Shall I screenshot this message?

On the art of sending screenshots.

Art by Deaundre Espejo

According to my iPhone user manual, the Photos app is a “home to all my captured memories. That would make my screenshots folder the closet under the staircase, where possessions fade into oblivion, collecting dust until necessity calls. While a screenshots folder comes in all shapes and sizes, mine is an archive of past conversations (I counted 977 DMs.*) In it, you’ll find group chat hijinks, cancellable takes, and traumatising ticket negotiations from last year’s Honi election. 

I first questioned my penchant for saving messages during a conversation with a friend. After sending them screenshots of a heated argument, I received an unexpected response: “I don’t want to see these.” In the face of rejection, I wondered whether I was violating some postdigital social code. Admittedly, there is something sinister about the experience of receiving a screenshot. Without warning, it thrusts you into someone else’s intimate conversation. The sender holds a set of binoculars to your eyes, demanding you to peer through an open window. Unlike a grapevine, reading messages verbatim makes you feel complicit in the sender’s violation of trust. 

But I don’t buy the whole ‘vowing to abstain from screenshots’ schtick. Screenshots are social currency, begging to be exchanged and replicated. Through a string of carefully curated messages, you can manufacture any narrative you want. Screenshots are the future of gossip, removing the need for a meddling middleman. For the more cunning collector, incriminating messages become a vault of blackmail material, for which student politicians live and die. After a screenshot serves its purpose, it turns to junk in our phone storage, waiting to be found and deleted.

Like all social interaction, screenshotting comes with unspoken rules. A good screenshot leaves no room for unwanted speculation. The most convincing is a full-length, uncropped series of messages (we want receipts!) While I can forgive the occasional crop or omission, one should be careful about abusing one’s artistic license. Context is your friend, while isolated messages attract suspicion. Proofreading is a must — it’s embarrassing how many times a clumsy pop-up notification has exposed some sordid secrets. And finally, never post messages on your Instagram stories. No one wants to read your in-jokes.

Despite the power it can bestow, screenshotting isn’t always a crooked business. It’s nice to collect fragments of your favourite conversations, even if they are destined to rot in your storage forever. Sometimes I wish I took more screenshots of friends’ messages, but I doubt I’d go back and scroll through them fondly. If I did, I would probably just use the search function anyway. 

*977 message screenshots seem to be around the average for an almost-two-year-old phone, though I have heard of one stupol hack that has over 17,000 screenshots and counting.