There’s a simple elegance to Snapchat: It provides instant gratification. Photos are taken quickly, and they disappear a few seconds after being viewed. It’s an experience that cannot be had using many other social media apps. It shares a lot of similarities with that of Wabi-Sabi, an aesthetic tradition from Japan that emphasizes and finds beauty in the fleeting. Impermanence is seen as pleasing, and imperfections are celebrated. Classical conceptions of value are flipped on their head in Wabi-Sabi, and Snapchat captures that.
Snapchat also better represents the way the world actually plays out. Traditional pictures try to freeze a point in time permanently, in hopes of somehow preserving something that no longer exists — something that came and went, never to be recovered. Instead, Snapchat embraces the transient nature of the world. Pictures come and leave, resulting in a “blink and you’ll miss it” experience reminiscent of everyday life. It is more organic, and allows people to live in the moment rather than just engage in endless nostalgia.
The lack of preservation is analogous as well to normal communication. Records of everything said between two people, as is found in nearly all other social media services, rarely ever exist. Unless you go out of your way to preserve the specificities of a conversation, its exact content will be lost to time. At that point, only the fallible, ever shifting memories linger on. In Snapchat, the majority of what people write disappears as the conversation continues, unless it is actively saved or screenshotted.
While the appeal of Snapchat is obvious, it is that same draw which masks the potential dangers. Its fleeting nature is not absolute. What you post does not actually disappear, and consequently, can be used against you. People feel safer when they think their picture goes away after it has been used, but since Snapchat keeps everything that is ever sent or posted, illegal activities can still be prosecuted. Snapchat — intentionally or otherwise — promotes and disseminates the idea that actions dissipate, and that the attached consequences disappear along with them. Repercussions are shrouded behind this technological form of communication that lies detached from any tangible reality. Enjoy Snapchat for what it is: a quirky social media app, not a secure method of sending illicit pictures.