Boomers have mastered Facebook, watch YouTube videos, follow folks on Twitter and enjoy the kids on Instagram and Pinterest. But Snapchat? The messaging app and media platform, a favorite among millennials, claims 100 million users and 8 billion video views a day. But don't you bother trying to master it.
"How Snapchat Built a Business by Confusing the Olds," a Bloomberg magazine cover story confirms. The article quotes Snapchat cofounder Evan Spiegel: "We've made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children. It's much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display."
Still, a primer on Snapchat is helpful so you'll at least know what your adult children are talking about. First, snaps are photos and 10-second videos that users send to a group of friends. Like a Mission Impossible message, individual snaps self-destruct after viewing. Users can also post a "story" with snaps compiled in a day-in-the-life montage that disappears after 24 hours.
Unlike Facebook posts, Snapchat users limit who can see their snaps by sending them to private screen names. So only a select group of friends share the spontaneous and stupid moments. That's the point of Snapchat: It's not carefully curated like Instagram. Kindergarten-style creativity comes in, allowing users to add doodles, emojis and silly filters to their snaps.
Here's what some of my graduate students say about Snapchat:
"A selfie conversation with captions" for sharing goofy videos and funny face snaps with friends.
"When I'm bored, I'll snap what I just described or what I happen to be doing, whether it's a photo of my computer while I'm writing, the musical instrument I'm playing, the food I'm making, the book I'm reading, etc."
"My friends send a lot of direct snaps, so there's an immediacy for answering it, similar to texting."
Others, from the White House to celebrities, have jumped on the Snapchat wagon. Jeb Bush recently offered a snap of his guacamole lunch. And actress Sophia Bush shared a visit to the chiropractor.
The app also includes a media platform with "live" stories of events such as the Oscars, and a Discover channel where 15 media organizations (from Cosmo to CNN) post daily short videos.
If you're game, there are online tutorials, including one by a Wall Street Journal tech reporter who admitted that learning the app "requires the same initial concentration as assembling Ikea furniture." But if you decide to pass, you're not alone. As one grad student says: "My mom and dad would never be able to figure out how to use Snapchat in a million years."
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.