Immanuel Kant once said:
“Human reason has the peculiar fate that it is burdened by questions which, it is not able to ignore, but also not able to answer.”
I believe that this perfectly frames my thoughts about Snapchat. Becoming the most popular form of social media after the giant that is Facebook, it becomes almost a duty to try to analyse its origins and perhaps explain why it is such a widespread phenomenon. Generally, we call this process of constructing historical origins of ideas a genealogy, some of the philosophers to do so were David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault. It is a relatively modern way of philosophising, which in fact does not possess the highest legitimacy in the philosophical community as theories of knowledge do, but it does incite us to, as Kant said, answer questions which we are unable to ignore.
What is Snapchat? Snapchat is a form of social media whereby users share images which, so to speak, self-destruct within a matter of seconds, being wiped away from every database. The purpose of course is to deliver a message. What’s striking of course is that every day 400 million Snaps are shared, with the number growing in proportion to the number of users. In fact, 7,000 Snaps are shared each second. It’s a staggering amount of messages no doubt, but why is Snapchat so popular and so useful? We’ll have to turn to two philosophers to answer that question; Michel Foucault and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
In a brilliant video by the YouTube channel ‘Wisecrack’, they explored the nature of ‘selfies’ by looking at the philosophy of Michel Foucault. If we think about how our society has become considerably secularised and take into account the growing number of Atheists each year, we see that people have no place to confess. For the longest time, the Church monopolised the therapeutic method by letting people confess their sins, later on Freud’s Therapeutic Method in psychoanalysis would become extremely popular in the late 19th Century. What can we say of Snapchat? It is the Digital Freud. Foucault noticed that we require outlets for expression, to give meaning to our existence, we pointlessly share pictures that if anything are screaming: “I need attention, please.” It is our portable and cost-effective method to console our anxiety by simply sharing pictures which trap moments whose value is determined by yet another picture being shared and so forth. Our ‘streams of consciousness’ have become digitalised visual bytes, which perish immediately.
Now that we have answered why Snapchat is so popular, we can begin to answer why it is so useful. But first off, what do we mean by ‘useful’? Useful, in the sense that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein meant it, means being able to successfully convey a message. Wittgenstein noticed that many ambiguities and confusions arise in simple language and one can never really understand the subjective inner experiences of a person because language fails to bridge the gap between people. He demonstrated this with the famous Beetle Analogy. If we have five people standing in a line, each with a Beetle in their box, but they are not allowed to look into that box, how can we know the word ‘Beetle’ means the same thing to everyone in that line? Wittgenstein was somewhat of a Solipsist, which basically means that he would have trouble believing other people have thoughts, believing his mind to be the only one that exists. To awkwardly transition into Snapchat – Snapchat in essence, works far more effectively than language ever will. Since our words create pictures in other minds – the appearance of these pictures being entirely dependent on the other person’s upbringing, culture, values etc – using actual pictures destroys the bridge that language creates in our mind. There is no gap anymore.
Snapchat is extremely popular for teenagers, indeed that is the demographic that it statistically polls best with. In fact, 71% of Snapchat users are under the age of 25. Teenagers naturally go through many identity crises in those turbulent years and Snapchat is the secular and global outlet for their frustrations. Every time we send a snap, two things happen; 1) We demonstrate that we want our existence to be acknowledged and 2) We digitally and cheaply perform a psychoanalysis upon ourselves.