The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture
Computer-mediated communication increasingly informs the way we interact with friends and peers. Email, text message, chat, and any number of social websites and mobile apps focus conversation primarily into text, supplanting the many nonverbal cues like rhythm, intonation, volume, and gesture that humans have used to communicate for many millennia.
But over the last few years, the reaction GIF has emerged as a form for communicating with short moving images in response to, and often in lieu of, text in online forums and comment threads. These animated GIFs consist of brief loops of bodies in motion, primarily excerpted from recognizable pop culture moments, and are used to express common ideas and emotions. Understood as gestures, they can communicate more nuance and concision than their verbal translations. While many reaction GIFs are created, deployed, and rarely seen again, some have entered a common lexicon after being regularly reposted in online communities.
In February 2014, the Museum invited members of the popular social news website Reddit to identify the most frequently deployed reaction GIFs and their commonly understood translations. The 37 GIFs selected for exhibition in The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture represent the broad range of the reaction GIF: animated GIFs used not for artistic expression but as an element of nonverbal communication, as performed language.