E ven though GIFs (short form for Graphics Interchange Format) are at the height of Internet culture at the moment, they have been around for more than thirty years, growing alongside and helping to shape the language of the internet. The GIF originated from a team of CompuServe developers seeking a way to compress images with minimal data loss. Today, GIFs reflect our moods and feelings about everyday situations—the inconspicuousness of their content is what makes them so #relatable. They are also a powerful storytelling tool for digital journalists.
The rising popularity of GIFS is in part contributed to by today’s 140-character psyche. They’re oh-so-digestible, making them poised to support an internal logic of instant gratification over all else (which is quickly becoming the driving force of content creation online). GIFs instantaneously get to the “highlight,” removing the need to watch the whole episode, or video, or film—this immediacy is part of what connects to today’s viewers. The wide accessibility of GIF has allowed virtually anyone with a Wi-Fi connection to reach out and find kindred spirits in “sarcasm, irony, exasperation, ‘schadenfreude’ and self-deprecation,” as this GIF history (or gif-story) puts it.
We are obsessed with this medium for its potential to act as a critical tool. Though we may commonly associate GIFs with the equivalent of moving-image memes that give you a good chuckle, the format of the GIF is so versatile that it has entered into the world of art and culture—sometimes, with the same ubiquitous messaging we see online, and other times, totally stripped of its snarky attitude. This week, we’ll be sharing some of our favourite GIF and GIF-adjacent content with you on the blog. Tomorrow, we’ll consider the GIF as it appears in music and performance, art galleries, and in online communities; later in the week, you’ll find a new entry in our “chat” series with GIF artist Nicolas Sassoon, whose work reveals the GIF as an architectural, expandable medium. We’ll round it out with a reading list, where you can learn more about the politics of the GIF’s curious image-based language.