What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Airbrushed Sexting: What We Can Learn From Snapchat

June 12, 2014, 3:35 PM
Bt_sexting

When I first learned about Snapchat in early 2012, I laughed it off. It seemed like a fun, novel idea but not a potential staple in our digital lives. As a long time text and chat user, I was used to permanence in my written communication. I wanted my past conversations to have a searchable history. There’s something delightful about being able to sift through one’s past messages and see how relationships have evolved over time. When crafting a text with a new acquaintance, there’s something comforting about reading through one’s past exchanges to gauge the tone of the conversation and to see what past messages worked in tight situations. But these are the ramblings of an over-cerebral nerd, someone who could probably thrive with a prescription of “a little less thinkin’”.

I realized that, in analyzing the specific merits of textual communication, I lost the big picture: Snapchat, and the rest of the ethereal communication apps, is a better model of real, face-to-face interpersonal interaction than, say, SMS or messaging.

Human history, up until about 5000 BC, was an invisible thread. People lived their lives, told stories to their tribes, and passed on. The important information stuck in memory and persisted in the group for weeks, years, or generations. As long as it was immediately useful it was recalled and rehashed. The origin stories and parables stayed alight for centuries and even millennia, providing groups with important life-knowledge and a sense of purpose. But most of what has occurred in this blue dot called Earth has never existed beyond the vibrating neurons of its observers. With the advent of somewhat sophisticated writing in the Bronze Age we started to make our invisible personal experiences visible.

All of this is to say that with the advent of instant, ephemeral visual communication, we have moved away from the relatively recent construction of permanence in our communication, and have created a close approximation to face-to-face interaction. We’ve moved closer to our natural communication preferences; what our perceptual and cognitive apparatus evolved to do. It’s why many describe the pictures and messages in Snapchat as “more real." As Sean Haufler, a student at Yale, writes:

"Snapchat’s time limits make snaps more engaging. Since snaps disappear seconds after they are opened, users feel comfortable sending spontaneous and personal messages that they would not want ingrained into digital histories. Sending a headshot to a friend via text feels forced, but sending a warm gaze or a silly face via Snapchat is natural. Snapchat pictures tend to be candid and unprepared, which makes the messages feel more personal, more real. Additionally, since every message has a time limit, users are present when opening snaps. Snapchat attracts its users’ full attention since they have only a few seconds to capture the details of each message. This engagement makes the experience more satisfying – it feels like a real conversation. Interestingly, Snapchat maintains the feeling of a one-on-one conversation even when messaging groups."

But the question always becomes: Then why aren't closer approximations to face-to-face communication, such as Skype, FaceTime, etc., more popular? I think there are two primary answers:

  1. Asynchronous communication is convenient: We always have a few moments to spare throughout the day. But we don’t always have unbroken chunks of time with which we can chat.

  2. Staged communication lets us present our best self: Real-time communication, like Skype, doesn’t let us hide anything. People can see our face in its entirety in real time. There’s no chance to frame the shot to perfection, add a filter, and make it as flattering as possible.

So in the modern battle for attention, it seems that ease, convenience, and self-flattery win out over fidelity and responsiveness. With impermanent asynchronous messaging we’re able to have a somewhat uninhibited, free-flowing conversation while simultaneously showing our best selves. This is known as a win-win. As we continue to evolve our methods of communication, we’ll continue to see even more pronounced examples of this same pattern: Authenticity with a sheen. Realism without the worms. Life with all the glory, thanks to a little airbrushing. 

Image credit: Danil Nevsky/Shutterstock

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, June 14 2014

Learning to Love Social Media

Welcome to The Truman Show. That's what "living on" Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites du jour can feel like. Publishing photographs of our lunch, quips about our lives and... Read More…

 

Airbrushed Sexting: What We...

Newsletter: Share: