Indo col 70:
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that I realised I was old, but if I had to choose one, it would be when my teenage daughter tried to explain Snapchat to me. I kept asking stupid questions and trying to find a comparable site/app from Ye Olde Internette of the 2000s, but she kept telling me that no, it was nothing like those, whilst also finding time to raise her eyes to heaven. When I finally asked if it was like Facebook, she informed me that it was nothing like that, as Facebook was only for old people. It turns out she was right.
A new report from eMarketer shows that the number of Snapchat users in the UK will reach 16.2 million this year, of which 5.0 million (or nearly 31%) will be between 18 and 24. By comparison, the number of UK Facebook users ages 18 to 24 will total 4.5 million, down 1.8% over 2017. In other words, Facebook isn’t going to burn out, it will just fade away as our generation are replaced by what eMarketer calls ‘Facebook-nevers’ – kids who have never and will never be on Facebook. Lucky them. But Facebook’s stature as the old folks home of the internet isn’t just down to Snapchat’s fun stickers and filters, it is rather that the kids need to find somewhere that they aren’t being watched. In my day teens gathered under the local bridge to avoid prying adult eyes, now they just disappear into Snapchat. They live their lives there, taking the performative aspects of teenage life to the nth degree. Everything is done for the clicks, but the downside of this is that when things go wrong, someone is always watching.
My wife was in work when a concerned parent appeared before her. Parents are always concerned, but this one was especially so – our daughter had engaged in an unseemly tit-for-tat exchange across Snapchat with her daughter, who was so distressed that she screenshotted all of it and showed it to her mother. The mother was shocked, and felt duty bound to alert us to our daughter’s outburst (and poor spelling of common swearwords). My wife didn’t know what to say, apart from pointing out that it was her place of work and she didn’t really want to discuss it there. The interaction drew to a close, but the message was simple – our kid = bad, her kid = good. I’d love to be one of those parents who thinks their child is the living reincarnation of some beautiful martyr from the 16th century, standing still while being stoned to death, but life is more like a film noir than a religious biopic – the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys aren’t all good, and everyone gets stoned once in a while.
When we asked our beloved firstborn what the meaning of all this was, she refused to talk to us. Lucky then that no matter how tech savvy she is, she still doesn’t realise that her phone is synched to my iCloud. So, as a last resort, we committed that lousiest of parental transgressions and rummaged through her online life. It was all the usual stuff, the odd bottle of booze, snapshots of the messages she sent and received from her frienemy, and messages from the boy (there is always a boy) at the centre of the whole thing, playing one off the other. I could see what the concerned parent meant about the spelling, and told my daughter that if she was going to swear at people, at least do it eloquently, suggesting she watch a few episodes of In The Thick Of It to get an idea of creative abuse. It’s hard to sit in judgement on her – she is generally doing much better at life than I was at the same age, and while I didn’t have the internet, I found my own way to dabble in poorly-spelled, demonic messaging.
The fad for ouija boards hit my school in third year, when I was the same age as my daughter is now. If you don’t know how the boards work, you write out numbers, letters, yes, no, and goodbye on a surface, then a group of two or more people place their fingers on a piece of glass. You then ask the spirits a series of questions, and the glass moves around the board – of its own accord! – to spell out answers. It is basically a form of prank calling the dead, or at least the well-known dead, as the first sign that ouija boards are bunkum is in the fact that everyone ends up chatting to Hitler. The final evidence of how completely pointless they are comes via scientists from Aarhus University, in Denmark, the University of Southern Denmark, and Bielefeld University in Germany, who have identified precisely what happens when the glass moves. Spoiler alert – Hitler’s ghost is not involved.
Using eye tracking technology on participants at a ouija board conference in the US, the team worked out how users were able to produce coherent answers, without believing that they were working in tandem. Their individual eye movements did not indicate where the glass would move, but when studied as a pair, the researchers were able to predict where the glass would go, especially after the first few random letters. So while the participants believed they had no control over what was happening, in reality they were subconsciously working together to communicate via the board. Lead-author on the new study, Marc Andersen from the Interactive Minds Centre at Aarhus University said; “You could say that the “spirit” is actually a representation of the collective ‘we’.”
Rummaging through my daughter’s Snapchat images made me realise that while I don’t understand the platform, she is doing ok. She has good friends (albeit minus one), a normal social life, isn’t summoning the undead, and isn’t afraid to shoot straight when someone upsets her. I can wring my hands about the hidden world of Snapchat – her use of which is just the manifestation of a teenage desire for privacy – or I can accept that her inability to bite her tongue probably comes from me moreso than the internet. The poor spelling, however, is all the internet’s fault.