Metro, Column, Boston

The City As Told By Snapchat Selfies

Two months after I was born, Cal Ripken Jr. broke the record for most consecutive baseball games played. I was two when Biggie Smalls was killed with a blue-steel pistol, three when Clinton legally defined the extent of an “inappropriate relationship,” and five when the world emerged into a new century. I could—and still can—recite the original 150 Pokemon (from Bulbasaur to Mewtwo) and sing along to all of the songs on Britney Spears’ debut album. I had a light purple Game Boy Advanced, arms layered with multicolored scrunchies, pockets full of lip smackers, and spent too much time playing Oregon Trail on my dad’s Gateway Desktop.

As a proud Millennial, I have had the pleasure to live through an exhilarating 19 years.

More significant than living through the rise and fall of the boy band, I have lived through the birth of social media. I was allowed to use the computer on my own just in time for the onset of MySpace, from which I eventually graduated to Facebook profiles and a Twitter account. I proudly avoided Tumblr and Tinder but am (still) terrifyingly active on Pinterest. I am a product of the social media age, ingrained with as much technological proficiency as a need to know what all of my “friends” are doing, all of the time.

Snapchat, the latest social media giant, capitalizes on this need of my generation and also provides an outlet for another Gen Y appeal, harmless self promotion, all the while encouraging the misconception that the “selfie” might not always be narcissistic. Most simply, Snapchat is a photo sharing app that allows users to send and receive photos and videos for a short time period. As messaging app describes itself, “Snapchat has always been about sharing your point of view. That’s why our application opens straight into the camera. It’s the fastest way to share little moments with our friends—to let them know where we are or how we feel right now.”

Although it may be easy for snapchat developers to think that high schoolers across the world are using their application to share the “little moments” that are so important to them, it is used more to selectively “share” the moments you want everyone else to see. Practically, Snapchat is a way to not-so-humble brag about where you are and what you are doing, and with the notification of who has seen your “story” or opened your snap, you can ensure that your “friends” know what you’re up to. At its core, the app is a degree egotistic and promotes a false sense of community, and cleverly exploits everything that the social media generation, myself included, has grown to love.

Snapchat has gone a step further in line with Millennial favorites, by now offering Geofilters based on the location of users sending snapchats. If you take a selfie in Times Square, a city skyline themed font spells out “Manhattan” on the bottom left of your screen. Snaps taken on the beaches of New Jersey get a nautical overlay that says “The Shore”. Major sporting events will warrant a geofilter and pictures taken most Soulcycle locations have a yellow bike wheel in the right hand corner. I can even get a cartoonized Gasson geofilter from the sanctity of my bunk bed.

Although the geofilters originally were only sprinkled across Los Angeles and New York City, they have made their way to The Hub as of last week. Newbury St., Back Bay, The B Line, and Fenway are just some of the new overlays that are sweeping selfies across the city. As excited as I was to let everyone know, via selfie, that my roommates and I were frolicking past the brownstones of Back Bay last weekend, my Gen Y appeal toward the geofilter seemed to fade when it was my city that I was exploiting for my narcissistic sense of self worth.

As much as I appreciate the white script that spells out “Back Bay” on the bottom of my selfies when I am studying at the BPL, no cursive letters or digitized illustration could capture the atmosphere of any one of Boston’s neighborhoods. It seems wrong to pick one element to define an area, and even to digitally section off a neighborhood in general, in this city. Neighborhoods here have personalities characterized by their individual conglomerations of history, art, residents, architecture, and culture. How can you distinguish Newbury St.from Back Bay, or Boston University from the B Line? Against my better—Millennial—judgment, living in the Boston area for (almost) two years has led to an appreciation of this place and its personality that can’t be summed up in a Snapchat Selfie.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

January 29, 2015