Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, went public Thursday. By day’s end, its share price jumped 44 percent, making the company worth $34 billion, about equal to General Mills, makers of Cheerios.
The offering interested me because I use Snapchat, by necessity. Since it is, I suspect, unfamiliar to many readers, I ought to explain it.
Snapchat is a photo sharing and messaging app. Like life itself, Snapchat is fleeting. The recipient has a set number of seconds — say 10 — to look at the photo being sent. Then it vanishes, irretrievably.
This has obvious utility if you are, say, sending naked pictures of yourself. Which let me rush to mention is not why I use it. Snapchat also allows messages to be written across the photo sent, and add a variety of comic trappings. If you want to send a photo of yourself as a dog, with floppy ears, snout and lolling tongue, Snapchat will do that.
Snapchat entered my world a few months ago — my wife was instructed to download it by our 21-year-old son, a college junior. Soon we were getting flashes of his life. Meals. Theater interiors.
Ten seconds is not a long time. So the first time we got a picture, I simply took a screenshot, figuring I could study it at leisure. He warned me not to, but I figured what the kid doesn’t know won’t hurt him. But Snapchat rats you out if you do that.
“There was one rule . . .,” my son wrote. I apologized.
Snapchat isn’t ideal for those tramping through the sag end of middle age. Because at a certain point, everything starts fleeting. Friends. Institutions. You detour a block, see a vacant lot. Where did the building go? And what was it?
Photos aren’t supposed to fleet. That’s the point of them. Not just capturing a moment but preserving it. Sure, I’m glad to hear from the lad, but sorry when the image vanishes. Why this rush to oblivion? It comes soon enough.
Since I had no answer, I went to the source. What is the appeal of Snapchat? He replied:
“First off, sending photos or videos through email or similar media is time-intensive, especially when sending them to multiple persons or when you wish to add text or additional drawings to the image, while Snapchat is not. Second, don’t forget that in addition to sending images Snapchat also can be used to send text, as a storytelling device, and as a way to follow the news and/or public figures of note. And third, as to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, in most cases there is simply no compelling reason to take up storage space by sending a photo of something as insignificant as, say a painting you find funny, and in other cases you might simply not want someone to have permanent access to a collection of hastily taken images of yourself or others.”
Fair enough. I should mention “ephemeral nature” was used in my question. I’d hate for the boy to be blamed for his father’s abstruseness. I don’t generally dole out investment advice, but Snapchat strikes me as a momentary novelty that appeals for a brief span (for you fans of irony) before everyone swipes it, the culture shifts and people stop caring. To me, the service evokes George Orwell’s 1984 — suddenly a best-seller, thanks to “alternative facts.” Specifically, that awful scene where Winston Smith, bound to a chair, is being tortured by O’Brien, who holds a newspaper clipping of a photo just out of his range of vision.
“For only an instant it was before his eyes, then it was out of sight again. But he had seen it, unquestionably he had seen it!”
“It exists!” Smith cries.
“No,” says O’Brien, who burns the photo.
“‘Ashes,’ he said. ‘Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'”
Now I’m beginning to see why Snapchat is worth $34 billion. There is limitless potential here. Or, to quote 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
And we all know who controls the present.Tweets by @neilsteinberg