“We’ve spent thousands of years trying to perfect language and trying to cram emotion into written text, but books are not made for screens,” Leibsohn said at Social Media Week in New York last week. “Now we all have phones [with screens that] can move around and see things, so why are we still using an outdated input?”
Leibsohn even quoted philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said words are good at the literal, but not the abstract. In other words, it’s harder to use words to describe nuances in love, freedom and excitement.
However, for a long time, words were all we had, which we put into books because of the innate human desire to connect, he added. Then along came photography, which created a visual language and the rise of the Internet gave us better and easier ways to share information, ideas and emotions.
What’s more, everything has gotten much, much faster.
“We’re all glued to our phones consuming information – and we’re all frantic,” Leibsohn said. “It’s hard to consume long-form words. Don’t send me a paragraph-long text.”
And that, in turn, is why we’ve collectively condensed communication from, “I love you,” to the heart emoji. But, he noted, we’ve traded accuracy for speed. And that’s in part why he said the next communication evolution will be GIFs.
“It’s a multivariate spectrum,” Leibsohn said. “We can draw from every last piece of culture. Content has become our culture – it’s shared equity we use as capital to communicate.”
In other words: GIFs also allow consumers to express an abstract concept like love in all its forms, which, Leibsohn said, trumps words.
“We are all storytellers. We want to connect, to be understood and to understand, but why stories?” he asked. “They’re entertaining. Stories are information disguised as entertainment. They’re easy to relate to and easy to recount. That’s why we like them so much.”
And while text, TV and film are linear forms of communication that require captive time – like a few days for a book and a few hours for a movie -- the Web isn’t linear, Leibsohn said.
“The Web is a series of tiny fragmented moments – tweets, snaps, texts,” he added. “All these little pieces we send in fragmented asynchronous ways.”
And while consumers don’t generally have time for linear consumption day in and day out, they do have time for what Leibsohn called microentertainment in the form of GIFs.
“We can get on with life,” he said. “We’re not forcing [them] to consume in linear, they’re doing it automatically.”
Indeed, GIFs can communicate more complex information and ideas within a very brief window – even as consumers are scrolling through feeds with their increasingly limited attention spans.
“You don’t have to advertise anymore – it should be entertainment,” he said. “There are thousands of opportunities each day to be entertained by information. The whole point is don’t advertise, entertain. And GIFs get a message across in seconds. They’re more than an image, but less disruptive than a video. They’re the perfect form of visual compression.”
And that means marketers who have turned to emojis to speak to customers may want to consider GIFs to communicate more complex concepts.
GIFs may also be better when it comes to consumer recall.
For his part, Leibsohn even went as far as calling GIFs a new vocabulary to describe the human condition, noting visual communication came thousands of years before written – and visual imprints in consumers’ long-term memories.