The Domestication of Snapchat

Baym, N.K. (2010). “Making new media make sense.” In Personal connections in the digital age. Cambirdge: Polity.


Technological determinism; social construction of technology; domestication of technology; utopian and dystopian narratives applied to technology


Are we shaping technology or is technology shaping us? There are three ways to look at this issue: one from the technological determinism view, where it’s the gadget and its mere presence that determines what we do and how we do it and the social construction of technology, which states that technologies arise from social processes. Marrying these two, the social shaping of technology says that technologies have logics that influence our use, but we have the decisive word as to how we operate them.


“The messages we communicate about technology are reflective, revealing as much about the communicators as they do about the technology. (…) Communication about technology is also productive, generating new meanings for technologies, new uses of technologies and even new technologies.” (p. 23)

“Through a process of domestication, they [technologies] become taken-for-granted parts of everyday life, no longer seen as agents of change.” (p. 24)

“Americans could have used many narratives to make sense of new technology, but in practice usually used six, three utopian, envisioning a world improved by technology, and three dystopian, visions of a world made worse.” (p.28)


I think Snapchat is a great example of the domestication of technology. Back in 2011 some of us didn’t trust this app at all, others trusted its premise completely and used it for sexting, completely unaware of what actually happened to the content after it was ‘deleted’.

It gave us a new way to interact with the cameras on our phones. Sure, Instagram had proved that selfies were here to stay, but Snapchat demanded that you created and shared new content, so you could not share that great photo your friend took in the Summer of 2013 that you’ve been saving for #TBT. It was actually quite the opposite of Instagram; no cropping, no filters, all “real”.

This premise was especially popular with younger generations. Teenagers were the first ones to accept and welcome Snapchat for what it was and then we started to try and keep up. For these kids, the certainty that these images disappeared was completely liberating, sort of the underage version of ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’.

Now Snapchat feels like the digital media response to parents being on Facebook.

Now, it’s about making certain things public for a curated audience.

Now “he sent me a Snap” doesn’t automatically mean dick pic.

So, from the point of view of the social construction of technology, we are actually shaping Snapchat into what we want it to be.

Users now have Geotags, which allows them to share their location, filters that add humor to the snaps and make them whimsical. Now there’s even people who can’t possibly be enjoying a concert or a party because they’re documenting the whole thing with terrible image and even worse sound to send to their friends through the app.

We can follow friends, celebrities, politicians and media accounts. Their Discover section has 20 different profiles from top accounts like The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Cosmopolitan and Mashable, to name a few.

Before Snapchat, if someone in a digital agency had pitched the idea of creating content that would only last a few seconds and would have to be updated every 24 hours, the executives would’ve fired him or her immediately. It seems like a lot of work for just a few seconds of exposure, yet every time a new update comes up, you get new accounts showing you food or fashion. Some people even use it as their news source for the day. We’ve domesticated this technology so much that now we’re using it to sell stuff (the amount of ads in those Discover thingies is too damn high!)


Even though we are curating the content and the audience, how well do we know these people? Are these our best friends? Boyfriends, girlfriends? Siblings? Are they acquaintances that also find the idea of vomiting rainbows entertaining? How deep is our connection to these people and would we be friends with them if we didn’t communicate through this particular channel?