Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
hand holds a disposable film camera
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Trying to Solve Social Media’s Problems Through…More Social Media

Alternative social media apps still have to figure out ways to keep you scrolling.

Last month a friend invited me to download a new photography app called “Lapse.” Perhaps you’ve already heard of it and downloaded it yourself. I decided to try it and see what all the fuss was about. The app’s opening screen was dramatic, with captions about the failures of previous social media apps to truly “capture” the present moment. The business model of social media apps, the Lapsers rightly contend, revolves around “likes” and gaining “friends.” What happened to taking pictures of real, human moments without minding the social reward they might reap? Photo-taking was about holding on to moments that mattered. It wasn’t about filters, validation, or identity. Lapse promises to be different. It’s a disposable camera on your iPhone. The pictures you take aren’t immediately available. They have to develop first—then you can store and enjoy them.  

The idea is admirable. And the critique of popular social media seems accurate. When you look back at your parents’ photo albums, there’s a sense of vintage intimacy. There aren’t seven thousand photos of my dad summiting a mountain in Mexico with his friends, or of me blowing out candles at my second birthday. Each moment was amazing in itself, without thousands of burst photos taking up Cloud storage.

Lapse is trying to recapture that authenticity. But once I got into the app and poked around, I found all the typical paraphernalia of an addictive social media platform: a tab for adding friends, creating a profile, and of course, a camera button for taking pictures that could be celebrated with every imaginable emoji possible.

I won’t lie. I felt a little short-changed. But honestly, what was I expecting? Lapse’s redeeming feature is the time gap between taking the photo and posting it, but at the end of the day, it’s a photo-sharing platform that borrows all the addictive tactics of its looming overlords: Instagram and TikTok.

To qualify, Lapse doesn’t have ads (yet) and there is something that feels more genuine and immediate about it. You can’t get sucked into the endless abyss of recycled videos like you can on IG. The same could be said about BeReal, the photo app that prompts its users to take both a forward and backward-facing photo to capture one, raw moment of your day. BeReal, however, now allows users to take three such photos, and again, is all about sharing those moments with friends.

Alternative social media apps like these, which are admirably trying to resist the foibles of Big Tech, still have to figure out creative ways to keep you scrolling. So far, that feeling of social validation and connection is yet to be beat. I can’t help but wonder if a genuine alternative to apps like these is an actual disposable camera. Or a recovery of actual, concrete forms of friendship and community.

Cross-posted at Charakter.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and serves as Managing Editor of Mind Matters.

Trying to Solve Social Media’s Problems Through…More Social Media