If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snapchat is drowning in it. Twitter’s recent addition of “Fleets” to the top of their feed looks like what Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin call “Stories,” and all of them work off the same principle that launched Snapchat to prominence: impermanence. It can be daunting to think that what goes up online never comes down, and the solution from every social app is now to offer a way to post temporarily. Now you can say what you like and dance how you please, knowing that after 24 hours the evidence will be gone and no one will be able to cancel you for it in twenty years. Usually the strings of temporary stories at the top of my news feeds are filled with simple pictures or short videos of everyday moments like stencilled coffees, beautiful sunsets, and random complaints. Sometimes they are encouraging thoughts or recommendations. Whatever they are, if you don’t look at them in their allotted time, you’ll miss them.
In a way, these new features reflect something true. Like social media imitates social reality (and distorts it in the process), temporary stories also imitate temporary reality. Real life really is more like a series of stories than a scrollable timeline, isn’t it? By the time most people see a beautiful sunrise photograph on Instagram, the sunrise itself is irretrievably gone, replaced by the brightness of midday and followed closely by sunset, darkness, and a new sunrise. Meanwhile, the hand that snapped the photo moves on as well, from the phone to the steering wheel to the keyboard, the fork, the book, the bed. None of these real moments can be saved or relived, not even for 24 hours, like the stories online. They can only be experienced once, and after that, remembered. Even photographs and videos cannot truly bring these moments back to life, yet each new day brings a new series of them—enough to flood our senses if we let them—new painted skies, new fleeting smiles, new sounds and flavours, new momentary glories given in never-ending succession. Like the stories online, if we don’t look at them in their allotted time, we’ll miss them. We might even miss them by looking at the stories online.
When we do see an online story, we can send a thumbs up or a message, letting the creator know we approve. And if we do that online, wouldn’t it make sense for us to do the same for the Creator of all the offline glories we enjoy? Like many, our family has a habit of saying “thank you” to God before meals, recognising his provision and gift of life. That’s a good start, but what if we also consciously and continuously said “thank you” for the other glories, for the sunrises and birdsongs, the horizons and roses and coffees and that warm sun on skin feeling and the satisfying crunch of fallen leaves underfoot and all the other wonderful, beautiful, delicious things that the world is so full of? Many of these are the very things we love to capture in our online stories, tallying up likes and comments for ourselves from glories God gave to us as a gift. Don’t you think God deserves at least our own thanks, before we post a photo for everyone else? Even if it’s a prayer as quick as a social media like, it only makes sense to give the Creator of the world’s content his credit. And developing a habit of giving thanks might also help us remember just how many little glories he gives us every day.