Conversations across the internet are becoming more and more common as technology advances and digital social communities grow beyond what anyone could ever have imagined. With these major leaps and growths, we begin to encounter a problem with how we communicate. The more we interact through the internet, the less intimate our conversations become. In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym talks about a study she performed asking people to “share general thoughts about communicating face to face, on the telephone, and on the internet,” (Baym, 2010). Many people responded saying that face to face took the lead because of the ability to observe facial expressions, over the phone took second because of the chance of conveying your feelings with your voice, and the internet took last being considered far too impersonal to communicate feelings what so ever.
The general idea behind these results is that as conversations become more separated and impersonal, we lose out on social cues that we otherwise would pick up on. Face to face provides visual cues, over the phone offers verbal cues but the internet is the worst because of the inability to either see or hear others. This is where memes, more specifically gifs, come into play. A gif (graphic interchange format) is a series of frames, like a video clip usually from a movie or TV show, which continuously loops over and over without needing to be loaded or started. Gifs can be used to express certain emotions over the internet otherwise unable to be represented in text. This allows people to replace the missing social cues with an image that represents their intentions and feelings. Below are two possible reaction gifs that could be sent in a conversation. The first one can be used to express genuine denial of something you’ve been told and action the person you are talking to that you are leaving. The second could be used as a response to someone telling you something that you don’t want to hear such as spoilers to your favorite show.
Now while some gifs are vastly popular, there are thousands upon thousands of gifs that never reach the spotlight. As Richard Dawkins explains in The Selfish Gene, “memes that spread successfully incorporate three basic properties—longevity, fecundity, and copy fidelity,” (Shifman, 2014). The first one, longevity, refers to how long a meme, or gif in our case, can last by being stored and cataloged in countless archives. Next up is fecundity which refers to how many copies of the gif are made and distributed across different places. Lastly we have copy fidelity which refers to how easy it is to transfer the gif without losing information. Without these key properties, a gif would never reach internet popularity. The gif below has been blowing up on Tumblr since the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It can be found on countless user blogs in varying lengths and contexts.
The more popular a gif is, the more likely it is that someone will come along and either reenact it in their own way or change something about it to refresh and renew it. This is known as mimicry and remixing. Remixing is fairly new but is gaining mass popularity very quickly across the internet. As Limor Shifman states in his book MEMES IN DIGITAL CULTURE, “A plethora of user-friendly applications that enable people to download and re-edit content have turned remixing into an extremely popular practice,” (Shifman, 2014). Below are a few remixes of popular gifs from across the web including one from the gif above and one I created.
The gif I made and all the ones from above were created with certain reasons in mind. When I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey my second time, I came across the scene in Bilbo’s house where they were singing and looked at it a different way. I thought to myself “What is Gandalf thinking about?” So I hopped into Photoshop and made up a little gif of what I think he was pondering. As for the others, many people across the web notice similar scenes and apply completely different thought processes to them, thus creating what they perceive and distributing it to the internet.
Baym, Nancy K. “Communication in Digital Spaces.” Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. PDF.
Shifman, Limor. Memes In Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014. PDF.
Click users names to see original posts