One of the ways mobile behavior has changed is that instead of sharing stuff at the moment, we edit and share it later with a caption like “That time I…”. According to Washington Post journalist Britt Peterson, the phrase, and its various iterations (“that time when,” “that moment when,” etc.) create immediate intimacy with your followers which is why it works so well for celebrities, who may not want to reveal their present location for obvious privacy concerns.
“That time I” works in real time to make readers feel like they’re part of an in-group, creating collective nostalgia for events that just took place. In some way, it’s a neat linguistic trick.”
One of the reasons I love using Instagram Stories versus Snapchat is because it allows you to suspend publishing now in real-time for posting within 24 hours later. The countdown clock leaves plenty of time to review your photos and videos later on. If you wanted to share highlights from the party the night prior, for example, you can do it from bed the next morning to reframe the past as the present.
However, using the “that time” expression is ideally suited for the moment too, especially to cement a memory that’s worth preserving in the future.
“It’s kind of like a sepia filter for language,” said Ben Zimmer, a linguist and the executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus. “Something just happened to me that will be super-memorable, and I will be remembering this when I’m older and saying, ‘Wow, remember this time?’”
Using “that time” promptly or later is effective either way. The catchword is intrinsically tied to nowness, creating both FOMO (fear of missing out) while permitting your audience to vicariously live in a scene with you. Peterson sums up the use of “that time” via the term’s master user, Taylor Swift.
“The intimacy created by “that time when” is a warm, engulfing fog, with no use at all for grammatical and logical scaffolding. Without having been at Swift’s party — and without the construction of the sentence reminding us that we weren’t there — we can all feel like we’re part of the #squad.”