To communicate with computers, keyboards are kick-ass; we’ve pretty much figured that out. But, to communicate with humans, keyboards … maybe they’re not so good. Humans have all of these incredible emotions, and it can be tough trying to squeeze all of the feelings through a Qwerty.
Mobile phones are another funny puzzle. They’ve found their way across the farthest reaches of the planet, to the point where there are almost more mobile phones than people. And those phones are awesome, because they exist to help us communicate. We can do crazy things like send messages around the world instantly just by tapping a few buttons. However, texting isn’t great for human communication. If typing is how most of us “talk,” then the meaning of our message gets murky, fast.
What happened? Well, it used to be that a call was a precious thing. You had to do go through a whole ritual just to get someone on the other end of the line. The phone was a fixed object, so you were usually stuck in one place for the whole call, and focused on the conversation. Then we went ahead and made these phones mobile. They go with us everywhere. When that happened, we killed the ritual of the call.
What’s more, with social networks, messaging apps and the Internet, we’re in the middle of a media landscape that is both high speed and highly fragmented. Now we’re communicating anytime, anywhere, with the added pressure of a real-time audience always watching and waiting.
In doing so, the activity of communicating has changed from one of leisure to one of efficiency. The goal has shifted from taking one’s time and diving deep to being able to see and say what you need as fast as possible.
“I love you so much” spoken sweetly over the phone turned into “Love you” on text, which got faster with “luv u” via txt, and became even simpler at “143.” And that found its way to “<3” which finally bring us to ❤️. Now we’re all hunched over our phones furiously tap-tap-tapping out shorter and shorter shorthand for the most complex thing to express: The human condition.
In sharing this , this and this , we’ve created a kind of Morse code, and one that, sadly, we’re often getting wrong. We’ve narrowed down our words to symbols, but the message of the symbol is still unclear. While we excel in many departments, deriving a whole bunch of meaning from virtually nothing is not something we’re programmed to do.
We are at a communication crossroads. However, the solution isn’t to throw our phones out the window. We need something new and fresh to fix this communication breakdown.
It turns out there’s a very simple and elegant solution: GIFs. They pack more punch than just the narrow cross-section of a moment like a picture; and, they’re not as time-consuming as a video. GIFs are the perfect mix of effectiveness and efficiency for communication in the mobile and social age. The future just got way more expressive.
We’ve always spoken in culture (we just might not have realized it). We quote lines from movies. We copy trademark gestures. We reenact scenes. However, we’ve never had a good way to leverage culture when it came to communicating on our phones.
Let’s take scotch, for instance. I like to enjoy some scotch every now and again. Who doesn’t? And lots of the time I like to enjoy scotch with my friends. Normally, I’d text my buddies a few messages about going out, having a drink, meeting up somewhere, etc. … And I’d usually get a mixed response: Busy. Lazy. I don’t like you. Who is this? Why are you texting me?!
But when I send everyone this:
One hundred percent attendance. That’s also not the point (but it’s nice). The point is: With GIFs, we can communicate through culture. Not only that, we can use that culture to communicate really well on our phones.
Technologically, we’ve never been more ready for the GIF. GIFs couldn’t exist on feature phones. GIFs couldn’t exist in the Web 1.0 world of Outlook and 14.4BD modems where a JPG would take minutes to load. We have powerful, tiny computers in our pockets, on our wrists, even on our dogs, that reach into the Web and show us any film that’s ever been made, play us any song that’s ever been sung and can order us dinner and a car instantaneously.
But the best that these devices can do to express love or hope or desire has been limited to 26 characters and a few hundred stagnant multicolored faces. Meanwhile, there are literally hundreds of millions of GIFs, and we’ve built the way to find and share the perfect one whenever you need it.
Up until now, we didn’t have much of a choice but to build our digital world around a keyboard-centric way of talking to each other. But, the future of communication has yet to be written. And nothing demands that we write it with a keyboard. As mobile, social and messaging dominate the communication landscape moving forward, there isn’t a better time for the GIF.
Adam Leibsohn is COO of Giphy. He is a product, marketing and communications strategy specialist with degrees in French, English and Philosophy. His strategies and work have been featured in Fast Company, Wired Magazine, The Harvard Business Review, CNBC and the New York Times, and he has been listed as one of Details Magazine’s “Digital Mavericks.” Reach him @adamcl.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.