“GIF folders were used by ancient civilisations as a way to store and catalogue animated pictures that were once employed to convey emotion,” Vice writes:
Okay, you probably know what a GIF folder is — but the concept of a special folder needed to store and save GIFs is increasingly alien in an era where every messaging app has its own in-built GIF library you can access with a single tap. And to many youngsters, GIFs themselves are increasingly alien too — or at least, okay, increasingly uncool. “Who uses gifs in 2020 grandma,” one Twitter user speedily responded to Taylor Swift in August that year when the singer-songwriter opted for an image of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson mouthing the words “oh my god” to convey her excitement at reaching yet another career milestone.
You don’t have to look far to find other tweets or TikToks mocking GIFs as the preserve of old people — which, yes, now means millennials. How exactly did GIFs become so embarrassing? Will they soon disappear forever, like Homer Simpson backing up into a hedge…?
Gen Z might think GIFs are beloved by millennials, but at the same time, many millennials are starting to see GIFs as a boomer plaything. And this is the first and easiest explanation as to why GIFs are losing their cultural cachet. Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communication at Syracuse University and author of multiple books on internet culture, says that early adopters have always grumbled when new (read: old) people start to encroach on their digital space. Memes, for example, were once subcultural and niche. When Facebook came along and made them more widespread, Redditors and 4Chan users were genuinely annoyed that people capitalised on the fruits of their posting without putting in the cultural work. “That democratisation creates a sense of disgust with people who consider themselves insiders,” Phillips explains. “That’s been central to the process of cultural production online for decades at this point….”
In 2016, Twitter launched its GIF search function, as did WhatsApp and iMessage. A year later, Facebook introduced its own GIF button in the comment section on the site. GIFs became not only centralised but highly commercialised, culminating in Facebook buying GIPHY for $400 million in 2020. “The more GIFs there are, maybe the less they’re regarded as being special treasures or gifts that you’re giving people,” Phillips says. “Rather than looking far and wide to find a GIF to send you, it’s clicking the search button and typing a word. The gift economy around GIFs has shifted….”
Linda Kaye, a cyberpsychology professor at Edge Hill University, hasn’t done direct research in this area but theorises that the ever-growing popularity of video-sharing on TikTok means younger generations are more used to “personalised content creation”, and GIFs can seem comparatively lazy.
The GIF was invented in 1987 “and it’s important to note the format has already fallen out of favour and had a comeback multiple times before,” the article points out. It cites Jason Eppink, an independent artist and curator who curated an exhibition on GIFs for the Museum of the Moving Image in New York in 2014, who highlighted how GIFs were popular with GeoCities users in the 90s, “so when Facebook launched, they didn’t support GIFs…. They were like, ‘We don’t want this ugly symbol of amateur web to clutter our neat and uniform cool new website.” But then GIFs had a resurgence on Tumblr.
Vice concludes that while even Eppink no longer uses GIFs any more, “Perhaps the waxing and waning popularity of the GIF is an ironic mirror of the format itself — destined to repeat endlessly, looping over and over again.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.