How Snapchat started out pure - and went mucky.

Why Claire Wood, Planner at Leith, is unimpressed with Snapchat’s new Memories function.

I’m not one of the chosen ones. I don’t have the Memories update on snapchat yet. Which is a great pity because I’d like to save this lovely pic of Campbell and I disguised as dogs. Except I can already by screen-grabbing it, so what do I need Memories for?

For those that haven’t spent too many minutes fussing with their phones trying to get Snapchat’s facial recognition software to kick in (it doesn’t like glasses), Snapchat was set up just under five years ago when Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were things. But it did something different. It allowed you to snap yourself and send it to your mate — but once they’d looked at your pic, it disappeared. “Disappeared??” said The Old Ones back then. “What’s the point of that? It’ll never catch on.”

As history continues to prove, what do The Old Ones know? A rejected $3 billion offer / filters / geo-filters / stories (watch our latest) and ad sales later and it’s caught on in an even bigger way. (There’s a great overview of the brand’s history from Gary Vaynerchuk here.) Not quite five years on, they’re launching a new feature. Memories.

Memories essentially allows you to save and store your snaps. You archive them and you can choose whether you archive them publicly (in effect) or privately. (See Mashable’s review of the UX.) You can regurgitate old snaps and re-share them. Snapchat’s only concession to the fact that these are History appears to be a frame that automatically surrounds them if they’re more than 24 hours old. You can even put together (Insta-style) tiny slideshows of your favourite snaps to mark important social occasions - your seventh best friend’s birthday, for example.

So is this a shameless ploy to try and steal some teen online time back from Instagram? Or is this genuinely a feature that users have been yearning for?

A surprising amount has been written about how Snapchat is changing the way teenagers think. There’s some clickbait, trying to pretend we’re down with the kids type stuff. This New Statesman article is a good example. I’m not sure that we need sociologist Mike Featherstone at the University of London to prove that humans have a powerful instinct to archive. You only need to look at the heaps of stuff stashed under my bed (Cream double cassette tapes, broken shoes, letters and letters and letters from the VERY Old Days when people used handwriting to communicate) to see that in action.

Maybe the first question is whether kids have a powerful instinct to archive when they’re using social media?

Based on my exhaustive study of three teenagers, teenagers use social media for 2 different things.


One is to be cool. This covers Instagram (look how cool I am) and Twitter / sometimes Facebook (see how cool I am based on the hilarious stuff I share).


The other thing is to play. Remember that? The thing we did in The Old Days when the streets were safe and you’d just have to be home in time for your tea. Snapchat ticks this box.

Teens send a hundred different ugly pictures of themselves a day to their friends. Tongues out. Eyes crossed. Generally looking as disgusting as possible. Being — what’s that quaint word? — silly. Snapchat filters are the perfect foil. An instant souping up of the instant access silliness that elevates it to a superior plateau by virtue of the fact that your silliness now has rock star eye make-up or a hideously distended face.

But this self-indulgent silliness is fine and safe because it’s more or less invisible. The snaps live — and then dissolve. They’re free to prank about because it doesn’t leave any trace. So will Memories change what they snap in the first place?

The counter-argument.

People are screen-grabbing the stuff they want anyway. There’s a whole bunch of sharing snapchat filtered snaps across other social channels. Albeit unintentionally, they’re creating their own digital archive anyway without snapchat’s assistance.

The lesson.

If they want to save something, they’ll (we’ll) save it. But am I just being Old? Is there more to it than that?

Lora Taub-Pervizpour is a professor of Media and Communications and Associate Dean for Digital Learning at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. She’s been doing a bunch of work around how creating their own digital stories can help young people both express their opinions and deal with any issues they face.

We’ve been using storytelling to organise our thoughts since we staggered up onto two legs and started grunting (I guess the stories were shorter then). So this isn’t a new idea — it’s the channel that’s new(er).

But are Snapchat tapping into this with Memories? Are they creating a whole new way for young people to organise their thoughts and express their world view with the recycling of old snaps?

Or are they just copying Instagram?

We’ve had a YouTuber, Lewys, with us for the past week doing an internship. I think we’ve learnt more from him than he’s learnt from us. But that’s by the by. Lewys is 17 and unimpressed by Memories.

I’m old enough to be his mother and unimpressed by Memories. I’m interested to see where they go next.