Since when did we start maintaining friendships without actually talking? And since when is the number of days you send a picture back and forth worth anything to a friendship?
Snapchat, a popular multimedia messaging app, has taken over the phones and lives of teenagers. One function that Snapchat includes is the almighty Snapchat ‘streak’. The number of consecutive days that two people send snaps to each other a fire emoji shows up next to the person’s username, as well as the length of the streak. And when it’s about to end, Snapchat warns you with an hourglass emoji.
Because teens invest so much in their streaks, many people ask their friends to keep streaks for them if they’re unable to log on for a period of time— for example, if you are on vacation. In fact, at SAS the longest streak recorded was 923 days.
The true purpose of a ‘streak’ is unknown, for when BBC Newsround asked Snapchat their intentions they “did not want to comment”.
So why do people keep streaks anyways?
One SAS student said, “My friends ask me to keep them. I find them annoying and a hassle but some of my friends care a lot about streaks.” Someone else candidly stated, “It’s a social norm. Like all other social norms, it is life draining, but I am still doing it so that says something about people.”
However, the dark side of Snapchat ‘streaks’ lies in the consequence of a ‘streak’ ending. “It’s a symbol of betrayal if you lose a streak. So the fear of ‘missing out’ and because you already invested so much into it makes me keep sending streaks.”
But while streaks can seem superficial or gamified, below the surface they are often just a way to get closer to friends. “I started streaks with people because it feels like you have a connection. Snapchat streaks show a sign of mutual respect: they send you streaks, and you send them streaks. Getting to know people you don’t talk to through Snapchat streaks allows you to build a, although not a real-life, connection.”
However, some wonder whether there is a correlation between the amount of best friends and amount of streaks? In a survey sent out to the SAS Student body, 87% of students have more streaks with people than they have best friends. Only about 25 students out of over 200 participants in the survey had more ‘real life’ best friends than streaks.
An article by Insider questioned whether Snapstreaks should be considered unethical. Snapstreaks are what ex-Google design ethicist Tristan Harris calls unethical app design. Unethical designs exploit psychological vulnerabilities to influence what users do without realizing it. This function is like bait for young people.
But taking a step back, it is true that this is all so ridiculously trivial. Streaks have become like a business transaction, but when it takes nothing more than a picture a day to keep streaks alive, no value can be placed on something that is virtually meaningless. Snapstreaks are not a true picture of friendship, but an instant gratification fix for the social addict—nothing more and nothing less.