the appeal of ephemerality

I won’t lie I had to check twice how to spell ephemerality.

Now that I have the linguistics down I want to talk about it in the digital age. Over the past year the concept of ephemeral messages or non-permanent streams of creation has taken over the internet. Apps like SnapChat, Yik Yak and Secret are all based on the idea of disappearing content.

This is a fundamental shift in our adaptation to technology since the dawn of the internet. Of course disappearing messages is nothing new, watching any bond film or spy movie will show you that self-destructing messages have been around for a very long time. However, the adaptation of this technology for non top-secret missions IS a new thing.

One year before I was born Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web and fundamentally changed a course of history. You could now communicate with someone cross-country and send packets of information to one another on demand. The linking factor in this initial creation of the internet was that this information was permanent and for good reason. If I sent you a 130 page research paper on subatomic particles it would do no good for it to disappear in a moment’s notice.

As the internet developed and applications became more complex the permanence of the internet was key in establishing an efficient order on the web. Search engines could not crawl website content that disappeared every few seconds. Furthermore the linkage between different apps and websites needed to have a firm root of data.

Fast Forward to the 21st century and the whole eco-system of the internet started to change. In my mind this change is a fundamental progression of human interaction with technology. In a weird way, the internet has become more human.

Particularly when it comes to social media, the technology is starting to mimic our real-life conversations and interactions. There’s a growing movement to auto-delete tweets and recently I’ve considered doing it myself. It makes sense. Twitter is a real-time conversation platform. The things that we tweet are in the moment and are often in a conversational tone. We don’t record our family dinner conversations, print it out and stick it over the house why would our digital lives be any different?

Nevertheless, I also see the arguments against ephemerality. Permanence provides context to our lives. You cannot go to your doctor and tell him you only have your last 3 months medical records because it’s only the most recent that matters. Surely in some industries permanence has a place. But for a growing sub-sector of industries and daily interactions with technology, the ephemeral is here to stay.

Young djedi in training. The story of a kid from Bermuda.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store