Monday, January 30, 2017

Inside the Mind of a Snapchat Streaker

Abby Rogers, a 15 year-old from California’s Bay Area, recently took extreme measures to help a buddy in Michigan.

The friend had her phone confiscated by parents and biked to a local library where she got on a computer, sent Rogers her Snapchat user name and password, and begged for a big favor. Every day for two weeks, Rogers would need to log on to the messaging app and send short picture messages back and forth between her friend’s account and her own. It didn’t matter the subject. It could be pictures of walls, ceilings—anything, really—so long as it kept alive a continuous, daily volley of missives known as a Snapstreak. Thanks to Rogers’ intervention, the girls’ Snapstreak has been running for more than 270 days.

Keeping streaks alive has grown so urgent that Rogers checks the Snapchat app on her phone roughly every 15 minutes. She had 12 running at last check. If friends don’t “snap” back and forth for 24 hours, streaks die, breaking one of the digital ties that bind America’s teens.

“Sometimes I’ll end up going through a streak in the middle of class. I’ll just leave the phone face up and take a picture of the ceiling,” said Rogers, who feels “guilty” if she doesn’t respond to her friends’ snaps immediately. “I don’t want to leave them hanging.” (...)

A Snap spokeswoman said streaks are meant to be a fun way to illustrate online relationships. The company shows numbers that appear next to each friend’s name and tracks the days they’ve gone continuously sending and receiving messages. Long streaks are rewarded with colored hearts, fire, and other emojis on users’ profiles.

Messages on Snapchat can be personal videos and amusing comments. But they can just as easily be photos of ceilings.

“Some people Snapchat just for the streak,” said Isaiah Figueroa, an 18-year-old student at Wichita State University. Figueroa has 27 streaks with friends, including one of more than 250 days. He gets irritated when people snap a meaningless picture with a generic message, such as “keep the streak going.” He tries to avoid this but admits he’s guilty of the practice when he gets busy and is afraid he’ll lose a streak.

It’s not just teenagers. Chase Haverick, a 30-year-old development communications manager from Oklahoma City, has seven streaks and recently hit 100 days with one friend. Special “100” and “fire” emojis now hover next to a digital representation of their relationship on Snapchat. Hitting the 100 mark was a “bucket list” goal for 2016, Haverick said, only half joking.

Snapstreaks began in April 2015 as part of a wider app update that introduced Friend Emojis. These symbolize a hierarchy of relationships: At the top is the person you send snaps to the most and who also sends you the most snaps. They get a gold heart emoji. Lower down, a smirk emoji means a person messages you more than anyone, but you snap more with others.

The rankings provide clarity in what adolescent development experts said is a messy period of social growth for young adults. “For those that have streaks, they provide a validation for the relationship,” said Emily Weinstein, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University studying the intersection of adolescent behavior and social media. “Attention to your streaks each day is a way of saying ‘we’re OK.’”

Snap adds urgency by putting an hourglass emoji next to a friend’s name if a streak is about to end. “The makers built into the app a system so you have to check constantly or risk missing out,” said Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist and author of The Power of Off. “It taps into the primal fear of exclusion, of being out of the tribe and not able to survive.”

by Lizette Chapman, Bloomberg | Read more:
Image:David Paul Morris