(So this is why I am seeing much fewer GIFs on Twitter? They are now considered a “Boomer” thing? Guilty as charged.)
GIFs—particularly “reaction GIFs,” such as Michael Jackson chomping on popcorn and Mariah Carey muttering “I don’t know her”—were a lingua franca of the internet and significant enough culturally that in 2014, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York even put on an exhibit of reaction GIFs (titled “Moving Image as Gesture”). “This is the file format of the internet generation,” Tumblr’s then-head of creative strategy, David Hayes, told Mashable in 2016, while more than 23 million GIF-based posts were being uploaded to the site he worked for each day. As the GIF’s star rose, GIF-searching features were added to Facebook, Twitter, and iMessage, making it even easier to find a GIF to express whatever emotion you wanted to convey without words.
And that was the turning point. These search features surfaced the same GIFs over and over, and the popular reaction GIFs got worn into the ground. They started to look dated, corny, and cheap. “GIFs Are for Boomers Now, Sorry,” Vice’s Amelia Tait argued in January. As older adults became familiar with GIFs through the new, accessible libraries attached to essentially every app, GIFs became “embarrassing.” (Tait specifically cites the GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a toast in 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and I agree—it is viscerally humiliating to be reminded of that movie.) The future is dark for GIFs, Tait suggested: “Will they soon disappear forever, like Homer Simpson backing up into a hedge?”
Much too has been made of Meta’s acquisition of the GIF search engine Giphy, which regulators in the U.K. have attempted to block. Giphy pushed back by roasting themselves. “GIPHY has no proven revenue stream (of any significance),” the company’s lawyers wrote in a filing with the Competition and Markets Authority. No company other than Meta is interested in buying it—they know because they specifically asked Adobe, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Snap, and Twitter, and they all said no. “Further, there are indications of an overall decline in GIF use,” the filing continues. Without providing any specific figures, they highlight a “drop in total GIF uploads,” a growing disdain for GIFs among social-media users, and “younger users in particular describing GIFs as ‘for boomers’ and ‘cringe.’”