“This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.”
Those words were immortalised by the Mission Impossible spy thriller TV series. This warning of the imminent self-destructing of the taped message to the Impossible Missions Force launched every episode and cued the theme music. Since Hollywood helps us share memories across the ages, younger people will also recognise that warning from the remakes of the 1966-73 series in 1995-2015. And the movie franchise still thrives, with Mission Impossible VI set for release next year.
That audiocassette tape had to self-destruct because it contained secret instructions on how to outwit the bad guys. Now there’s a new service that offers the same Unique Selling Point of self-destructing messages.
Self-destructing messages on your phone
This service is not designed for spies on secret missions. It’s a phone app called Snapchat that’s popular with millennials and their juniors. They use it to send videos and photos on their phones that self-destruct, Mission Impossible style, 5 to 10 seconds after being viewed.
What’s the point of Snapchat? This great advance in digital technology was developed to overcome one of the major risks of social media use: that someone you’re connected to may see or hear something they weren’t supposed to. This happens when you become friends on a social network, and your new friend decides to peruse your content history.
There are mortifying accounts of teens and young adults inadvertently sharing some of their dodgy content with teachers, bosses or even prospective employers. They can discover messages, photos or videos you never intended them to see. Worse yet, the evidence remains there forever to be viewed and reviewed. A drunken post can wind up getting a person disciplined, refused a job or even fired.
Antidote to drunken messaging
It was at this point that a couple of frat bro’s from Stanford University set out to make the world safe for the most common form of reckless messaging, known as Sexting. Snapchat’s founders are made out to be warriors for free expression. According to TechBoomer, a website designed to bring Baby Boomers up to speed on digital life, they aimed “to create a social media environment where information wasn’t permanent, and where people had the freedom to be a little crazy, spontaneous, imperfect, and above all… honest.”
Sure there was that noble incentive. Plus the $20-billion Snapchat’s parent company stands to get from the imminent initial public offering.
Now back to those self-destructing messages. My New Old Self fails to see the attraction in sending messages that can’t be saved. Never to be accessed again. Gone before you’ve had a chance to reread them.
I like to save – and savor – my messages
When I write something I want to be able to refer back to it. Even more so when someone writes to me. Maybe it’s the archivist in me – or perhaps the hoarder – but I like to file my correspondence for future reference.
Snapchat allows for neither saving nor savoring of messages. The idea is to check each one immediately, and view it for the 5-10 seconds you have before it self-destructs.
As unimpressed as I am with Snapchat’s main self-destructive function , I have even less interest in the other things it can do. Like telling your personal Stories, illustrated with photo filters like Screen-licking Dog or Friend Face Swap. These Stories have a slightly longer lifespan: they stay online for 24 hours before self-destruction.
None of the above appeals to me. I have no desire to make myself look even weirder. More importantly, I need to be able to phone and ask if you saw my email. And if you ask me the same, I’ll get you remind me what it was about so I can search my inbox for your original message.
Clues that I’m no Snapchatter
There are a few clues above that tell you that I am not a likely Snapchat user. Firstly, the fact that I speak into my phone. Youthful Snapchatters mainly type and look at their screens, they rarey talk. The second clue is in my reference to email. Apparently it’s mainly older people who still do a lot of emailing.
I grew up in the era of what is now quaintly termed “snailmail”. Sometimes you meet a younger person who once had to write a letter in class at school, but most of the youth have never known a letter-writing culture.
I not only wrote and received countless letters over the years but saved many, some from decades ago. I enjoy re-reading them and reminiscing. I like to look at the handwriting, the envelopes, the stamps. I’m certainly glad these letters didn’t make like Mission Impossible and self-destruct within seconds of opening the envelope.
Who cares about preserving their digital history? Even if you make an effort to save it, there are issues around storage, and how to ensure access as formats change. I wonder what young people will have in years to come as mementos of their messages from family, friends and lovers.
As for Snapchat, My New Old Self says LITO – Lucky I’m Too Old!
(But just the right age to want to have a listen to the Mission Impossible theme music…)