Why social media at Penn? Social media at Penn and in college, graduate school, and in the professional world is not about scrubbing all traces of who you are off the internet. It’s about creating content that you are “sincerely” passionate about engaging with and making connections online that will lead to IRL experiences like your next research project, a career, a new friend, or an amazing conference experience.
I’ve now had this conversation countless times. As the Saturday consultant at the Weigle Information Commons, I’ve taught social media workshops at the Penn Libraries for two years now. Now and then, I publish a blog post on a particular social platform or tool. Every few months, a friend, a patron, a colleague, or a stranger asks about my work with social media and says, “Oh, I should really do more online!”
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This guest post by Alex Burns C’16 describes the mobile messaging application Snapchat. Alex is a recent graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Jenna Wortham’s recent New York Times Magazine article on Snapchat raised some very interesting points about the nature of social media usage today. The fundamental appeal of Snapchat is its “re-humanization” of social media interactions. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, where users upload polished photos and constantly interact with companies & brands, Snapchat utilizes low-resolution, real-time photos & short videos, making for a less manufactured, more authentic social interaction.
Snapchat messages, referred to as Snaps, are appealing to me because they are so much more raw than other forms of social media. While various filters can be utilized, these messages must be taken in real time and are only visible to most users temporarily. In an age where digital footprints seemingly follow you everywhere, it is refreshing to send messages that might be visible to your most of your friends for a matter of seconds. As a result of the short-lived nature of snaps, there is much less pressure to look attractive or cool. People are less afraid to be themselves in photos that will soon be forgotten. The fact that these photos must be taken in real time make snaps more honest than other forms of social media. You can’t spend time photo-shopping or uploading photos taken by other people at past dates. Snaps represent what you are doing at that very moment in time. Like life experiences, Snaps are mostly temporary. In Jenna’s words:
“Snapchat isn’t the place where you go to be pretty. It’s the place where you go to be yourself.”
Not only is Snapchat refreshingly authentic, it has also changing the way we communicate. When emoji were introduced in 2011, they forever changed the austere nature of text messages by allowing users to supplement texts with graphics relaying various emotions. Emoji helped humanize text messages. While emoji have been widely embraced, there is a limit to what can be expressed through them. As Jenna writes, “though the catalog of emoji has expanded in response to user demand, it still struggles to keep up with the multiplicity of human experiences.” Snapchat has helped fill this void by allowing users to send more personalized graphics in real time. In a way, Snapchat allows users to create their own emoji. Whether it is drawing a picture, or conveying emotion through a personal photo, Snapchat has shifted the format of an instant message from a message based in text, to a message made up primarily of a graphic image which can be supplemented with text. This greater ability to customize messages is transforming communication and making it even more enjoyable.