Disposable Media

Originally Published on Medium

I joined Tinder the other day to do an experiment. I’ve always scoffed at the idea of online dating but lately I’ve become more amused by the idea, and finally I thought maybe there was something to learn about human behaviour, some secret that I hadn’t figured out yet.

There wasn’t.

It did lead me to some interesting finds, however.

I downloaded the app, did a quick Google search on creating a good profile, and spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to figure out if “swipe right” meant go to the right, or from the right, or my right, or your right… I wanted to do it properly, okay? Shut up.

Tinder doesn’t think I’m very datable apparently, but that’s okay because I feel like a secret spy or something, covertly spying on my generation and taking notes for an underground operation… I watch people a lot, being a writer, or a creep, and I’ve noticed that when I’m in class, about 0% of the people are actually paying attention to the professor (myself included). Some are sleeping, some are chatting with their friends, but most of them are constantly on their phones. Actually a remarkable majority of them manage to do all three, which is impressive.

And yet, for all the people on their phones ALL of the time, looking through Tinder, I realized, nobody actually bothers to set up their profile. A few of them included their Instagram account, but for the most part, everyone left their bio blank and had duplicate photos on display. Why are you on Tinder if you clearly don’t use it?

Then it hit me.

Profiles are dead.

A good profile page is a thing of the past. Look through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, all the sites where a profile page is a major feature of its users’ experience, and you realize just how little people care about their profile page. Profile pics are pretty arbitrary, background photos just random group shots. Nobody has an “About Me” page that’s actually filled in.

My peers seem to be particularly bad at creating good profiles in LinkedIn, arguably the most important site to have a good profile on if you’re planning on using it for networking.

And yet, maybe this is okay. After all, I don’t look at other people’s profiles very often. Before Facebook, it was all about the profile page, and that’s where you learned information about your friends.

Because that was a profile’s purpose. An information dump. A carefully constructed persona. Basically, a dating profile, before dating profiles became a thing. Seriously, what’s the difference between a dating profile and a regular profile? Ask yourself that.


Instead, we have online behaviour. Look at someone’s feed. Follow their updates. Read their posts, see their favourites, their likes, their up-votes, and so on. It doesn’t matter what they look like, it matters what they do.

Actions speak louder than words, and now that’s becoming true of the internet as well.

Here’s the catch though…

Actions are disposable.

Why is SnapChat so popular? It’s disposable. The ability to take a photograph that will only last for the exact moment that it is relevant — the moment it takes to look at it and respond — and then promptly forget about it, accurately reflects the disposability of the present moment in real life.

Think about it. You make eye contact with your best friend across the room, make a funny face. They laugh, stick out their tongue. You laugh.

And that’s it. That moment is gone.

The present is fleeting.

The Internet is permanent, or at least we all know that, but do we really believe it?

Has SnapChat managed to take the disposability, the one-time-use-only feature of moments in real life and make them an integrated part of our online time?


Now, yes, we all know the dangers of SnapChat, and so on, but that’s not what this post is about. And yes, we all know that moments in the present may be gone but not necessarily forgotten, but that’s not my point either.

The present trend of social media is to make everything immediately accessible. Instructions are easy to follow to get you using the application as soon as you can. Websites are designed to be simple. Simplicity is key.

Immediacy is key.

What’s the next step after immediacy? You can’t make things any faster than immediate.

The future is in disposability. It’s not just in having access to information at your fingertips, it’s in the ability to discard that information and forget about it.

Because when your actions fade, they become more meaningful in the present.

SnapChat takes “superficial” communication and makes it meaningful by making it immediate and precious. Its largest commodity is grounded in reality: the passage of time.


What do you think? Are we headed along a trend to make social media a disposable thing? Would Instagram be more fun if your photos only lasted for a month and then were automatically deleted? What if Facebook got rid of profiles completely and you only had your most recent updates? Or if Twitter stopped keeping track of how many tweets you had and only worked in real time? (within reasonable limits, obviously)

 

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