The ubiquity of Gifs

Gifs are a universal language that everyone understands. Who hasn’t sent a Gif to cheer up a friend or posted a funny reaction? With the click of a button, we can appear to engage with the world without any real effort.

There is no doubt that Gifs are wildly popular. A staggering seven billion Gifs are sent around the world daily. That is just under the estimated population of the world which currently stands at around 7.8 billion. Facebook, Instagram and text messages act as conduits through which Gifs jetset around the globe. As a product, Gifs are not short of a market.

The auto-play loop of a Gif is hypnotic. Perfectly sensible people watch cats walk backwards only to fall off cupboards. Repeatedly. I admit, there is something mesmerising about these images, but I fail to see how this recycled humour can be considered generative or funny once seen for the fiftieth time.

Gifs are said to enliven a message. There is nuance to a Gif that an emoji can’t capture. Popular culture is referenced in novel ways to get a message across. We can choose to raise a glass using the iconic scene from the Great Gatsby where Leonardo DiCaprio’s raises his Champagne glass. It allows us to be part of a mass experience while at the same time feeling as if the image represents us personally. Of course, Leonardo has nothing in common with our lives, but we can pretend to have some deep affinity with him by sending a drunken message to a friend at two in the morning.

Not everyone can be a master of repartee. It takes time and effort to come back with a witty remark or pun. A Gif eliminates this dilemma. Even a child can find an image that is apt and funny, even if hackneyed. This can be seen as a great leveller or even a democratisation of the conversation where everyone can take part. However, I wonder whether the conversation is worth having if all we do is regurgitate viral clichés.

There is a lot of cultural appropriation that goes on. Notice how many black faces there are in Gifs compared to other media. Is this a move towards equality or another form of subjugation? Black men are often portrayed as sex symbols or comic figures. Search for older women and you get the eccentric wrinkled faces wearing outlandish clothes. These women are not a celebration of age, instead they are used to ridicule. I am not comfortable with these portrayals; however benign they may seem.

Gifs are popular because they fit so easily into our frantic lifestyles. We can multitask, message several people at the same time as we work on a report. It just takes a click and we have sent a quick response. Easy, right? Yet we can waste precious time trawling for the perfect Gif.  Especially if there is something at stake. We want it to get to the heart of our message, to show exactly what we mean. I wonder whether our communication wouldn’t be clearer and more personal if we spent that time looking for the perfect word instead. After all, there are over 170,000 to choose from in the English language.

6 thoughts on “The ubiquity of Gifs”

  1. Dear Viktoria, Save for when desperately bored! I have been thinking about messages, letters, gifs and what they are about: so many purposes. And to think about words. Education has probably given most of us an infinitely larger vocabulary than Shakespeare’s audiences TV and radio have been excellent teachers (well, perhaps depending on what you watch). Yet the slang of the Cockney folk was an amazing creation. Who counted these words? What about opportunity to talk and think? Van Gogh’s drawing of salt miners enslaved by abject poverty and work. Who, living like that would have time or will to be erudite? We are so lucky. I love what you write but when I try to put into words what thoughts come to me it sounds sanctimonious, and (ouch) boring. I usually delete it. If only I could write well to continue the conversation. Thank you so much nonetheless. Penny


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and engaging with the writing. Reading is all about bringing your own knowledge and thoughts to the writing and interacting with it. I love that you are doing exactly that!


  2. Emojis yes. GIFS occasionally.
    I do not want to do all that searching for the preferred GIF. I interpret the image very critically. I use emojis to emphasise or highlight my feeling – the feeling I am wanting to convey to the reader. Emojis do not replace the words for me.

    In this pacey environment of writing on phones & tablets in various social media, I find I am still too long-winded in conveying my thoughts & feelings. Emojis help. Probably only a bit … and I really want to put a laughing emoji on the full stop !

    Liked by 1 person

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