Snapchat is funding a new online magazine called “Real Life” that will publish “essays, arguments, and narratives about living with technology.”
But the truth is actually much simpler. The real reason Snapchat is funding Real Life is because of its close connection with one person: Nathan Jurgenson.
Jurgenson is the editor-in-chief of Real Life and also a researcher at Snapchat, where he’s worked for three years while living in Brooklyn (Snapchat is headquartered in Los Angeles).
“Three years ago, Snapchat offered to support the work I do as a sociologist, primarily applying social theory to social media,” writes Jurgenson on the Real Life website. He notes that Snapchat has funded an annual conference he started in New York called Theorizing the Web “without asking for any editorial input or control.”
Jurgenson confirmed to Tech Insider that he and his team of writers for Real Life will have full editorial independence from Snapchat. (No other writers for the site are employed by the company.) Real Life, and by extension Snapchat, will pay writers for essays and not show ads to readers.
Or as Jurgenson puts it, “The support [from Snapchat] means we can focus on writers and writing rather than clicks and shares.”
He told TI that he plans to publish essays about Snapchat on Real Life, which should come as no surprise given that’s what got him hired by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel personally three years ago.
An early advisor to Snapchat
Jurgenson’s history with Snapchat can be traced back to an essay he published in The New Inquiry in 2013 called “Pics and It Didn’t Happen.”
“The tension between experience for its own sake and experience we pursue just to put on Facebook is reaching its breaking point,” the essay began. “That breaking point is called Snapchat.”
The essay caught the attention of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who brought Jurgenson on as a researcher and advisor to the company. It wasn’t long before Jurgenson’s concepts about the state of social media started appearing in Spiegel’s public rhetoric about Snapchat.
One particular theory of Jurgenson’s, which he coined as “digital dualism,” struck a cord with Spiegel early on.
“Digital dualists believe that the digital world is ‘virtual’ and the physical world ‘real'” wrote Jurgenson in 2011. “I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits.”
The same kind of worldview is easy to spot in Spiegel’s early speeches about the company, like this one from 2014:
“Snapchat says that we are not the sum of everything we have said or done or experienced or published — we are the result. We are who we are today, right now. We no longer have to capture the ‘real world’ and recreate it online — we simply live and communicate at the same time.”
While at Snapchat, Jurgenson has quietly published a few essays on the company blog like “The Frame Makes the Photograph” and “Temporary Social Media.” His name appears on a Snapchat patent for the app’s geofilters alongside Spiegel’s.
Besides managing his Theorizing the Web conference every year, he’s also remained a contributing editor at The New Inquiry, where he’s published long essays about heady concepts like “the deep infiltration of digital information into our lives.”
At his new Real Life website, you can expect similar kinds of philosophical essays, not the easily digestible, playful content you see from publishers in Snapchat Discover.
“It won’t be a news site with gadget reviews or industry gossip,” Jurgenson says on the site. “It will be about how we live today and how our lives are mediated by devices.”
In short, more words and fewer selfie filters.