Snapchat: Is it really just a shallow, pointless waste of time?
I'm always curious when I read articles about Snapchat – although honestly, half of the time they're written by people who've never actively engaged with the app, so their views can be taken with a pinch of salt. I was interested, therefore, when Dominique McMullan – whose snaps I used to follow and enjoy – wrote about her decision to quit Snapchat. You can read the article here, but my favourite line has to be:
It is repetitive, shallow and tedious, but it’s more addictive than cigarettes and biscuits.
Is Snapchat really just "chewing gum for the brain"?
I mean, firstly, I never really get the chewing gum analogy. I like chewing gum! It makes my teeth feel clean and my breath taste fresh when I'm a few hours – and a burrito – away from my next tooth-brushing. But I digress.
Is Snapchat really all that bad?
I think the argument that Snapchat is vacuous, pointless and entirely mindless can be compared to the argument that Instagram is bad for body image, or that Pinterest presents us with unrealistic ideals of beauty (for interiors and beyond).
Ultimately: Snapchat is what you make of it. Your feed will be populated with the people you choose to follow and, if those people provide content that is, ultimately, vacuous, pointless and entirely mindless, well – I guess your feed will be full of that type of content.
Snapchat is how you curate it
Take my feed, for example. Six months ago, it looked very different to how it looked now. I exclusively followed influencers and Snapchat celebrities and I would say that 80% of my time was spent looking at things I was being advised to buy, or following people around their daily lives, drinking coffee and talking about detox teas. Yes, it was pretty vacuous.
But I've mixed things up a lot since then and I now follow a wide mix of people, from all walks of life. Yes, I still follow James Kavanagh (@jamesksnaps) as he brunches around town – but yesterday, he sat down with his nephew, who is on the autistic spectrum, and talked about life as a young man with an autism diagnosis. It was riveting and really eye-opening watching.
I still follow Grace Mongey (@facesbygrace23), who became famous (infamous?) for "Snapchatting her labour" – although, honestly, it wasn't as if the phone was getting in there in any detail. And yes, sometimes she talks about detox tea or how she makes her porridge, but this week she also went through her journey with anxiety, therapy and medication which, for me, was a really important moment.
I also follow people like Gill Roddie (@gemeroodles), who does a series of "Science Snaps" where she debunks myths around science. Right now, she's doing a series on vaccinations – what's in them? What are they for? What are the risks? – which is really fascinating.
I follow Rebecca Flynn (@its_r2theb), who I've talked about before, who's just started asking other parents to share – anonymously – their most taboo feelings around parenting, such as regretting having children, or not enjoying motherhood. I don't have kids – nor do I intend to – but I find this kind of thing really interesting and insightful.
So, yes, it can be super shallow
There are days when I'm fully aware that what I'm sharing is pretty vacuous – I might be talking about what makeup I'm wearing, or where I bought my new coat – and I get that it won't be for everyone. But on those days, I can see people responding; my views go down.
And so they should! Our time is (relatively) precious and we each get to decide how to spend it.
For me, Snapchat can be a total waste of time – something to do while sitting on the toilet – but it can also be a really interesting look into how other people live. Yes, there's a certain voyeurism to why I love Snapchat so much, but it's also introduced me to people – and ways of thinking – that I would never otherwise come across.
From that point of view, I think Snapchat is an incredible way of learning more about people, and the world we live in. Sure, you could spend your entire day watching loud, screaming snaps from Coachella – but you could also spend it learning about vcaccines and getting an insight into just how challenging parenting a toddler can be. The choice is yours.