*You want a social-media-suitable headline? Here you go: The 2 simple reasons why GIFs won’t kill language.
The recent link list on this blog already referenced the video of Adam Leibsohns talk “Why GIFs Are the Words of the Future“. I’d like to have a closer look on that, because I don’t fully agree with what Leibsohn is predicting. Basically he follows the already known idea that our (online) communication develops from text to symbols to animated GIFs. No new idea, of course, and so far I am totally fine with it. But he draws the conclusion that this means the end of the communication with words. Of course this is an extreme point of view and he most certainly wants to provoke our world view here (and, on the fly, advertise his website). But nonetheless I’ll take this as an invitation to share some thoughts about that. There are two aspects that Leibsohn seems to see as facts, but that I disagree with.
First of all GIFs (or animations in general) won’t substitute words – they include them. GIFs are a great enhancement of online communication, especially for emotions, but they are not capable of being the one and only communication medium. Just look how many GIFs won’t work without subtitles or some bits of text as a headline or a related comment. This is no weakness of this medium, but it shows that it only works under certain circumstances and for a rather limited range of purposes. If you, for example, only want to express your feelings, a GIF will do the trick. But if an exact information is needed, a more elaborate and concrete way of expression is necessary. Instead, the strenght of GIFs is their ambiguity.
Secondly, the shift from words to animations won’t happen in the material world as it does on the internet. Of course these two spheres are converging more and more and we can’t really think of them as seperate from one another. But there will always be things happening exclusively in one of these spheres. This means there will be situations when we don’t have a GIF (or something similar) at hand to express ourselves with. And then it is very probable that we will rather use language and/or gestures instead of not communicating. So when Leibsohn states: “We’re not gonna communicate through words anymore” it becomes very clear that he is very much exaggerating the impact of GIFs on our communication. It’s nice to see such enthusiasm about the future of GIFs but it has to be more realistic to persuade me.
As I already said, I know that Leibsohn only presented an utopic vision rather than a reliable prognosis. But maybe, by showing the weak points of this vision with the contra arguments above, I can spur you to prove me wrong and let GIFs outplay words for real:)