Behold Me Not: Why Snapchat Spectacles Are a Moral Travesty and a Threat to True Freedom
Snapchat released its Spectacle for online purchase today. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels weirded out.
The glasses themselves seem well-made, as far as electronics go: the camera seems well-embedded, the plastic frames are shiny, and I’m sure the lenses provide UV protection. But while the Spectacles’ cheery, 1960s Pop Art-inspired brand campaign may seduce some, others may feel alienated. It’s hard not to recall that one episode of Black Mirror.
I know my younger self would have lapped it all up. Instant shareability? The possibility to become famous just by living my life? Sign me up! But these days, I find myself looking with increasing horror and disgust upon the gadgets companies are producing—that we, in some ways, must be demanding.
Sure, Spectacles may allow you to capture a great moment quickly, viewable for a short period of time. They may allow you to share that moment with a loved one. But when we live so far apart from the people we love — or are trying to impress people who live far away — what is the point of such anxious documentation?
To my friends and acquaintances, and readers who have stumbled here: if you are considering purchasing a Snapchat Spectacle, I encourage you to abstain. Think first on what kind of a world you want to live in, and how your purchase or lack of has the power to create a different kind of world.
Sure, the Spectacles may act as a tool for social justice — they may provide an easier way to capture police brutality or domestic violence as these incidents happen. But in the hands of many, Spectacles (and Glasses) provide an immediate avenue for voyeurism and invasion of privacy. Footage uploaded may potentially upend someone’s life over one small gaffe. And when you say certain people may deserve such invasion of privacy over others, whether they are celebrities or politicians, you are saying that we have the right to contextualize the private experiences of others. But who are we to judge?
Look, I’m no saint. I’m an ordinary person stumbling through society like everyone else. I take photos in a meager effort to stow away meaning and fight against the passage of time. My own Instagram is full of pretension, hypocrisy, and inauthenticity as I try to iterate toward a version of myself that is maximally palatable to others. I while away hours on ecommerce websites to assemble a perfect version of myself and lose myself in the K-hole of celebrity “news” from time to time. I struggle daily with the desire to edit myself and curate my image for others, justifying to myself that public performance is one method of social contribution.
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare, “And all the men and women merely players.” The passage takes on new meaning with the arrival of Snapchat’s latest Spectacles . Do we really need to document all “seven stages” of our existence — all that way up to the “end [of] this strange eventful history, second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”?
The Spectacles’ deliberately innocuous form, painstakingly created by a team of world-class designers and engineers, just exacerbate how sinister they truly are. The rounded edges and bright colors may suggest a children’s toy mixed with a Pop Art fashion object, but that that this is the natural product of our world — a world where we trade away true freedom for coolness, for spurts of dopamine and social validation — fires up something in me. That with our purchases, we continue to choose convenience over work, shortcuts over effort, and dissemination over reality.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
I’m angry that this is the world we have inherited and continue to choose. I feel powerless that someone may record me against my will in the future. I feel sorrow that if I wanted to stop them, they might not respect my decision. That if I were to snatch their glasses off their face in an attempt to protect myself, I would be the one in trouble for destruction or theft of private property. That I would just be a Spectacle.
But what if I don’t believe the world is just a stage — and what if I don’t want to be a spectacle?
I can, in earnestness and sincerity, ask you who read this to refrain from purchasing a Spectacle. To abstain from the documentation of your life and the lives of others. The potential for abuse is too ripe, and we are too weak, to allow ourselves such access and immediate gratification. Modern life is already full of temptations, and we only have an illusion of control over technology.
I can ask you to think about the kind of world you want to live in, the privacy you are entitled to, the trust you should extend to your fellow man, and the moment you actually lose when you upload it. Even if it promises to “disappear,” you have still lost something in and of itself. There is a well-known concept in physics — that measuring the location of an electron will destroy the electron. And aren’t all moments made of electrons? Why do we try so hard to find them, quantify them, and control them?
Life is not meant to be caged, captured, and redistributed. We are not content. Our lives are not for consumption.
We can be free simply by saying no, I will not let you record me or store my likeness. I will not enter the consciousness of others, and I will not let a false me exist in a place I never chose to be.
IPOs will not happen off the sweat of my own brow and off the natural weaknesses of my character. I will create a life accountable not to the number of views and clicks and shares, but to the things that matter. I will pass from this moment to the next, and I will let no one profit from me.