OPINION: The streak epidemic: It’s time to get off Snapchat

Graphic by Julia Read

I remember the first time I broke a long Snapchat streak. My friend had texted me “save it,” “quick,” and “SAVE THE STREAK” a few hours before it happened. But, I had been preoccupied with working on a website for my summer project.

Designing the page just how I wanted it to function was challenging and engrossing, so I had not picked up my phone for a whole afternoon. Just before dinner, I tapped open a few angry Snapchats from my friend: “281 days and now we’re back to square one?” and one with his eyes rolled and these words: “I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”

He was joking, of course, but still I felt my stomach tighten. I had let my friend down, and I had let our relationship down. I’d been careless enough to disregard our Snapchat streak for too long, and before I knew it, what had taken almost a year to build was gone forever.

The photos and messages that made up our Snapchats had come to represent our friendship. That night, I went to dinner with my head heavy. I was careless, and I had broken our streak.

A streak can be defined as a stripe of color in one’s hair, the act of running naked in public, or a period of repeated success: a digital and quantitative indicator of one’s relationship — rather, one’s commitment — to another. As we have come to use it, the streak is a period of repeated interpersonal success (using the term “success” lightly here).

The streak is not held lightly. It represents daily devotion, untiring contact via Snapchat between two people no matter where they are or what they are doing. It is a chain of artless, thoughtless — yet cumulatively thoughtful — photographs, of selfies in the dark.

At three days of consecutive Snapchatting, the fire emoji appears. The streak has begun. Soon enough it becomes 30, 60, 90, the big 100. That’s worth a social media post and a couple of sincere congratulations. 365, that’s a year — you may as well have been dating for that long.

And, these days, people are zipping past the 500s and 600s. What do you do when an app tells you that you’ve messaged somebody back and forth daily for two years? It is no small feat.

Our loyalty to the streak, however, has in recent years stealthily eroded our healthy practices of communication and instead provided a morbid distraction from — and replacement of — substantive human connection.

The streak is a race against time that we create for ourselves and with each other. It is the silent, tickless menace of an hourglass emoji that flickers on the screen and makes our blood pressure rise.

The streak is a contest between people and involving others. Whose friendship, whose relationship, whose random, sketchy acquaintanceship can withstand the too-real frenzy of life?

The streak belongs only to those who truly dedicate themselves to their perceived relationships: those who will wake up in the middle of the night just to send their cousin a photo of the darkness, those who will share their account password with a generous friend before going camping in the backcountry.

It is two after two after two megabytes, zipping across rooms, states, countries, and oceans. The streak is ceaseless and ever-growing, worn like a badge of pride; the longer you go, the stronger you go. The streak has become power, however fruitless it may actually be.

Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has proven to the world that nothing means anything until somebody interacts with it. We, as pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults, have anointed Snapchat with the unrelenting power of measuring our own interpersonal relationships.

Spiegel didn’t ask for this; we simply gave it to him. Within the strangeness of constantly sending live-time photos to others, we have found a comfort and intimacy that were not present (nor needed) before.

Technology is a formidable thing. Its creators construct its capabilities. We decide what to make of those capabilities; some are rendered irrelevant, while others become paramount. Every time we use a piece of technology, our own actions alter its definition and its purpose.

Before long, the same technology comes to alter us. Who we are and why we are is no longer ours to say. Instead, we listen.

It will soon be too late to mute the magnetic pull of technology. Before then, let’s slice the streaks and take care to invest our time in more meaningful acts of connecting.

Becky Zhang PO ’22 hails from Hong Kong and is quite undecided on her major. She likes to play music, write, read, and cook.

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