Patrick Logue: The strange disappearing world of Snapchat
If you are over 40, using Snapchat feels a bit like walking into a kids’ disco and telling a joke
Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Have you tried Snapchat yet? I downloaded it 18 months ago and opened it at least 2½ times in the weeks afterwards. The half was when I hit the icon but lost the will to live and cancelled it with the home button. It was an issue of confidence and ability.
When I did commit to it, I sat on the edge of my bed staring at the yellow screen and then the camera screen and then the Discover bit, which is a nice way of consuming news. A friend observed that it is a bit like John Craven’s Newsround meets the Magic Roundabout. Which is true, if you think about it.
I wasn’t sure what I should be photographing or videoing, so I closed the app again, resolving to get on the Snapchat machine at some stage soon. Being the Digital Editor of a national media organisation requires you to do these things. I would get on it fairly soon for sure, I told myself. The next time I have a minute, or if a harvest moon is low in the sky on the second Monday of the next month starting with the letter J, I’ll be straight on it.
I even read some of those “Snapchat in 10 easy steps for middle-aged idiots” articles. They didn’t do the trick. But, in the dark recesses of my 41-year-old mind, I knew for professional reasons I should really get on board with Snapchat, and maybe then move on to Yik Yak or Peach or whatever. Don’t worry, me neither.
Trapped in car
Soon afterwards I found myself in the company of a teenager I know fairly well. We were essentially trapped in the car for an hour, and it was dark and raining. There wasn’t much on the radio.
“Right,” says I, “show me this Snapchat thing.
“What do you mean?” he inquires.
“Well, show me how it works or what you’re meant to do when you’re in it,” says me back, sounding about 104.
So I get the run-through: take a picture, write some witty words on top of it, change the font and move it around the screen. Add the temperature, location, the speed you’re travelling. Change the colour tone, flip the camera and take a close-up picture or video of your face. Say something profound or witty. And then wait. You can check other people’s snaps, obviously, and if other people have looked at yours. You can do a series of them that stitch together like an actual monologue. Then they disappear. After all that, they just disappear. Don’t worry, me too.
Over the next number of months I am all over the thing. I snap a picture of the north Dublin suburbs racing by the train window at 40km an hour. “Another day in paradise,” I write over the video. Four people watch it before it disappears. I snap a picture of my dog twirling around repeatedly and digging up his blanket before settling himself on the couch in front of the fire. Hilarious stuff.
One day I snap a picture of a sign in Monasterboice: “Slow down, fast children at play.” Some smart alec has rubbed out the s in “fast”. I put it on Snapchat. It also disappears, thank God. I snap a pancake frying on Pancake Tuesday, a particularly sunny day, an article about Snapchat in The Irish Times Magazine and a pint of Guinness in Galway just before I drink it. I snap the clock outside The Irish Times before I go into work and the newsroom on the day of the election count. Sorry, they’re definitely gone too. I will now never be able to submit them to the Pulitzer committee.
Then a funny thing happens. I run out of things to snap. Routine is not that interesting. But I am glad. There’s a feeling you get on Snapchat that is a bit like walking into a kids’ disco and telling a joke. Teenagers, they look at you. They judge you. And the disappearing bit is really disconcerting for a person who likes to keep his memories in a metal box and on an external hard drive, rather than tearing them up and throwing them in the bin.
It’s a thing, and the kids love it. But maybe Snapchat is not designed for me and I am not designed for it. Maybe it isn’t possible to teach an old dog to like new tricks, or maybe the old dog needs to get with the programme, or whatever it is kids say these days. Time will tell.
- Michael Harding is on leave