So I’m trying to figure out this SnapChat thing.
We downloaded it onto my iPhone on Thursday night after two of my nieces made a casual reference to the app and I demanded to know what I was missing out on.
I had never heard of SnapChat, but you know how it is, technologically challenged Uncle Guac is usually the last one to get jiggy with whatever the kids are into.
Well, today I was perusing The New York Times online and, whadyaknow, there’s an article about how Facebook is no longer the hot stuff it once was and how teenagers seem to be moving off in new directions. Heading to places like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, videos on Vine and, you guessed it, SnapChat.
The Times article suggested that Facebook is no longer the crucial social media tool it was just a few years ago, at least partly because it has become so mainstream. Teens tend to be drawn to apps that are more edgy and have not yet been commandeered by prying parents and their Aunt Rosie. Another Times article points out that teens, a key social media market, tend to be “fickle” and flock to the latest and the greatest. Facebook is old hat and (who knows?) could eventually go the way of MySpace.
Just as Zuckerberg created Facebook in a Harvard dorm room, SnapChat came into being as Evan Spiegel’s project in an undergraduate mechanical engineering class at Stanford. SnapChat gained traction at high schools in Los Angeles, where it became something of a modern-day equivalent of passing notes behind the teacher’s back. Except you didn’t have to be in the same classroom and you could show off your goofiest face while you were at it.
I am reading that Google offered to acquire SnapChat for the princely sum of three billion dollars and that the Snap turned them down.
Which brings me back to figuring out how to use an app that I had never heard of two days ago. I have to do this, you know. I never even had a cell phone until I realized that the only way I’d ever have any hope of keeping up with my far-flung nephews and nieces would be to learn how to text message.
So last night I jumped right in with both feet, hoping my dear ones would not make too much fun of my missteps. I forgot to check the date on a loaf of French bread I had bought at the supermarket; when I tore off the first chunk, I found that it was stale. Aha! A SnapChat moment! I took a photo of myself looking positively disgusted. My poor wife was trying not to laugh at me as I turned the phone around and tried not to get my hand in the picture while my index finger estimated the location of the shutter on the other side. Um, apparently there’s a little camera icon with swivel arrows at the top of the screen that reverses the lens to allow selfies. Oops. Suddenly, I feel this small. #uncleisadork
The problem with my disgusted face portrait was that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to add a message to the photo. I had gotten the Snap part down, but the Chat part continued to elude me. I pressed whatever buttons I could find to no avail. So I figured maybe I could write a message on the photo with my finger, just like painting back in kindergarten. And it worked! Tracing each letter of “eating stale bread,” my shaky writing even looked like it had been the work of a kindergartener. But I got the thing sent to one nephew and two nieces, and to me, that was what counted.
A minute later, all three sent back goofy-face photos of their own to indicate that stale bread is indeed pretty gross. I couldn’t figure out how to save or retrieve their photos, and I could only view them for a few seconds. If I held my finger down, the “countdown” would start, the photo would appear, and then, bloop! Disappeared into the stratosphere.
Not long after, my nephew sent me a smiling SnapChat photo of himself behind the wheel. “Driving home from FoodMaxx.” Cool! “See?” I told my wife. “We’d have no idea what he was doing if not for this thing.”
I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to know that my nephew is on the way home from the grocery store? I suppose I don’t really need to know. But it’s nice to know that he’s actually buying groceries and has food in his house, which is not something you can automatically count on with this guy.
I snap a smiling photo of my own. “What’s for dinner?” Wait a minute, I don’t want to do the finger painting thing again. How do my nephew and nieces get all this perfect white type overlaid on their photos? I ask my wife for advice. “Google it,” she suggests.
Sure enough, Google has all the answers. Apparently, you have do swipe your finger downward, as if pulling down a keyboard to type. Not at all intuitive. But hey, it worked! Well, sort of. I have to abbreviate and make my message very short. Not the easiest thing with my verbose tendencies, but it only takes so many characters. This is worse than Twitter!
Another photo. He’s making Hamburger Helper. I respond with a photo of my popcorn. He sends back a smiling face of approval. I assume a pensive pose in the manner of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and express a very truncated wish that I had a good movie to go with my popcorn.
And then this morning, my nephew is at work and SnapChats me his bemused face in regard to the fact that there is some type of anime event going on in the breakroom. Later, my niece sends a photo of her sandwich and fries at a local restaurant. I reciprocate with a photo of the batch of guacamole I just finished making. And so it goes.
On Thursday, when I first downloaded this app, my 17 year old niece grabbed my phone and created a SnapChat handle for me. I have been dubbed “unclecool59.” You have no idea of the extent to which I am blushing to even type this. At least now I could show you if I wanted to. But first I’d have to access My Friends and add a couple hundred of you.