The Internet spins a web that entangles everyone and everything. People lead online lives; the offline is just a constant, losing struggle to live up to whatever versions of themselves they have conjured up for the Web. Facebook and Google, two monopolies, know almost everything worth knowing about everyone. They were designed to understand user behaviour, to put under the microscope every grain of our digital footprints, and to make money out of them. Tracks left online—from browsing habits to personal views—are almost impossible to wash away. Social media is an eternal wake, an undying repository of all embarrassments, indiscretions and outbursts.

In this Internet of no clean breaks, Snapchat offers ephemerality.

The five-year-old app, that perhaps only smartphone natives can navigate without confusion, gives an Internet that deletes itself. Snaps have a life of 10 seconds, and are then lost forever. That’s the promise, at least. Even though the fine print of Snap Inc.’s terms and conditions belie these claims to some degree, for now, it’s selling. With regular updates and new features—most of which are eventually copied by Facebook—Snapchat has morphed into an app that is a chat service, a video and photo sharing platform, and an avenue for journalism and advertisements. While it’s user base in India remains small, it has found takers, writes Alia Allana in this month’s cover story “In a Snap”.

Our bodies host more than 100 trillion microorganisms, bacteria and viruses, most of them in the gut. This population, called the microbiome, is greater than the number of cells in the body. The sequencing of the human genome was thought to have paved the way to eradicating and treating diseases. However, research since then shows that just understanding the genome may not be enough. The body’s interaction with the microbiome—greatly more variable in nature among populations than the genome—can be essential to understanding malnourishment, type 2 diabetes and obesity among other conditions. Significant microbiome research is underway in India, writes Akshai Jain in his story, “The body’s secret garden”.

Don’t miss Siddharth Behl’s photo story, “Lost boys, lost girls”, on Delhi’s street children and the difficult, deprived lives they lead.

Saurav Kumar

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