The end of a millennial Internet era

The end of a millennial Internet era

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Millennials are seeing their version of the internet eclipse and even be dismissed as “cringe”. Kaitlyn Tiffany and I discuss GIF, the millennial break, and how Gen Z has changed the way we communicate online.

But first, here are three new stories from Atlantic.

Smug and stupid?

Kate Lindsay: Your recent article, “The GIF is on its deathbed,” really resonated online. What are GIFs and how important are they to the internet?

Kaitlyn Tiffany: GIF was one of the Internet’s first file formats (it’s an acronym for “graphics interchange format”), and it took off in the days of CompuServe, AOL, and then the Netscape browser. The early heyday of GIFs was on GeoCities’ early personal webpages, but people were still lining their MySpace pages with GIFs when I was in college, about a decade later. Animated GIF is the one that has become famous, but technically GIFs don’t need to be animated – it’s just one of the nice possibilities of a format flexible enough to take on many different extensions.

Kate: You write that Gen Z finds GIFs “cringe”. Why is that?

Kailyn: Generation Z specifically finds reaction GIFs cringe – they claim it’s because reaction GIFs are associated with millennials, but I don’t really believe in intergenerational warfare. I think the problem is more that most good reaction GIFs have been overused because they have become too accessible. If you’re looking to convey a specific emotion in a tweet or in text or in a Slack message, the GIF search feature or Giphy integration that’s part of all of these apps will now show the same handful of super popular GIFs. again and again. (Slacks are just the worst, because they also replay each other over and over in the window until the conversation continues long enough to push them up and out.) You just don’t see lots of creativity, and it comes off as very lazy.

Before all these search functions, even five years ago, people were pretty invested in grabbing interesting moments of different things and appropriating them in fun or clever contexts. Now that we’ve lost that, I think using a GIF might seem smug and silly. (I’ve written about this before, particularly in reference to the “How are you, classmates?” GIF, which almost physically repulses me.)

Kate: I recently wrote about “the millennial hiatus,” which, like the decline of GIFs, is a sign that the millennial era of social media, defined by Facebook and Instagram, is coming to an end. Do you see any other warning signs of this?

Kailyn: The weirdest thing about Facebook, to me, is that Millennials are really the only generation that made it central to their teenage or college experience. My younger sister has never created an account to my knowledge. Although she is very attached to Instagram and is better at “photo dumping” than anyone my age. If there’s a really noticeable difference between the two generations for me, I’d say Gen Z has a more reflexive, natural-seeming relationship with social media that’s actually much less defined by anxiety about their role in their life. That’s not to say they don’t have the same incentives to gamble or experience nightmarish results from having their entire social circle online, but rather that it’s a natural part of growing up. Because why wouldn’t it be?

My sisters got very annoyed with me when I suggested they join BeReal [an app for sharing personal photos that brands itself as a more transparent alternative to Instagram]. I think this the idea made them cringe — that anyone would get so freaked out by Instagram’s facade that they’d need a separate app to help them get away from it.

Kate: What does the new era of social media look like? Is there a Gen Z equivalent to GIFs?

Kailyn: To generalize, I think Gen Z is just more video-focused! On Twitter especially, I see them reacting to things with ultra short video clips which, in the end, are actually GIFs with sound. I guess the image quality tends to be better and they don’t have those embarrassing watermarks that appear when you create a GIF using a free GIF maker, which makes them a bit less “cringe”. But otherwise it’s basically the same thing, just funnier. I think because of [the short-form video apps] Vine and then TikTok, people who spend a lot of time on social media have become very good at comedic timing.

Kate: Popular platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr have started converting and compressing GIFs into MP4 files because they are smaller, which GIF artists dislike for many reasons. Do you think the total extinction of the GIF is imminent?

Kailyn: That’s why I thought the GIF story would be fun to write. But people seemed to refer to “GIFs” as the general concept of a short, recurring animation, not as a file format. The latter is what is really threatened because it is obsolete in a physical, technical, tangible sense. In the story, I spoke with an artist who will continue to use them forever because of some quirks of the GIF, so I don’t think he’ll completely die. But I can imagine that the GIF, in a few years, will be something of a die-hard digital artist’s tool, and for reasons only buffs can understand. You know, like Quentin Tarantino buying all that Kodak film.


Today’s News
  1. The Federal Reserve plans to raise interest rates again next month amid concerns about lingering inflation.
  2. Thirty percent of Ukraine’s power plants were destroyed last week, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky. At least three Ukrainian cities have experienced power outages following Russian attacks on infrastructure.
  3. Xi Jinping is set to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as China’s president at this week’s National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing.


Evening reading
An illustration showing the outline of a walking person, with different parts of their body
(Tyler Comrie / The Atlantic)

The rise of “luxury surveillance”

By Chris Gilliard

Imagine for a moment the near future that Amazon dreams of.

Every morning you are gently awakened by Amazon Halo Rise. From its perch on your bedside table, the round device spent the night monitoring your body movements, the light in your room, and the temperature and humidity of the space. At the optimal time in your sleep cycle, as calculated by a proprietary algorithm, the light from the device gradually brightens to mimic the natural warm hue of the sunrise. Your Amazon Echo, plugged in somewhere nearby, automatically starts playing your favorite music as part of your wake-up routine. You ask the device about today’s weather; it tells you to expect rain. Then it notifies you that your next “Subscribe & Save” shipment of Amazon Elements Super Omega-3 capsules is on the way. On the way to the bathroom, a notification pops up on your phone from Amazon’s Neighbors app, which contains video footage from Amazon Ring cameras in the area: Someone knocked over trash cans, leaving yards of the community in ruins. (Maybe it’s just raccoons.)

Read the article completely.

More Atlantic

cultural break
Images of former NXIVM members India Oxenberg and Sarah Edmondson
Former NXIVM members India Oxenberg (left) and Sarah Edmondson in The wish (Starz/HBO)

Lily. Two new dance books that show how movement helps us see the rhythms we all share.

Look. Season 2 of The wishan HBO documentary series about the NXIVM organization that raises questions about how best to tell the story of a cult.

Listen. The latest episode of our podcast How to build a happy lifewhy it’s so hard to find love on dating apps.

Play our daily crosswords.


Giphy is in the news today because UK regulators ordered Meta to sell the GIF platform, which it bought in 2020. But I’m more interested in what Giphy has determined to be the GIF the most popular of 2021: a clip from season 5 of Office, aired in 2008 and 2009, in which the camera zooms in on a bored and unimpressed Stanley (Leslie David Baker) folding his arms. It’s the perfect GIF — or, according to Kaitlyn on Slack’s narrowing down of GIFs, simply the most obvious GIF — to message your coworker when your boss says something you don’t like. . GIFs may be old-fashioned, but some things, like Office and the desire to express our boredom, seemingly never getting old.


Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.

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