Snapchat's vision of the future has dystopian vibes

Snapchat's vision of the future has dystopian vibes
Rob Wilk, president of Americas at Snap, presents at the company's NewFronts event in New York on May 2, 2023.Dan Whateley.
  • Snap executives took the stage on Tuesday to pitch its social app to brands and ad agencies.
  • The company said Snapchat was one of the last places for real and authentic relationships.

When Snapchat creator Alyssa McKay took the stage on Tuesday at Snap's annual NewFront event for advertisers, her message was simple: nothing in her life was off limits to her followers.

"They see everything I do, every single day, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, literally," she said. "Snapchat subscribers feel like they're video-calling their best friend when they watch my story, which I just think is so cute."

McKay's privacy-free posting habits and nod to "cute" parasocial relationships with followers was emblematic of Snap's wide-ranging, and at times dystopian, pitch to brands during the event. Snapchat is one of the last places for "authentic" and "real" relationships, and therefore, a great place for brands to sell products, the company said.

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Snapchat has always leaned on its ability to foster real connections among friends as something that sets it apart from other social media.

"We believe we are the antidote to traditional social media, which seems to divide us more than connect us," its president of the Americas Rob Wilk said at the event. "We created a space for people to truly be themselves, and all along we've been building for a future that is grounded in reality."


But as Snapchat introduces features that push more into one-way friendships, that message gets stretched a little thin.

For instance, the company concluded its presentation on Tuesday with a pitch around Snapchat's new generative AI chatbot, My AI, a feature that has both creeped out and comforted users since it rolled out to a general audience last month.

"Every single Snapchatter now has a new partner for curiosity, connection, and endless utility," Wilk said of the chatbot.

That might be true, but if Snapchat becomes a place users go to chat with an AI, or watch every moment of an influencer's life, those connections the execs talk about start to feel less "grounded in reality."

Snap's main message for the event — that its app is one of the last places for real connection — rang through each executive's presentation. While Wilk took time to share how the app's chat feature helped him build closer relationships with his three teenage boys, Snap's chief creative officer Colleen DeCourcy said its lens effects had helped her stay close with her mother who recently passed.


Wilk suggested Snapchat could even help solve a "friendship recession" that's emerged, citing data that showed that the number of people who believed they had no close friends has jumped over the past few decades.

But if the "private oasis to be your authentic self" that is Snapchat, as DeCourcy put it, becomes as much about influencers and AI chatbots as it does about connecting with real-life friends, the company could be helping to usher in the dystopian future of fewer "authentic" relationships that it's warning against.