on Vine, ritual and the mundane

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The release of the new six-second, “Instagram-for-video” app, Vine, has the interwebs buzzing about the potential of this new way of sharing bite-sized experiences. Of course, as per the Internet usual, porn has already infiltrated the stream, but that’s not what interests me.

The rise in popularity of social apps like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., has often been accompanied by lamentations about the sharing of trivial, mundane activities – the requisite snap of an espresso adorned by latte art, a statement about what the cat ate for breakfast, an endless flood of gooey baby pictures from high school classmates you barely know.

Gizmodo complains, for example, that people are using this innovative new technology for the lamest reasons – to capture little looping videos of what’s on their desks.

via Willa’s World

But I LOVE that.

As with home movies, the mundane is elevated through these new technologies, made intimate and special. It connects us – what does your desk look like, right now, in your present location somewhere on the GLOBE? How does it compare to mine? What window are you choosing to open into your life, and how are you presenting it to us? In six seconds?

And, as with home movies, we see familiar rituals captured and preserved, but now also shared on a global scale.

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A look at the independently developed viewing portals Vinepeek or Vinesmap reveals the rituals already in the stream: kids at breakfast, kitties begging for treats, a chubby baby adorably asleep (which also makes use of the seamless looping functionality), and puppy playtime. Even major, time-honored rituals are present, like this glimpse of a baptism.

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But users are already using the app to produce mini-narratives of mundane experiences, harnessing the basic grammar of cinematic editing, animation, and time-lapse. Take, for instance, the devouring of pancakes, almost Requiem-for-a-Dream-style; a seaside sunrise, requiring patience and time to produce; shaving off that damn beard; or, more abstractly, a meditation on the loss of childhood.

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Users are employing the short burst of filmmaking to produce how-to videos and political statements.

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The mundane is translated into the experimental and abstract, as with this light painting and this chronicle of Apple logos (also a kind of critical statement in a nutshell).

And, this app more so than Instagram or other photo-sharing apps, encourages a layperson’s attention to Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment,” that photography “photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” The cameraperson has to be present, to be engaged, to be one step ahead in order to capture that “decisive moment,” as we see in this simple domino experiment (or the baptism linked above).

This is not to elevate Vine to the level of Cartier-Bresson, but to suggest that this app gets users looking and thinking about those moments in their lives worth sharing, however trivial they may be. Indeed, it’s the trivial and quotidian that I’ve loved most about Twitter and Facebook since their inception, because that’s where a certain kind of intimacy is fostered, even among strangers.