Buzzfeed’s Ben Rosen recently got a lesson from his 13-year-old sister Brooke about how she and her friends use Snapchat. Some highlights:
I would watch in awe as she flipped through her snaps, opening and responding to each one in less than a second with a quick selfie face. She answered all 40 of her friends’ snaps in under a minute.
I assume this is a slight exaggeration, but even 40 replies in 2 minutes is an insane pace.
BROOKE: My new account? About a month and a half.
ME: New account?
BROOKE: Yeah, I didn’t like my old name, so I made a new account.
Fluid identity, check. I have had the same email address and username on any and all new services since the 90s.
BROOKE: No conversations…it’s mostly selfies. Depending on the person, the selfie changes. Like, if it’s your best friend, you make a gross face, but if it’s someone you like or don’t know very well, it’s more regular.
ME: I’ve seen how fast you do these responses… How are you able to take in all that information so quickly?
BROOKE: I don’t really see what they send. I tap through so fast. It’s rapid fire.
BROOKE: Yeah. This one girl I know uses 60 gigabytes [of cellular data] every month.
I use 60 Gb of data per year. If that. Do teens not know about wifi?
ME: How often are you on Snapchat?
BROOKE: On a day without school? There’s not a time when I’m not on it. I do it while I watch Netflix, I do it at dinner, and I do it when people around me are being awkward. That app is my life.
ME: What the hell is a NARP?
BROOKE: Nonathletic Regular Person. NARP.
I am looking forward to working for Brooke when she’s 24. She’s clearly going to be in charge.
BROOKE: If you want to take a screenshot without your friend knowing, turn on airplane mode, take the screenshot, log out of the app immediately, turn off airplane mode, and then load the app back up.
Up up down down left right left right B A.
Update: I’ve seen a few people saying that how Brooke and her friends use Snapchat is how adults should be or will be using social media in the future. I don’t think that’s right. How teens use Snapchat is how many teens use anything they are intensely interested in and/or keep them in contact with their friends. Adults probably cannot and will not use Snapchat like this. They have different priorities.1 Go read the Buzzfeed piece again…it’s all about social status, something 13-year-olds care about very much, perhaps more than anything. “That app is my life” is not an exaggeration or an over-dramatization.
Back in the day — and I’m talking about around the invention of farming and even further back — everyone you knew in the entire world was never more than a few hundred feet from you for more than a few days. Wheels, domesticated crops & animals, industrialization, cars, and airplanes made it so that people could live farther and farther apart from each other, which is weird for social animals like humans and particularly difficult for teenagers for whom that social connection is the most important thing in their lives.
Smartphones, Instagram, Snapchat, and generous data plans have closed that distance again in many ways…or more precisely, have made the distance less relevant. Interacting with 190 friends1 dozens or even hundreds of times a day probably feels a lot like being back in a hunter/gatherer band, socially speaking. Thanks to these magic pocket-sized rectangles, everyone you know in the world is never more than a few seconds away for more than a few hours.
Think about how teens used malls in the 80s and 90s as a social device. Adults didn’t use malls like that…it didn’t make sense in their lives. Malls were for shopping, eating, and maybe seeing a movie. Functional stuff. The intense social stuff happened mainly elsewhere: at work, at home, or at bars/clubs/restaurants/church/etc.↩
Note how close Brooke’s number of friends (180 or 190) is to Dunbar’s number, a proposed cognitive limit for stable social group sizes, and to the estimates of how big various hunter-gatherer societies were. That’s interesting, right?↩