfie phenomenon started as a simple app in 2011, but has more recently transformed into a full-blown social media network. The app makes it easier for teens to not only stay in constant contact with their friends, but also to reach out to peers that they normally wouldn’t, possibly with romance as motivation. The question is, has Snapchat made it too easy?

The timeline of flirting has evolved tremendously in the past few years alone. It started as asking for someone’s phone number, a daunting yet rewarding task. Then a message on Facebook became the more casual hello. With many high schoolers tallying up hundreds of Facebook friends, sending a friend request doesn’t cause much stress. When Snapchat was introduced, the bar was dropped even lower, and flirting became that much easier.

Unlike Facebook messages and texts, which are purely between two people, a Snapchat can be sent to an unlimited number of contacts without the recipients knowing who else received the picture. Because of this, texts and Facebook messages elicit a response, whereas Snapchat minimizes that anxiety. This way, the Snapchatter gets to send a selfie without worrying as much about whether or not the Shapchatee will dead (a colloquial term for “not reply to”) them. If they don’t get a response, they can tell themselves it’s only because Snapchat etiquette doesn’t require back-and-forth correspondence. More often than not, it’s a step down from a conversation, which takes off a lot of pressure.

The original premise that made Snapchat so popular was that a picture was sent for a max of ten seconds, and then magically disappeared forever. Although it sounds contradictory, the ability to screenshot a Snapchat actually makes the app foster conversations that are even more private. A Facebook convo or a text message can be screenshotted and shared without the other person ever knowing, meaning that there’s a running transcript online of every conversation you’ve ever typed that can be shared instantaneously. When you screenshot a Snapchat, however, the other person receives a notification, often prompting a dreaded response captioned “y’duss.” This discourages users from screenshotting any picture that they don’t want to explain their desire to keep. Chances are, if someone sends you a flirty Snapchat, you won’t screenshot it because you don’t want them knowing it made you happy, or worse, to have to explain to them that you thought they were flirting. Essentially, you can send whatever you want and leave no virtual trace, because no one can prove that you said it.

Over the years, high school hook up culture has become more and more lax. One kiss no longer equates to dating, so many teens find themselves getting with people they don’t actually want a relationship with. Social media, particularly Snapchat, has helpedexpedite that shift. You can add someone on Snapchat without ever having talked to them in person, meaning you can start a relationship with someone through a string of selfies alone.

Is this transition dangerous? Not necessarily, but it can be confusing. Because Snapchat is often used as a tool to hit on someone, but it can also be totally innocent, it leaves the person on the receiving end of the snap with a lot of questions. Are these selfies of half her face only going to me? Why did he open my snap and not respond? If she posted a story but hasn’t opened my snap yet, does that mean she’s ignoring me? Does he Snapchat everyone this often, or am I special?

If this sounds like overthinking to you, you are absolutely right. Unfortunately, this is the paradoxical mentality of the Snapchat user: we may not always put in thought to the snaps we send, but we assume that the person sending them did.

This imbalanced thought process is part of what drives the intense feelings behind a single selfie and could explain another possible dilemma with the app: the best friends list. Up until last year, your top three best friends on snapchat (meaning the people you correspond with the most) were available for your contacts to see. This caused a lot more drama than users, and probably Snapchat, expected. If you weren’t in someone’s best friends and you thought you should be, you panicked. If you found out that sophiii2453 was in your significant other’s best friends, you flipped out. Admit it.

Although Snapchat returned best friends to private, they have continued to add more misleading signs that indicate a budding relationship. With the introduction of streaks, Snapchat incentivized its users to Snapchat every day to keep their fire count up. “We have to keep our streak!” has become a pseudo-pick-up line. There are also yellow hearts, red hearts, pink hearts, smiley faces, smirky faces etc., making up a motley of symbols for users to decode, allowing them to see where they fall on the other person’s friend list, if they make it at all. Now, instead of just glancing at a list, we have to spend time unscrambling a series of emojis in order to agonize over who our crush is Snapchatting. The worst part is, we do it anyway, which makes it that much more embarrassing.

There is no doubt Snapchat is complicating the already complicated labyrinth of “who gets with who” in high school. As our parents often say, “there was no such thing as that stupid selfie app thing when I was in high school.” While their maxims get old, there are alternative modes of communication, and they’re probably a lot less mystifying. Our advice is: try your best not to read too much into Snapchat. Sure, you could scrutinize as much as you want over what someone’s snapchat means, or who their best friends are and how many of them received the picture. The reality is, you won’t really know a person until you connect face-to- face instead of selfie-to-selfie. So go ahead, embrace Snapchat as a new way to reach out to someone you like, but remember that you’re gonna have to talk to them eventually–the sooner the better.

Artwork courtesy of Hannah Lachow

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