I started my car this morning and caught the tail end of an ad introducing this new interactive chatting app called Frankly. “Just like a real conversation, your messages don’t hang around.” It was enough to get the point.
Having had my fair share of drunken exchanges in the past, I agree that some things are simply better left embedded in the moment. After the conversation’s done, do we really need to walk away with all of it? Frankly offers an opportunity to renegotiate the neat rules of record keeping that we’ve imported over the years through social technology and the very invention of the text message. We see this especially with most modern cell phones and their ability to archive text conversations for months – years, even – allowing you to scroll through a crazy amount of transcribed and usually forgotten history.
If you’re an iPhone user like myself, you’ve most likely heard about the forthcoming iOS 8 update which features a few iMessage ad-ons, including a fully integrated audio and video messaging feature. Apple, in its frighteningly complacent effort to keep-up with its competitors, wanted to devise a way to mature the iMessage interface without having users cough up too much of their storage; so, instead of the audio and video messages being permanently added to your ongoing conversation catalogue, they’ll self-destruct after an allotted amount of time.
But, of course, neither Apple nor Frankly are the first to do this. Remember those guys in Venice Beach who made a killing off of this very notion a couple of years back? It’s called Snapchat, the hallmark of finite media messaging and the best way for you to finesse your friends into caring about what you’re up to by dangling it all in front of them and then snatching it right back.
The thought of technology’s ability to retract written history is one thing, but there’s something a little more haunting about ripping away a visual scene like it never happened. Sure, both Snapchat and Frankly have settings that allow users to manually save content, but it’s obvious that these features only augment the product, making it more round. The default, marketed mood is to casually allow these messages to wither away.
At some point, we reached a consensus that this is how things should be. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re all too busy doing fun shit that we don’t have time to invest too much in what others are saying or doing, or if we agree that time stamps allow us to be more candid in what we send and how we react to what we receive. Definitely the first one, right? Right. But if it really is the latter, if our ability to take back what we say and do actually does makes us more honest people, what does that imply about our current recorded history?
This takes me back to 7th grade or whenever I first read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If you haven’t read it, all you really need to know is that it’s a dystopian novel about a future American society where books are outlawed and collectively burned by firemen. This, of course, challenges the idea of knowledge and history as something permanent and presents a new model whereby the past is just something that changes substantially from generation to generation. Fast-forward to current times, perhaps Bradbury was at a disadvantage having published the novel way back in 1953. Colored TV was the hot shit, but imagine if Bradbury had just a glimpse of the Internet. I can easily envision those firemen being swapped out for some overachieving tech startup turned juggernaut like Google. Cue Eggers.
We’re still a ways from eradicating our need for history, but it’s baffling just how short the shelf life of everything is these days – from music (Apple bought Beats for streaming) to our casual conversations. It’s all about sensation; everything else gets stripped away. Once the awe is spent, so is our investment.
It’s definitely enough to leave a slightly acrid taste in my mouth. On one hand, auto-erase culture could be seen as ornamenting the idea of saved information, in many ways offering greater value to the content we actually keep on our devices. But on the other hand, it seems far too perpetually temporary. Like a pair of white pants – muddied, then washed. Spaghetti-ed, then washed. Be as careful as you wish, but those things will never stay clean. Eventually you’ll just toss that dingy pair aside for new ones, because nothing’s irreplaceable anymore. In terms of tech, entertainment, and culture as a whole, I just wonder if such a state keeps our ideas flowing or if we’re instead racing a new shiny sports car into an invisible wall.