A while back, I saw this strange phenomenon circulating around the internet. Until this point, gifs had become quite an integral component in online pop-culture – and someone upped the ante. Instead of telling a story through a singular gif, someone came up with this brilliant idea of combining multiple gifs to tell a story.
The premise of this strange storytelling device was simple: the user had gathered a collection of gifs (particularly comprised of people’s candid reactions) and synthesized a sort of comical storyline, using each gif as a beat for the main character. The flow of the story was simple: the user would identify a common social interaction, followed by a prompt – “At first I was like… and then I was like….” And between each of these statements was a gif that expressed the thoughts and attitude of our main character/storyteller.
When I first saw this story, I wasn’t a fan. I was like,
But then, I realized the idea behind the whole thing was actually kind of clever. Then I was like,
I was particularly amused with how this storyteller could extract moments from real life interactions and repurpose them for the sake of a clever online story. There was something really impressive about the whole thing. I mean, first, you had to come up with a story. Then you had to find out which facial expressions and/or reactions were crucial to telling that story. And lastly, you had to actually browse the internet for these gifs and sew them together to make them work as one, singular story. Brilliant, right?
And then I witnessed the device being used in different ways. Some people were using gif stories to tell a personal story, others were using them to describe a historical event, and one user even traced the political atmosphere of the US through Toy Story gifs. Check it out:
Well, like most internet phenomena, this whole gif story thing went from being clever and creative to overused and beat like a dead horse in the span of like five minutes. It’s not that the gif story format suddenly became uninteresting, but the whole format was trapped in one tone. Nobody seemed to venture outside of the whole “OMG Becky” high school melodrama tropes – all of the stories were one-dimensional. I suddenly lost interest. I didn’t think anything more of it.
The next day, I was sitting in the Piazza enjoying a sandwich. A few girls sitting nearby were having a conversation – I couldn’t quite catch the gist of it, but it sounded very… freshman… Not particularly in subject matter, but in tone. It went something like this:
“Oh my God. He did what?”
“Yep. Just like this. And I was all (insert overdramatic facial expression here).”
“Holy. Shit. That’s insane. I would’ve been all like (“ “).”
I had to turn around….
I did, and what I saw was basically a tit-for-tat turn-based facial expression-off of conversation about something I couldn’t piece together to save my life. But for some reason, the two of them were so amused by their conversation (told entirely via visual storytelling, mind you). I laughed. It was fucking hysterical.
Now I’m confused. I find myself caught in this chicken and the egg situation. I don’t know if these girls are aware of the gif story epidemic and are trying to emulate its humor in the way they’re telling a story, or if the gif-story-humor works so well because this is how some people actually communicate. I considered both options, and I was disgusted. By both.
But suffice it to say that it left me very intrigued… and a little scared at the same time. Intrigued because I was shown the potential of online communication – more specifically, online storytelling. Regardless of which came first in the aforementioned chicken and the egg situation, the sort of multi-modal capabilities of the internet allowed for a whole new type of communicating.
I don’t like the gif story thing anymore. It’s boring and overdone and the pages take way too long to load.
The next time I see a gif story, I’ll probably be all like: