The Ephemerality of Snapchat: An Attack on Nostalgia in An Age of Hyper-visual Culture

“The Ephemerality of Snapchat: an attack on nostalgia in an age of hyper-visual culture.” is actually a topic I came up with at 7am one October morning, after only 3 hours of sleep and most likely still under the influence.

Besides my hilariousTwitter tidbits having been swept aside for far too long, I’m picking up on this topic because I feel there is much more to be said about visual culture beyond Snapchat (and hey, I’m bored). Here is a topic that is (I think…) relevant, not overly controversial, and interesting (?). Anyways. Rambling, over.

I suppose to begin, it should be said that the ephemeral quality of Snapchat is not the sole subject of my inquiry. It’s a lot more. For example, as a general member of society the decline of physical photo albums is rather noticeable. But that’s okay, because now we upload digital photo albums to Facebook, right? However, not sure if you have noticed, but even the Facebook photo album has diminished in popularity. Instagram, a platform to share a single image at a time seems far more prominent.
Even Diiv’s Zachary Cole Smith recognizes this as he compares photo consumption to the music industry (*Personal interlude; except for me, too. I love Facebook stalking!):

To top it off, I bet as someone aged 12–20 you take more pictures on a platform that doesn’t even share your photos longer 10 seconds; Snapchat.

So who cares, whatever. I know, I know. But isn’t that so interesting? Why is this the way we capture moments today? What do these rapid transitions in technology mean for the future of personal nostalgia? I’m not a psychic, so obviously I have no idea. However, I do have some ideas as to what we’re already feeling as an effect.

1. Regression to old ways in apprehension of new: 
Now, maybe it’s because I go to an art school where my peers (photographers in particular) have a special appreciation for photographs in their physical form, as opposed to in the ether. Film photography is back and with a huge uproar including petitions to bring back the production of more film. Disposable cameras are practically the hot new piece of technology all over again. And let’s face it, shooting on film is so darn trendy, even I have a Diana F+ and a Polaroid camera that I ache to use. (Yet, unfortunately can’t bring myself to buy the film even on a biannual basis due to its price.) My consumption habits based on the need to conform aside, I think what this is, is a generation grasping for what is quickly being taken away. The mere idea that I’m so attached to photos in their physical form and am so weary when it comes to generations below me who perhaps will never even appear in an actual photo album suggests that technology–when it comes to photos–has already taken something away from us.

*However, this may only be applicable for those around my age. For example, those born after the digital revolution may feel perfectly content with their iPhones being their only camera. And on the other hand, I know for certain, many people my mother’s age would never go back to film after learning and enjoying the simplicity of digital photography.*

(^None of this is an argument as to whether, film or digital, is a better medium. That is an entirely different topic, in which as a non-photographer, have no real say. I’m just talkin’ bout film photography as a trend. Ok. Ya! Cool!)

2. Democratization of Photography: its ephemeral qualities, and its quantitative qualities (or side effects):

Speaking directly about the first world, (I’m more than aware that globally not all people have access to any sort of camera) it seems that many, if not all of us, always have a camera at the ready. The fact that nearly everyone has a camera of some sort (most likely attached to their cell phone) has two side effects: one, everyone is a photographer, and two, we photograph EVERYTHING.

I’m not one of those people who scoff at those who consider themselves photographers but are not trained. In fact, I find the the accessibility to cameras (and digital cameras, at that) quite liberating. We no longer have to be among the affluent to get a family portrait taken, we no longer have to wait any amount of time for a photo to develop, etc., etc.,. My critique would be however, have we (the kings and queens of selfies) begun ruining photography?

I suppose to answer this more in depth we would have to consider the purpose of photography. However, that is not something any of us have the time to discuss…So, as a shortcut, I think it is safe to say, at the very, very surface level, photography is to capture “special” moments. (**The term “special” is not to denote photography as an art form or for journalistic purposes, even though I know it sounds like it does. I guess what I mean is meaningful, but meaningful is a relative term, so…you catch my drift, right?**). The “Kodak moments,” of course! So the question is then, is that dinner on your plate a “Kodak moment”? Or even a story you’d tell your friends? Photos on our cell phones or digital cameras are so easily taken and erased that we can take pictures of anything, at anytime, and with ease. Because of this, more photos are taken, (more than we’d probably share in a photo album to show our children someday). Perhaps our obsession with photos in the multitudes are merely surplus not to be taken seriously anyway: as to say, not ruining or diminishing photography’s purpose at its root, just excess.

To conclude:

I think advances in technology and social media platforms have redefined photography and what we consider moments worth capturing. “Kodak moments” obviously still exist, and I think those who still yearn to capture those moments will retain the life of the photograph as we once knew it. Whereas those (most likely younger generations) who only value the “excess” photos as I called them earlier, will and have turned photographs into vehicles of narcism and triviality. This sort of trivial photography also leads to the silly but common phraseology, “It’s not real until it’s on Facebook.” or “Pics or it didn’t happen.,” which then lead to the subconscious consumption of these mottos, and now you cannot attend a single event or gathering without somebody lifting an iPad over their head in attempt to capture the entire thing on camera. Oh well. What can ya do, right? And who says it’s bad.

I know this turned into more of a question of photography rather than nostalgia, (I’m not the best on staying on topic) but I think if you were to question the value of a photo you would also on some level be measuring its nostalgic qualities (its connection to when it was taken, its connection to the subject, etc.,). Maybe not!

If anyone has read through this and has any ideas on the subject, I’d love to hear your thoughts!