Spotlight On – FORMAT

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Originally posted February 6 2011)

A benevolent tyrant

First and foremost – I am not really a tech person. Yes yes, I study what the kids call the “Inter Net,” and someday, the good lord permitting, will derive my vast & hypothetical riches from the discussion and hopefully cogent analysis of behaviors exhibited on said series of tubes. But I do social science stuff; I study people. Of course, there is a fine line—and should be a fine line?—between what counts as “people” and what counts as “not quite/entirely people.” Because what do either of those things mean. So yes, I don’t “just” study people—as a new media person (again, what does it mean? my vote’s for magnets) I don’t have the luxury of “just” studying anything. So even though I don’t focus on the tech side of the equation, I am steeped in the tech side of the equation. Which is a long and twisty way of saying that formats are a part of my work, no matter how social-sciencey I might consider myself. And if I had to choose, for example if cornered by some weird person at a conference and pressed to explain which format best suits my personality, I’d be like, well gifs, because obviously.

GIF: Graphics Interchange Format. In laypeople’s terms, a gif is basically an online flipbook—it’s a single file, but it’s animated. There is no sound, and the “video” often appears crude, jerky or amateurish.

GIFS were first introduced by CompuServe in 1987 and have been in wide usage since. (Relatively) small and supported across all major platforms, the popularity of the GIF format shouldn’t be surprising; anyway it is basic science fact that people like it when stuff moves. Because lol, right?

And that is the source of my interest in GIFs, not so much from the technological perspective but because GIFs have been so thoroughly integrated into the meme/internet person/ROFLculture I still don’t know how to define but sure do recognize when I see. GIFs are funny in a way that static images are not, probably because, as I said, people like it when stuff moves in unexpected ways (paging Dr. Bergson…).

But it’s more than that—and this is where yet again I come up short to pin down exactly what constitutes and/or is constituted by the meme/ROFL aesthetic.  GIFs are a little off; they are outdated in terms of what machines these days can support. To put it as Valley-girl as possible, GIFs are like so like 90s, you know? I wonder if the apparent throwback quality of GIFs is their great appeal; I wonder if there’s some post-ironic posturing going on; I wonder about the aesthetic  (spirit?) GIFs seem to embody, and how this aesthetic (again, or spirit?) functions as constitutive social practice. All I know for sure is, GIFs do this. I’m not sure I have to say much else.



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