The memories of Gen-Z’ers might be ephemeral, just like their content



This article was originally published on Financial Post by Josh McConnell

Don’t be alarmed, but a crisis may be on our hands. Tech companies could very well be creating a generation of people who is having their memories erased from the history books and they don’t even realize it yet.

When digital cameras and smartphones began picking up steam in the last decade or two, it was widely regarded that we would have an overload of photos and memories. The days of finite film rolls and going to the local Walmart to develop pictures were over, as digital storage meant we could take photos of absolutely everything and save them by the thousands on hard drives.

Digital photos had the potential to create a utopia for historians and archivists, but millennials have begun turning that dream into a nightmare.

Call it carpe diem. Call it living in the moment. Whatever you want to call it, Snapchat has ushered in an era of creating content that disappears nearly as quickly as it takes someone to make it, and younger people can’t stop doing it.

When it launched in 2011, Snapchat’s bread and butter was forcing photos to auto-delete after being viewed by the recipient for less than 10 seconds. The mobile app has since become more social with profiles that allow photos or videos to stick around for 24 hours before disappearing from existence. Photos, videos or text messages sent privately to friends will still vaporize in seconds though, as originally intended.

Snapchat became so popular with millennials and the so-called Generation Z, Facebook reportedly offered to buy the company for US$3 billion in 2013 to get in on the action but was quickly turned down (Snapchat went on to do a US$30 billion IPO earlier this month). Apparently Mark Zuckerberg and his company didn’t like being turned down either, because Facebook is now doing everything it can to copy many of Snapchat’s disappearing-content tricks while encouraging the practice in the process.

For example, Instagram — which Facebook purchased for US$1 billion back in 2013 — has added Instagram Stories to let people share content for 24 hours before automatically fading away into the ether. Yes, it looks and acts exactly like Snapchat, but Instagram has more than 150 million daily users and it’s gunning for Snapchat.

Facebook Messenger, the company’s popular chat platform, just launched a feature earlier this month called Messenger Day that also introduces the same now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t functionality as Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Facebook Messenger has reached one billion active monthly users, so its large influence now helps even more people to just live in the moment.

You don’t have to look far to see the tight grip that this Snapchat-like mentality has had on younger generations for the past few years. Attend a concert, see a sporting event or visit popular tourist attractions and most under 25 aren’t using their phone’s default camera app. Instead they have Snapchat open to share the moment with their friends, get the immediately gratifying high-fives and then forget about it.

That forgetting part is the biggest problem, as it may take years until people think back and wish that they had photographic keepsakes of these various moments in their lives, like the generations before them. If this trend continues to accelerate, historians and archivists may look back decades from now and think about the plethora of additional content they could have had from both major events or simple day-to-day living, if only it weren’t for those pesky mobile apps. Yes, there is a button in the corner to save photos or videos to the device before they disappear forever, but it isn’t all that prominent.

So the next time you want to tell someone to put their smartphone down to stop and smell the roses, maybe you should tell them to take a photo of those roses with their default camera app first. Otherwise, years from now, they may forget those roses even existed at all.

This article was originally published on Financial Post

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