How our distrust of Internet services that seek to archive our digital existence gave rise to disposable message services like Snapchat and Gryphn.

 

In its earliest forms, communication over the Internet acted as a supplement to other kinds of communication, a sideline channel for arcana and speculation too marginal to concretize in more palpable forms like books and newspapers. As the architecture of the Internet has become involved in more and more communication, and has supplanted the old forms of concrete cultural truths, an anxiety has arisen: A fear that we are commemorating the margins while missing the center column, immortalizing the supplement while letting go of the main text. This anxiety has bred mistrust of Internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, which create huge archives of ephemera, whose timeless existence in the server-sphere is directly opposed to the fleeting conditions in which those original thoughts were sent out.

A new group of devices and services have sprung up to address this discomfort, rendering ephemerality unto the ephemeral in an attempt to put back into balance the relationship between form and content that most of our Internet interactions distort. Snapchat was among the first to popularize this approach to Internet communications, creating a platform where archiving itself is taboo, something allowable only for the most trusted of friends. A number of similar apps have flourished alongside Snapchat, using the anti-archival approach to communication as an asset.

 

[An] anxiety has bred mistrust of Internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, which create huge archives of ephemera, whose timeless existence in the server-sphere is directly opposed to the fleeting conditions in which those original thoughts were sent out.

 

Gryphn offers a variation on the Snapchat model targeted toward corporate users, allowing users to send text, image, and video messages to one another in an encrypted format that ensures they can't be downloaded or saved to the recipient's phone. Screen capturing is disabled and messages can be set to self-delete after a certain period of time. The Washington D.C.-based group is targeting companies who want a comparable level of security and control over the employee communications without buying them Blackberry's and paying monthly bills for service. Wickr offers a similar service, promising "military-grade encryption" for messages, while allowing users the ability to set specific timers for when each message will be deleted from a recipients app.

A group of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working on making the temporary exchange a part of the digital widgets themselves, designing devices meant to dissolve or self-destruct after use. Lead by materials scientist John Rogers and funded in part by Darpa, the group has been able to create electrical implants that draw power wirelessly and are based on water soluble circuit boards whose rate of rate of degradation can be set. The devices seem to have the most promise for medical uses, with time-controlled implants that don't need invasive removal procedures once a patient's started healing.

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