Design Feature #27

The Disappearing Act

How Ephemeral Media is Driving Creativity

Written by RMM
Images by Snapchat, Instagram

Talk to anyone and almost all of them will agree on one thing: social media is a double-edged sword. We’ve all heard it from our parents and our tech-phobic friends: what goes online, stays online — and there’s little to prove otherwise. Unflattering selfies and videos have surfaced with a vengeance in recent years, and there’s an increasing ambivalence towards how much of our digital lives should stay online and available forever.

Instagram Stories interface.

Enter ephemeral media like Snapchat and newcomer Instagram Stories. While there have been many imitators, Snapchat’s influence and importance on this new world of temporary social media cannot be denied.

How to use Snapchat

The mobile-phone app was created five years ago by Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy who wanted to “build something with feelings” (Spiegel in an article for Recode). In Spiegel’s own words, social media networks like Facebook and Instagram sought to “capture the ‘real world’ and recreate it online.” Meanwhile, Snapchat was designed to be less about recording and storage, but made for real-time communication instead. Just like a real moment in time, every 10 second clip made and uploaded only lasts for a while (in Snapchat’s case, up to 24 hours) before dissolving into brain soup. If you miss a post, it never comes back. In this day and age where our digital past is more likely to come back and haunt us, Snapchat’s disappearing media is a refreshing change.
If you miss a post, it never comes back.

Snapchat Interface.

The beauty of Snapchat (and its clones) is that it encourages candid, on-the-fly submissions, emphasizing the accompanying situation and mood with dramatic expressions and easy-to-apply captions. A Snap or Story never exists for more than a short amount of time, so instead of agonizing over poise and posture, users can simply submit casual yet evocative moments of their daily lives in a stream-of-consciousness, engaging manner. And as each submission can only be enjoyed very closely to the original upload time, there is a sense of real time and connectedness.

This and the ‘authentic’ look into people’s lives are what make Snapchat and Instagram Stories so popular for creatives. Its raw and unfiltered perspective offers us an intimate look into the scenes behind a beautifully art directed flat lay shot; we get a glimpse into what makes our favourite creators tick.

Credit: LACMA Snapchat

For others, like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), it’s a brand new avenue of connecting millennials with centuries-old art. As one of the first museums to embrace Snapchat, LACMA combines irreverent pop culture memes and serious artwork to create delightful Snapchat stories. Lucy Redoglia (LACMA’s Snapchat specialist) often takes photos of the work, and places memes, quotes and song lyrics over the image before posting it. Some posts take a couple of hours to conceptualise, others like her Bohemian Rhapsody series, take days. The result is a museum with a personality that is relatable, approachable and highly entertaining.

Snapchat’s Spectacles

Snapchat recently released ‘Spectacles’, their low-cost and fun answer to Google Glass. The general consensus is that it’s super fun to use. It is as easy to use just like the app — simply press the unassuming button on the rim to record and share the 10 second clips from the app. With Spectacles, Snapchat deepens the sense of immersion and place by putting the viewer into the narrative. Will we see people playing with the format and pushing the boundaries of film? Imagine the meta-survival-horror parodies that people could create!

Regardless of what comes out of Snapchat and the rest of ephemeral media’s evolution, its existence — however transient — is still important. It’s a much needed avenue that allows users to express themselves in a frank and uninhibited way, which is important in driving creative work and exploration.