Teaching Snapchat

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Snapchat: sadly, it has arrived. When I say that it “has arrived,” I mean that it has reached a kind of tipping point in popular consciousness.  And that’s sad because it means Snapchat is no longer “cool.”  I knew this to be true when I was sitting in a meeting last week with representatives from our school’s version of a marketing department and they joked about having a Florida Atlantic University Snapchat account.  When institutions start talking (even jokingly) about using the service, its coolness is definitely doomed—so, too, when academics blog about it. In case you don’t know, Snapchat is a wildly popular app-based photo and text messaging service whose primary “hook” is the fact that anything sent disappears after a few seconds without (theoretically) leaving a trace, as symbolized by Snapchat’s iconic ghost. I think the app raises a host of interesting questions; given how many young people are using it, I thought it would be an interesting artifact to teach in the classroom. Peter Singer’s “Visible Man: Ethics in a World Without Secrets” (page 461 in Emerging) is a good starting point.  Singer’s concern about the relation between privacy and technology offers a particularly apt set of tools for examining Snapchat, which would seem to restore privacy through ephemera.  However, Snapchats are anything but transitory, as people need only take a screen shot to preserve what’s sent; Snapchat will notify you that it happened, though there’s not much to do about it.  Thus, like so much of digital communication, the ephemeral becomes lasting. I would probably then turn to Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played with Fire” (in the Emerging e-pages) to help frame a discussion of the consequences of digital communication and its lingering, devastating effects.  Richard Restak (p. 410) would then offer an interesting counterpoint by introducing an examination of the consequences resulting from the increasing demands made on our attention through digital and social media.  Erdely suggests that unwanted attention (like Snapchat’s ghost) haunts us; Restak suggests we can barely pay attention to any one thing for any length of time.  Who’s right?  And how does Snapchat suggest both, in some sort of synthesis, are true and possible? I’ll add this to my discussion of Snapchat.  It’s the first technology that made me feel old.  My assistant Scott had to guide me through the interface, one that’s based on swipes and presses and gestures that are perhaps more fluid and intuitive for younger, more plastic minds.  Yes, I may be killing Snapchat’s coolness with this post.  But at nearly 44, I am beyond regret.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.