Oral culture: Snapchat, deleting streams, and, now, Banter

Banter_appI have two teens and it has been fascinating to see how they approach the permanence of text and images.

The digitization of the world has challenged how we keep things – partly due to format changes, partly due to the ability to save everything.

Until you’ve had a catastrophe that makes you lose years of digital assets, you likely want to have everything you ever tweeted, written, or photographed kept somewhere and backed-up ad infinitum.

But watching today’s youth, who regularly scrub their social streams, delete texts off their phones, and gravitate towards Snapchat, there is no need for permanence in their conversations (there might even be an intented impermanence).

And why should there be permanence? When we talk face to face, no one is recording the conversation for posterity. That the medium is text or photos does not require the conversations to be permanent. That the medium is text does not necessarily make the conversations “literate” as opposed to “oral” – “oral,” to me, meaning, basically, not permanent, but passed from interlocutor to interlocutor.

My trigger today to bring this up here* is an article in The Verge about Banter, a chat app with chat rooms (like Internet 0.0), but where the conversations is gone after 24 hours. As The Verge says, “When nothing you say lasts forever, the dynamic changes.

For all its clarity of purpose, however, Banter hardly feels like a focused app. It has private and group messaging, a terribly overwhelming stream view, location-based chat, and is full of goofy (and occasionally explicit) pictures. It’s easy to categorize it as Twitter meets GroupMe meets Snapchat meets Highlight meets WhatsApp meets the weirdest chat rooms from 1995, wrapped in a chat bubble and splashed on a polygonal background. It seems like the ultimate SXSW app, an almost cynical response to the success stories of years past.

Our ability to document and preserve everything we do or say is only getting better (can you say “Glass”?). But at the same time, do we have to? In typical “bibliophile” fashion, I wonder what hit our society takes when we let words and images vanish. Taking the “oralist” view, what is best shared from people to people without a permanent object?



* I do bring, though, bring up the move to an oral culture in “oral” conversation

Image via The Verge