In the work I do to somewhat balance my time in academia, I run a program for teenagers at a nonprofit. I have been doing this kind of work since 2007 and have noticed a trend in the way that teenagers interact. First, they wouldn’t ‘friend’ me on social media, then they all friended or followed me, and finally, this new generation seems silent. Twitter and Facebook is a place they might mention college acceptance letters or post vacation pictures, but they certainly don’t share their day-to-day lives.
Many teenagers have moved away from these ‘traditional’ forms of broadcast social media and instead favor mobile born applications. Almost all of them use text messages socially and many of them use Snap Chat, a social media app that allows individuals to send texts, drawings, and pictures that disappear after 3-10 seconds. This application became well known in wider circles after Facebook tried to copy the app with its re-launched poke feature.
There are several reasons for the popularity of Snap Chat, but I have found that the overwhelming reason is that, for the average 15 year old, their parents have been on Facebook for about 5 years. Their grandparents might even have an account. It feels mandatory to friend these relatives and everyone they go to school with, panopticism at its finest. They have also learned from my generation; posting silly pictures online under the impression that such postings will not live forever or that no one will look back on them is folly. They know that pictures they post online at 15 will still be there when they are applying for their first jobs at 22. They choose to use more ephemeral social media.
Snap chat is not exactly as surreptitious as it initially seems and several authors and organizations are concerned about teens not understanding that content they send might be seen by other eyes or screen grabbed. Certainly, a picture sent with the intention of being viewed for five seconds made permanent in another context opens up space for misrepresentation and bullying. It also remains to be seen how this media will evolve over time. However, more interesting to me is how savvy this generation is with sharing online.