It was a surprise to many when an emoji was declared the “word of 2015” by the Oxford English Dictionary, but could Graphic Interchange Format (aka GIFs) be the next thing that changes our language? Well, believe it or not, they already have.
With Twitter’s new GIF feature, internet users can now respond to tweets in even less characters. A clever, moving picture from a movie or a quote will say it all. This is the future of language and the way we communicate – distracting yet entertaining.
Slang and short-form lingo were one of the first changes to our language, as they allowed writing to become quicker online. Then emojis were added into our messages, making it easier than before to express our emotions and thoughts. Although abbreviations and emojis are still being used, word space on the internet continues to be limiting, which makes using GIFs a handy detour around that limit. It has always been said that a picture can say a thousand words. With GIFs integrated into our articles (as popularized by Buzzfeed) and social media sites (Facebook messenger and Tumblr), the internet is littered with GIFs to elevate our reactions and expressions. MIT students have even dedicated a whole project that could become a dictionary for the language of GIFs. With their new tool GIFGIF, these students are creating algorithms to find the emotions that people correlate with certain GIFs, which will then be used to create a “text to GIF translator.” From their data, it was found that while GIFs are a language of the newer generation, older generations will still be able to understand because emotions go beyond verbal communication. If a single GIF can help users decipher each others’ emotions and feelings across all platforms, then it’s becoming a better form of communication than language itself.
Although GIFs can be confusing at times, they get the point across. Furthermore, their functions go beyond communicating because like a picture, GIFs capture a moment in time. A hybrid of pictures and videos, they bring internet users humour, nostalgia and a piece of art in itself, as explained by MakeUseOf’s article on the history and future of GIFs. Ultimately, GIFs have become a new visual language that can be used by anyone, and break down any barriers people might have in verbal communication, especially when certain expressions or emotions are hard to understand through plain text. As David McIntosh, CEO of Riffsy (a GIF keyboard app) explains, “the beauty [of a GIF] is it extracts some particular emotion you’re feeling that’s bundled in a 3 to 5 second moment.” So rather than explaining something that comes off as mean when it’s just sarcasm, you can use a GIF to get the right message across.
Thus, whether you accept Twitter’s new GIF feature or not, GIF-ing our reactions and using them to express ourselves is becoming the new wave of communicating online.