“Truth or dare,” I text him. “Truth,” he says.
“Are you happy?” I ask. “What’s wrong with you,” he says back. I press on. Seriously.
“I guess,” he responds, after a few moments. “That’s a weird question. Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” I say back. “How many guys have you hooked up with?” He asks me.
The next day, I realize that I’m kind of pissed off at him for asking me that. I thought we had the potential of pursuing an interesting conversation that night, but those hopes were unfortunately dashed with his response. Still, I don’t have it in me to force myself to ice him out, so instead I open his message. It’s a Snapchat of his shoes as he stands on a subway platform. I don’t respond, half hoping that somehow he’ll know to extrapolate my silence to my irritation at his tactless “truth” question. He doesn’t. I know I didn’t really expect him to.
Later that day I end up texting him, and he responds back, unbothered. I forget that I was annoyed, though I don’t, not really, and when I crawl into bed that night I find myself wondering why I ended up responding to something that wasn’t remotely a conversation starter in the first place.
From services boasting unlimited text and photo sending capabilities like iMessage and Snapchat, the phenomenon of constant, casual and meaningless conversation has arisen. Nearly everyone around me at any given moment is engaging in multiple conversations with different people that do not actually end, only pause. Due to the world’s digital connectedness, you know at the click of a button where someone is, what they’re doing, and the last time they checked their phone.
These hyper-vigilant, hyper-invasive systems have become integrated so far into the fabric of human day-to-day operation that their existence is not often given second thought. And when it is given second thought, it’s often a privacy concern, or outrage at the idea that social media is tragically hampering the productivity of society’s youth. But perhaps the most devastating unintended consequence we don’t talk about of our never-ending back and forth with peers is the evolution of our relationships.
Snapchat has a system called “streaks” where it counts how many days in a row you’ve Snapchatted a person. I’ve seen people with over a hundred streaks with some upwards of five hundred days long. If we had to meet a quota of talking to people in physical space, we’d find it annoying and ridiculous. Yet we do this willingly each day on Snapchat. There is no reward for a long streak or a high amount of streaks. There isn’t even a leaderboard, and still, nobody actually stops snapping for longer than the single day needed to actually lose a streak.
You can see who your most Snapchatted “best friends” are, and whether you have the same status on other people’s own personal scoreboards. Snapchat has given us a system of strange, self-controllable popularity, measured in numbers and emojis, which is part of what makes platforms like it so addicting. Our relationships with other people are stacked up in front of our eyes every time we open our phones.
Now, popularity is not just a concept kept for school or work, since being home alone has become a social event with points to be lost and gained and statuses to be maintained with each and every interaction. It is not only on social media that we allow ourselves to be tallied in popularity, but in our own private conversations on messaging platforms. Our fear of being disliked, or worse, ignored, is exacerbated by these technologies that leave nothing private.
We’ve become paranoid about how the tiniest social interactions affect our social status. When we are left on “read” — Snapchat will show you when someone has read your message and not responded to you — we are sent into mini panic episodes, our thoughts immediately reaching to far off conclusions if a single hour passes by without reply.
But of course we will not follow up to set our minds at ease by “double-texting,” as one would never want to suffer the shame of contacting someone two times in a row. That’s an act that we’ve collectively deemed a display of desperation. So instead, the nauseatingly passive-aggressive atmosphere stretches between two people regardless of the miles and miles apart they may be. Though we are evermore hyper-connected, our emotions are pushed further and further away.
I am aware, intellectually, of all of this. And yet I found myself closing that snap of a boy’s shoes on a subway platform, scrunching up my face, and then deciding not to respond to him so that he would see the little red arrow and hopefully get the message that I saw, but did not answer, his cheap, wordless offer to pursue another day of pseudo-genuine contact.
I used Snapchat to express my frustration in a tiny way that didn’t make me feel any better, doing exactly what I’ve spent this whole article denouncing. That goes to show just how easy it is to hide behind our screens, avoiding confrontation while not wanting to lose a streak, dragging out substance devoid conversations for days and days when we could really just not.
I’ve since tried to make home a place where I can escape the social pressure of the day, and have for the most part stopped using Snapchat other than to send pictures to a few friends. I don’t keep streaks with anyone other than who I actually would talk to every day, which is only about three people. Though I still end up trapped in Snapchat’s strange wordless exchanges sometimes, the next time I run into another pair of shoes, I’ll at least send a snap of an eyeroll back.