For a brief moment, you’re watching a copse of trees sway gently in the wind while a distant sun sets. Seconds later, however, you find yourself in the kitchen of a Burger King restaurant, watching a jovial employee attempt to slice tomatoes mid-air with a cleaver. Then, you’re whisked off to the depths of a library to observe an anonymous student struggling with their homework.
This seemingly random array of places, people and things continues to parade past your retinas. You don’t know why, but you can’t stop watching. These slices of life are called “Vines,” and they’re sweeping the world of social media.
Released this past January, Vine is a free app that allows users to record six-second-long videos with their smartphones and embed them within tweets. The videos play on a loop, but unlike .gif files, they come with sound and don’t need to be formatted, so users can instantly share them on Flickr and Facebook. Shortly after Vine’s release, aggregator sites such as Vinepeek, Just Vined and Vine Roulette were developed to allow browsers access to thousands of clips.
The brevity of Vines has allowed Twitter users to express themselves with greater depth and efficiency. Whereas a five-word update and an Instagram snapshot was once the gold standard for keeping followers posted, Vines enable followers to actually watch these events in something approximating real-time — the phrase “You should have been there” may soon become redundant. The app also allows users to edit footage to fit within the requisite time limit, meaning that key moments can be compressed into a brief clip.
As you might imagine, the emergence of Vine has had a variety of repercussions, some more predictable than others.
Within days of its launch, a deluge of pornography flooded the main Vine Labs website, and one less-than-kosher clip was accidentally selected as a weekly “Editor’s Pick.” The complaints of incensed parents forced Vine Labs to implement new content control policies and change the app’s minimum age requirement from 12 to 17 years old.
Less scandalous, but no less expected, is the mediocrity of many Vines themselves. As with Twitter, many users abuse the app to generate an utterly banal record of their every waking moment: an unfortunately large portion of uploaded Vines comprise footage of trips to the bathroom, friends sitting in bars and, of course, cats.
That said, many others have taken advantage of the Vine format to create whimsical, clever and downright artful clips.
Some users have exploited the app’s editing abilities to create short stop-motion films. The predominant example in this genre is “how-to” cooking videos — though perhaps even more common and less informative are the videos of snacks and meals gradually diminishing in size as a user eats them. Other Vine users make simple magic shows using camera tricks or tell stories with Lego figurines.
Celebrities have jumped on board, too. James Urbaniak, who voices the titular Dr. Venture in The Venture Bros., has used Vine to create unique, self-contained dramatic and comedic narratives, as well as parodies of popular television shows. Meanwhile, Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta in NBC’s Community, makes absurd movies about her collection of ceramic animals.
Given their ease of access and wide potential, Vines represent the next logical step in the development of social media, but their long-term effect on how we communicate and relate to each other is hard to weigh. Arguably, Vines cheapen our experiences by reducing them to quick soundbytes and disposable anecdotes. But they also grant us unprecedented access to moments that bring joy and comfort to thousands of people across the world. In their immediacy, Vines have the potential to draw us closer together and broaden our experiences. But, in doing so, they lessen the effort required to make meaning of these experiences.