A Year Inside Vine's Stream of Nonsense


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Six seconds is a lifetime on Vine's video-sharing app. For its one-year anniversary, we reflect on the company's impact.

One year ago today, Vine was released into the world. In that time the video sharing service has been connected to a startling number of news events, both great and small.

A short looping Vine was one of the first documentations of the Boston Marathon bombing, a series of videos were used as evidence in a high school murder case, some teens in Maine were arrested after filming themselves microwaving a cat, Riff Raff broadcast small fragments of his jail time after an open container arrest in North Carolina, sex actors built followings for themselves with regular streams of nudey shots, a 16 year-old somehow became a celebrity with an amassed following of 4.6 million for no special reason, and Snoop Dogg blew weed smoke into another man’s nose.

Like the most successful uses of the Internet, Vine operates as a compulsive passthrough, and the meaning of any given video nears zero when taken out of time and context. Earlier this year Vine launched a fullscreen TV mode to ensure users could indefinitely binge on its content, like a serial that never runs out of writers, actors, or plot twists. But Vine has become such a quick success—bought by Twitter mere months after the company was formed, and before it had ever released a product—not because of what it allows us to produce, but for sheltering the impulse to think in a different way about our surroundings. 

Vine has become such a visible and far-reaching service in its first year that it’s becoming hard to imagine a time when sharing freshly taken video fragments wasn’t possible. Vines have been so easily absorbed into our lives, like Internet browsers and SMS, they’ve already become prosaic. Its basic concept—instant access to video footage from someone else’s life—is so central to our emerging understanding of what the Internet should be, even if its structural limits guarantee there can never be anything but inconclusive fragments sent out through it. 

Vine has become such a quick success—bought by Twitter mere months after the company was formed, and before it had ever released a product—not because of what it allows us to produce, but for sheltering the impulse to think in a different way about our surroundings.

It’s sometimes said that use of social media is the product of an overgrown ego, but with Vine’s filmic permutation it becomes a way to be freed from the weight of individuality and the separateness that must always come along with it. Thinking about the world as something to be lit, framed, arranged, and edited, and sent out for audience validation is a way of acquiescing to pre-existing beliefs and superstitions. Bugs are repulsive, our collective culture tells us, and so a few seconds of video showing daddy long legs bursting from a nest can only reaffirm that horror, even while ignoring a certain beauty in the nest’s function, defending lone spiders form predators and helping the group preserve moisture in hot climates.

Likewise, elliptical clips from a police station reinforce the framing of a police incursion into one’s life as something tolerable and boring, fodder for a story that makes encountering its stifling absence of humor a safely rebellious kind of entertainment. Videos from bombings or shootings have a way of reaffirming the notion presented in other news formats of an unknowably dangerous event taking place, something which demands authoritative expertise while guaranteeing its audience remains passive, their only contribution should be one of watching the inevitable reveal itself: a villain acts, and authority scrambles over the wreckage to find evidence that will shape the form and direction of its retaliation.

Vines of violent news events create a connection between the past and the present, cataloging something horrible as an open-ended justification for whatever retaliatory action happens in its name. Celebrities on Vine perform the already known, either with people acting out the expected exaggerations of a public persona, or else subverting the artifice of that persona.

Before the Internet appeared, these impulses were mostly non-participatory, channeled through consumerist outlets meant to signal which pre-existing demographic type one had been wedded to. With Vine, we have been given a tool to create a canon for all of the compromises of identity and belief we have already made with the world. Vine is a living testament to the narrowness of human perception. Its emphasis on hard time limits and social currency at the expense of patience and self-doubt are necessary to guaranteeing its spread across the widest possible group. It’s a reminder that maximum visibility must always be accompanied by the least meaningful creations, relying on mob consensus to create the impression of reality and value in something instantly disposable, a scroll of events that become increasingly difficult to remember the more and more of them there are.

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Michael Thomsen is Complex's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, NewYorker.com, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.

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