You know that feeling in your gut when you know something bad is about to happen? Your stomach sinks, and all of its contents rise up into your throat. This is exactly what I feel when I am about to lose a Snapchat streak. This may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, and I’m well aware of how crazy it sounds. But I have gotten to the sad, sad point in my life where maintaining a Snapchat streak — meaning sending pictures back-and-forth with another person within 24 hours — means so much to me that I feel sick if I think someone is going to break it. Unfortunately, it’s not just my delusional brain that thinks like this. I think a good majority of people my age who use Snapchat also fear the dreaded hourglass — Snapchat’s warning sign that a streak is about to break.
I’ve found that there are different meanings attached to breaking streaks, depending on who the streak is with. The first case is when you’re about to lose the streak with one of your “best friends” on the app who actually is one of your good friends. The two of you most likely have a 100-day streak, which you’ve kept by sending selfies or meaningless pictures of random objects. If that streak breaks, every bit of hard work you’ve put into maintaining the electronic portion of your friendship has been thrown in the trash.
The second scenario is when you have a streak with someone you’re not entirely sure where you stand with. This could be a friend you haven’t seen to in a bit or are in a fight with. It could also be someone that you’re “talking” to or involved with, and you’re unsure of your relationship. In that case, a streak ending is also seen as the end of the world but for different reasons. Your friendship — if there ever was one — is over. The person is no longer interested or is about to ghost you.
Obviously, none of those outcomes will lead to the end of the world. You will still be best friends with that person you lost a 100-day streak with. If a friend you’re on the rocks with loses a streak with you, it doesn’t mean the friendship is over. And if someone you’re interested in breaks the streak, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re never going to talk to them again. In most scenarios, someone simply forgets to use the app. So despite knowing all of this, why do we place so much value on that number?
I asked myself this after I cried to a friend about almost losing a streak with someone I had been talking to. I kept wondering why I needed the meaningless Snapchat number to affirm my relationships with others. Maybe, I realized, it’s because we seek validation and encouragement in numbers. As my anthropology professor said in class this semester, the society we live in places the utmost emphasis on logic, and so everything we do stresses time, data and numbers.
Even in academics, we grow up affirming our self-worth, or at least our academic self-worth, with test grades, numbers and points. By receiving an actual marker of how smart we are, we move on to comparing grades, which only fosters competition — and competition happens in other areas of our lives, too. I remember conversations with my friends in which we would all complain about how busy we were and compare the amount of time we spent away from our houses. In college, we compare hours of sleep and the number of parties we’ve been invited to. The numbers and hours affirm our hard work and status.
When I contemplate streaks from this perspective, it makes absolute sense why we care so much. Snapchat streaks reflect the competitive environment similarly to grades in school. We look for validation in our grades and numbers, and that’s how we measure progress and compete with each other. Now we also look for that validation in all of our relationships, and Snapchat is the perfect tool. How perfect is it that we can use a number to depict how strong our relationships are? We can compare our streaks with our friends and decide who has the strongest friendship. Streaks are just social report cards.
Ideally, along with other young consumers of social media, I would not be this preoccupied with streaks. Ideally, we wouldn’t care, and instead, we would look for the value of a relationship in lived experiences, not superficial numbers. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I don’t have an exact answer to our obsession with Snapchat streaks. My thoughts stemmed from my angry self-deprecation after almost losing a streak. I’ve tried turning off Snapchat notifications and putting blocks on the app to loosen my grip on social media. My hope is that we at least become more aware of how streaks have consumed our social lives. Maybe we’ll start caring more about in-person relationships with others, rather than basing relationships off of selfies. I’m going to go send a picture now to all of my streaks, though, because I’m still having trouble accepting my own advice.
Hanna Preston is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.