It’s impossible to miss Northwestern University’s huge, spray-painted Snapchat icons as you walk along Sheridan Road. It seems that every 20 steps your feet pass over and scuff up the emblematic ghost that represents Generation Z.
On a college campus, Snapchat is the easiest way to network: all you need is a smart phone and the app itself. At Northwestern, Snapchat has become a culture, and at first introduction everyone is asked, “What’s your Snap?”
Of 112 Northwestern freshmen surveyed, 45 percent said they use Snapchat multiple times a day and 52 percent said they use Snapchat at least once every hour. Students recognize that the amount of time they spend on Snapchat is negatively affecting in-person relationships, but find that they can’t put the technology down.
“This generation of teenagers and college students are Guinea pigs,” said psychiatrist Jodi Gold. “Now, kids going to college have to figure out how to balance social media and their online presence with their real life. It’s a whole other job and you’ve got nobody to teach you because the generation of parents didn’t have to do it,” she said.
The idea of ephemeral messaging is what draws teens to the Snapchat platform. A fleeting and speedy message means that people can send whatever they want, be it an ugly selfie or a video with one of Snapchat’s iconic filters. Communicating over Snapchat is low stress and low commitment. On other forms of social media, young adults feel pressured to present themselves in the best light because colleges and employers can search them. The lack of permanent messages and images means that people can feel free to send pretty much whatever they want. But how close and meaningful are these relationships when they revolve around a 10 second photo?
Over half the respondents to the survey believe that Snapchat is influencing in-person interactions, but not for the better. Some Northwestern students believe it perpetuates the need for instant gratification and makes them more impatient, while others believe that it allows people to hide behind a screen, which creates a falsified level of comfort.
“We feel like we always need to be doing something and post it on Snapchat,” said Deven. “We can’t just have a good time and not post it on Snapchat.”
“People like to hide behind social media to say how they feel and then in real life keep the conversations to surface level stuff,” said. Shan “Real building blocks of relationships happen in real life, not on a screen.”
A common sentiment among Northwestern students is that Snapchatting interferes with genuine in-person interactions. People are constantly distracted by social media and feel the need to capture the moment instead of being present.
“With Snapchat we can pick and choose what people see, but in real life we aren’t always picture perfect. It clouds our mind to think that everyone is always having fun… when in reality they aren’t,” said Ariana.
The constant need to post something on Snapchat and send photos causes stress and anxiety to a lot of young adults. “It is causing me to experience some fear of missing out and resentment towards people in my life,” said Wilson.
This anxiety becomes even more prevalent with Snapchat’s new development, Snapstreaks. Friends send one photo everyday for three days and then the streak begins. To keep the streak going each friend must send a photo to each other every single day or else the streak dies. Snapchat keeps track of the streak by increasing the number daily next to the friend’s name. The idea of a streak seems beneficial because it increases the likelihood of talking to the same friend or friends everyday, but instead streaks have become a competition.
“I think streaks have just become a hierarchy… they’ve lost any social meaning or connectedness,” said Dr. Gold. The main concern is how important Snapstreaks become to a teen’s self-worth. Communicating over social media daily becomes part of a teen’s identity, which can lead to negative effects. These negative effects can mean the inability to maintain relationships outside of an app and also to have in-person conversations, said Dr. Gold.
The majority of the survey respondents said that they have a streak of over 101, and one person has a streak of 786. Only 10.7 percent say they don’t participate in streaks.
18-year-old Beth has a streak of 802. She is extremely invested in this streak with her high school friend Amanda, and must occasionally “yell” at her to keep up the streak.
“It’s weird when people say, ‘wait that’s your longest streak?’ It’s funny because we don’t really Snapchat that much, but we are both committed to this,” said Mallon. She recalled on multiple occasions a deep feeling of pride when she compared her streak of 700, with people’s measly 200-day streaks.
Today around 75 percent of teenagers and children spend their day glued to a screen. When they finally power down the electronics, they feel lonely according to International Center for Media & the Public Agenda. This loneliness can be chalked up to millennials inability to have in-person conversations because of the barrier that social media creates.
Dr. Gold thinks that there is hope for Generation Z. She said, “I believe that eventually young people will actually move away from social media on their own… right now the challenge is figuring out the balance.”