This past week, I made my semi-annual trip to Skidmore College to teach classes in advertising and marketing.  As always, I thoroughly prepared a fresh presentation to deliver to the students (since I visit different classes every semester and often teach the same students more than once, I can never re-use any of my past presentations).  This time my presentation focused on the merits of being in a fixed “career track” vs. working in a job that doesn’t have a defined career track.  Looking back over my past jobs, I’ve been in both situations and I thought it might be interesting to talk about the merits of each career approach.

Arriving for my first class, I met briefly with the professor and then walked into the stadium-seated classroom where I found the students of Marketing 214: Intro to Marketing.  Looking out over the class, which was made up of 18-20-year-old freshman and sophomore students, I immediately realized two things:

1)   My presentation was going to be totally irrelevant to these students.  If any of them were thinking about jobs at all, it was about how to get a job, not what to do once they have one.

2)   I was a full decade older than these students.  When I graduated college in 2007, these students were only 12-years-old.

For the first time since I started teaching classes five years ago, I no longer felt like the same age cohort as current college students.

With the class sitting silently waiting for me to begin my presentation, I paused for a moment and looked over my shoulder at the title slide of my now-irrelevant presentation projected on the wall behind me.  Thinking quickly I came up with a new plan.  Rather than a formal presentation, I was just going to have a discussion with the students about how they use media, and how that media is monetized with advertising though technologies like AppNexus.

It did not take long for the conversation to get pretty interesting.  All of the “new” technologies that have been introduced after I graduated from college (the iPhone, tablet computers and mobile apps) are simply facts of life for these students and have been around for most of their formative years.

With a sampling of 4 different classes, here are some of the more interesting things I learned (percentages are my estimates):

  • 5% of the students used Foursquare
  • 20% of the students used some sort of ad-blocking software (although many commented that it didn’t work that well)
  • 25% of the students had heard of or used new-age hookup apps like Tinder or Lulu, although most of them said they used them as a joke
  • 80% – 90% of the students used SnapChat to message with their friends
  • Nearly 100% of the students had illegally viewed, listened to or downloaded music or videos online
  • Less than 5% knew what they wanted to do when they graduated

The one stat that surprised me the most was the widespread use of SnapChat, the app that allows you to send pictures to your friends and have them auto-delete after 1-10 seconds of viewing.  I could not believe that practically every student had downloaded and used the app.  Informed only by the few articles I’ve ready about the app, my first response was, “Holy crap, there’s a lot of sexting going on here.” However, the students quickly corrected me.  According to the students, the app was originally created for sexting, but no one really uses it that way.  Rather, people just use it to send silly or funny pictures.  You can also draw on the pictures, create captions, and send to groups.  It’s really just a fun way to communicate with your friends.

The question that really perplexed me was, “Why is it so important that the images are deleted?”  I prodded the students with a few questions and then it hit me.  I realized why SnapChat is so popular: temporary experiences and the simple notion of ephemera was actually quite novel to these students.

When they were born in the mid-1990’s, their parents had digital cameras to record every moment of their early life.  When they were growing up, every sports game and life event was captured on miniature digital camcorders.  Coming of age in the era of the camera phone meant no moment went unrecorded.  New technology has allowed these students to have their lives documented and recorded at an unprecedented level.

For generations we have been teaching technology to remember everything.  Now, in a world where everything is captured and stored, all these students want is a technology that can forget.

SnapChat and Lessons from Skidmore College
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  • Here’s a question:

    If people routinely judge other people based on what they do/say, and that information is saved in exhaustive detail by Facebook/Google/etc, then does the prevalence of previously-private facts cause people to seek impermanence as a way of protecting themselves? Or do people, in aggregate, become less judgmental or more understanding about things that look “stupid” or offensive out of context?

    If they’re both happening, which one happens faster and what is the possible interaction between the two?

  • I like the theory that society becomes desensitized to previously-private facts that are just now becoming available for public consumption. I think we’re better off if that theory takes hold. The problem with relying on technology to save us from judgement is that technologies like snapchat only provide a facade of privacy. Anyone can take a screen capture or even take a picture of a snapchat with another phone to save an image beyond the intended viewing duration. It feels private, but as usual, technology never really forgets.

  • Well, privacy has always* been something of an illusion.

    Someone could always record they conversation with you without informing you. In NYC, it’s perfectly legal, as long as the person recording is also participating in the conversation.

    If you’re in public – most of the time – or visible from the public – like against the window in your apartment – someone can quite legally video of photograph you.

    I’m not sure Snapchat is inherently less private than that type of thing. And there are real technical limitations: they don’t save the pictures (for all that long, though longer than most people thing). So it’s much more private than competing alternatives, which – comparative advantage to the fore! – is all that really matters.

    * Always being since before smartphones and portable cameras. You know, forever-and-ever ago.