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Deleted after reading – Rise of ephemeral content and its implications

A movement towards more intentional and temporary content has emerged. Ephemeral content – media designed to exist for only a short time – offers a reprieve from the endless stream of permanent content accumulating on our devices. Apps like Snapchat pioneered this with disappearing photo and video messages. But ephemeral content now extends far beyond messaging to include stories, news articles, ads, and more.

Exponential growth of ephemeral content

Ephemeral content is temporary by design. It self-destructs after viewing, whether that’s a 24-hour story or a 10-second photo message. This content reaches more eyeballs than ever before and plays a central role in our communication habits.  Snapchat popularized ephemeral messaging with their instantly deleting photos and videos. And Snapchat’s growth trajectory has been astronomical. They now have over 280 million daily active users viewing over 4 billion snaps per day. Huge numbers for an app launched just 9 years ago.  Instagram and Facebook Stories have since copied the format introduced by Snapchat. Instagram Stories alone has over 500 million daily users. WhatsApp Status also mimics ephemeral stories apps like Signal now auto-delete messages.

This indicates a broader shift to temporary messaging as the default. Beyond messaging, ephemeral content permeates the rest of the digital landscape. YouTube shorts and TikTok videos only hold viewers’ attention for seconds at a time. News aggregators increasingly curate news into digestible bullets and daily briefings rather than permanent articles. Even paid advertising inclines towards ephemeral content to grab precious consumer attention spans before they flit away.

Lean into the ephemeral

On messaging apps, ephemeral chats carve out private rooms where candid thoughts, silly jokes, and controversial opinions be expressed freely without worrying about screenshots surfacing years later. And as surveillance capitalism, oversharing, and lack of privacy plague the digital landscape, safe spaces grow increasingly rare and valuable.   More broadly, the disappearing nature of ephemeral content brings presence into our interaction with information. The content gently asks us to be fully present instead of getting lost in feeds for hours on end. Being immersed in the temporary spurs more in-the-moment enjoyment before that tweet or video disappears.

what is privnote? Psychologists also highlight the link between ephemeral content and playfulness. Temporary content frequently tends towards silly, creative, and experimental expressions. Like kids playing pretend games, ephemeral spaces let our imagination run wild precisely because the space is temporary shape-shift into goofier online versions of us when those versions evaporate after 24 hours rather than getting memorialized for all eternity.

Privacy controversies and implications for record-keeping

Does content disappear forever from ephemeral apps? While you’re disappearing Snapchat seems to evaporate once viewed, Snapchat does store data for law enforcement requests. Followers have still found ways to screenshot ephemeral content without the sender’s knowledge.

The implications of disappearing content raise philosophical questions about cultural preservation. Will future historians understand today’s cultural zeitgeist if so much content intentionally disappears?  Compared to written letters preserved for centuries or early Facebook posts memorializing bygone relationships, Snapchat Stories seem to carry society’s cultural identity only at the moment. Perhaps something profound gets lost without physical artifacts documenting today’s cultural rituals, family dynamics, coming-of-age trials, and triumphs.

About Douglas Matos

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