Opening Snapchat lately feels like peering into the back of a dark, old wardrobe, and finding nothing but dust.
I still receive the odd enjoyable one-to-one or group Snap, but Snapchat’s desolation shows, badly, in the stories feed.
It’s no secret that Snapchat is losing out to Instagram. Instagram has 1 billion monthly active users, while Snapchat has 191 million. That’s fewer monthly active users than even the amount of stories that Instagram says its users create every day: 300 million.
Those gargantuan numbers are only comprehensible in comparison (where else is 191 million small?) But I can make sense of them on a personal level, too, because my own small social media universe reflects the morbid story that they tell.
When I dutifully open my Snapchat app once a day before bed, I will see at most four stories. Usually, it’s two. And they’re both always from Snapchat employees.
The white space is deafening.
Let’s get one thing straight: at one point, I was a Snapchat evangelist, partially because I had a fair amount of friends who worked there. One convinced me over an hour long car ride that Snapchat was different — which, in terms of how Snapchat shifted social media from permanent to ephemeral and from polished to silly, is something I still believe. But the point is, my account is unfairly stacked with several Snap employees.
But at its pre-IPO height for my 20-something-year-old social circle around 2015 and 2016, I used to see dozens of stories from non-Snap affiliated friends. It was a portal to vacations, selfies, concerts, and brunches of my friends and close-ish acquaintances. Now, they’re gone, and only Snapchat’s loyal foot soldiers remain.
Snapchat knows it has to do something. It recently unveiled revamped maps and other anti-Insta differentiators, and their stickers and filters remain more fun than their theft-happy competitor. But that doesn’t change the fact that when I open the app, there’s still little to see, nothing to do, except maybe check out Kardashian pics on Daily Mail.
In a gorgeous essay for The Verge, Helena Fitzgerald argues that Snapchat’s desolation recaptures some of the strange, emotive magic that made the early internet special. She writes: “for a brief moment, as everybody abandons the sinking ship, Snapchat genuinely feels like a place where no one might be listening in, like it might really be the void, rather than the sum of everyone else’s phones.”
This sounds right. But I wish this was the case in practice, not just in theory, for me. Sure, Snapchat is where I could spill my secrets, pimpled and haggard, if I wanted to. But I don’t. I’ve realized that as Facebook and Instagram tell me with notifications and pop-ups to “add to my story!,” I’ve simply lost the impulse to share. I rarely post on Instagram anymore, and when I do, a voice whispers “why?”
Once, a virtual ghost town where I could be an unfiltered version of myself sounded appealing. But now, it’s all the same. And I just want to leave the world of digital documentation all together.
Yet somehow, here I am, posting.