This post will self destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2……….

Would you be more adventurous in the digital world if there wasn’t the threat of permanence?  We’ve all gone to post something, a tongue in cheek comment, perhaps a funny photo that’s far from flattering, but then thought twice….after all, it’s there forever, right?

Perhaps not.

Snapchat, the popular photo messaging app created by two Stanford University Students, was one of the first to truly capitalise on the lure of impermanence and its growth has been staggering: this time last year 20 million photos were being sent very day on the app; today it’s more like 300 million.

If you’re not familiar with the app, users can send photos with comments or short videos to friends, but there’s only up to 10 seconds of ‘view time’, set by the sender. Once the time is up, your photo/video self-destructs and seemingly disappears.

This trend towards impermanence seems to be infectious. New apps now offer both impermanence and anonymity (check out Frankly) and if you ever needed proof that the trend is catching on you only need to look at Facebook. Despite creating a sense of permanent life chronicling through their timeline, Facebook is now jumping on the impermanence bandwagon too. Not only have they created the mobile app ‘Poke’ (their version of Snapchat) but they’ve also recently released editing capability for posts.

So what does this move towards impermanence really tell us about people? We’re full of tensions and contradictions… we love to have permanent records of our best photos, our finest achievements, our funniest comments BUT we also want the flexibility to edit and delete if we make a mistake or realise we’ve made a dork of ourselves. Social media’s permanence means we’re all forced to actively manage our “personal brands” through what we say, do and share. And these “personal brands” don’t just impact on how our social circle sees us – the world’s also watching.

So impermanence offers us an opportunity to drop our guard and just be ourselves. It might not make the “post first, think later” crew think twice about committing content to permanent record, but it might see the more cautious amongst us be a bit more adventurous. And where consumer behaviour goes we know brands will follow, so watch this space as we see brands embracing a more adventurous, ethereal approach too.

But before heralding a new era of impermanence, perhaps a final question’s worth posing…can anything digital really be impermanent? The people that created these snapchats would probably disagree…

Date: October 04, 2013