Living in the Ephemeral

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

e·phem·er·al [ih-fem-er-uhl]


1.lasting a very short time; shortlived; transitory: the ephemeral joys of childhod.

2.lasting but one day: an ephemeral flower.


3. anything short-lived, as certain insects.

1570–80;  < Greek ephḗmer os ) short-lived, lasting but a day ( ep- ep- + hēmér ) day + -os  adj. suffix)+ -al1


1. fleeting, evanescent, transient, momentary, brief.


1. permanent.


The ephemeral is a condition that, as mortal beings, we all must face throughout our lives. Seasons come and go, we fall in and out of love, our pets die, our hard drives crash, the icebergs are melting. This lack of permanence can be very difficult to experience.  Sometimes it can also work to our advantage. Other times, we don’t even notice it. However we live with the ephemeral – be it that we fight, embrace, ignore, deny, what have you – the ephemeral is ever-present, and stands as a definitive element of what it is to be human.

We see ephemerality taking on many new forms within social media, and are together in a vague process of adjusting to its implications and effects. This piece is a sharing of some recent experiences and ideas to do with the ephemeral online.

I learned of the term Ephemeral Media quite recently, from the following tweet:


BlinkLink may call to mind for many the very popular Snapchat. Both applications function on the premise of providing a medium for communication that will intentionally vanish. In the “Philosophy” section of their website, Snapchat states: “There is value in the ephemeral. Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.” Perhaps part of the sentiment here is that there is an intimate spontaneity born within freedom from preservation.

blink link

Of course, many of us can relate to having some desire to escape the realm of documentation. And although we now know that Snapchat isn’t actually deleting our photos (didn’t we always, though?..), it is exciting to see/experience what new modes of behaviour and interaction emerge within this new setting.

Important to acknowledge, however, is that this celebration of the ephemeral that Snapchat (and the like) puts forth depends heavily upon a collectively understood anticipation of vanishment. People function within Snapchat knowing that their correspondence will disappear. From this point forward, ephemeral acquires its value.


But the *fact of the matter* is: all social media, regardless of whether or not it forces vanishment, is ephemeral. We unfriend, we block people, we tweet and delete, we edit, we un-Like, we cycle through “trending” topics with accelerating pace, we de-activate our accounts, we re-activate, we put our ideas out into the interface, they quickly fall down the newsfeed, and we constantly “move on”.

As I write this list, everything feels transient. But it really doesn’t always feel this way. In my experience, it is so easy to forget about the evanescence and feel totally comfortable. Until something abruptly happens to remind me. It could be as “whatever” as someone deleting their conversational tweets from a correspondence, and being left with a half-invisible conversation, as neurotically frantic as *needing* to block an ex-boyfriend from all facets of the internet, or as heartbreaking as having your favourite Twitter account delete itself. This stuff happens and it’s like, “Didn’t I know it would eventually happen?,” but then what?

We are constantly moving on and coming to grips with the ephemeral – deciding how to respond to and cope with the ephemerality of others, being ephemeral ourselves, when it suits us. Much of this adaption currently feels very ambiguous and confusing. Something I found simultaneously funny and sad was the irony of the hashtag #EphemeralMedia: here we are, discussing its existence, all the while trying to install a measure of permanence to the discussion. I guess it’s beautiful in a way too.. the commonality of transience. At least we can talk to one another about it, regardless of how the conversations might disappear.


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