Thursday, October 27, 2016

Goodbye, Vine (a eulogy for an app in 6 paragraphs)

Goodbye, Vine. It was short run but that seems appropriate. It may make us uncomfortable but the apps in our phones are shaping us in a profound way. They're shaping how we think, what we think about and the way we see the world. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's been barely 4 years since the app was released but it has had tremendous impact even as it clearly spent the second half of that life span in decline. 

One of the things that marks digital filmmaking is the lifting of restrictions in shot duration. In the analog days you knew a take had to end sooner than later because eventually the magazine would run out of film (the time varied depending on the format). Beyond that film was frankly too expensive to regularly push the length of a shot to the limit. But along came digital video and suddenly the limits were gone. You could film an entire feature in one take digitally (from Sokurov's 2002 Russian Ark to last year's Victoria from Germany).

But Vine put a strict limit on you. Six seconds. Perfect for an attention deficit afflicted populace to be sure but also an incredible challenge for the Vinemaker. Many rose to the challenge and mastered the medium. Of the many "Vine stars", a phrase both whimsical and ominous, most achieved that notoriety through comedy. Six seconds is also roughly the time span of our most elementary jokes and these Vinemakers understood that deeply. Moreover the looping of these videos became a formal restriction that many turned into a virtue. How many times was the one-two punch of an abrupt end smashing into the beginning what made a Vine funny?

Of course it ain't a successful app unless porn becomes an issue. Unbeknownst to many, Vine was quickly awash in DIY pornography. Much of that "adult" content was posted by the young, including minors, who have been so shaped by the omnipresence of Internet porn they leaped into this breach with barely a thought. Eventually Vine (which was purchased by Twitter- another app with a decidedly laissez-faire attitude to porn- before it was launched not dissimilar to Facebook's purchase of Vine's rival Instagram) had to clean up its act and purge the elicit material. Or at least most of it. But what will become of all this homegrown smut let loose in cyberspace? It will no doubt live on past the app itself. 

Beyond porn and comedy, Vine also became a tool for social justice. In Hong Kong, America, or anyplace where the people stood up against the powers that be, Vine was there too. Black Lives Matter luminary Deray McKesson spoke this morning on how Vine's limitations forced the Vinemaker to be very judicious with what they shot so that the essential moment of a protest would be captured. I'm sure that trained the protestors how to keep focused and be concise. Valuable lessons. 

But when I look at my own Vine account, I see something else. I see my son (the one who doesn't mind being filmed). And as I scroll down my Vines it becomes a Benjamin Button movie: he ages backwards from the little boy I see now to a toddler to a baby taking his first steps. I get emotional looking at my Vine account and I cannot say that about any of my other social media accounts on other platforms. More than the other apps Vine was about time: it froze one moment into eternity, erased long intervals, and it allowed you to travel back to things like a living digital memory. It was serious. It was funny. It was pervy. It was us. Goodbye, Vine.

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