Social media has made us fans of silent films again

The gif has gone through a lot to get where it is today. From super short clips that were just another funky thing on the web to filling our news feeds. Now they contain entire movies, teach you how to cook upside down peanut butter brioche French toast, express how you feel at any moment and more. The gif has become one of the most versatile and interesting mediums.

Closed captions have become more valuable than ever on videos too. So much so that they become the main focus of a video many times. When I hit play on a video and there are no captions (or worse, janky ones) I will almost immediately give up on it.

These fairly recent developments have caused a significant behavioral change in how we consume video. Audio had been essential for the viewing experience of any sort of video on the web since the Hamster Dance days.

As the web grew up the battle of auto playing video (and audio) began. Animated banner ads and pop ups shouted for your attention, no one knowing what to do, sacrificing elegant marketing for shows of force. The early web required a level of street smarts or you’d end up in a library with someone moaning from some hidden pop up when all you wanted was information on the history of pants.

People learned to mute their computers. New browsers were created to block these disruptive pieces of the web. And because of that marketers and creators had to find new ways to get to you. When YouTube came around in 2004 and then bought by Google a couple years later it started to become clear that video had value on the web. It wasn’t until smart phones could start filming that things really started to take off though. Everything started moving to support more and more video and here we are. You can’t get away from video.

But a lot of our old habits are still there. We mute, block and hide anything we don’t have control over. When viewing the web we want it to feel like ours. It is on our device and is taking up our time. Anything that breaks that fantasy is rebelled against, like autoplaying audio.

We can’t blind ourselves and enjoy the web though and the powers that be (marketers and those selling ad space) know that. So autoplay video started to take over. Naturally, subtitles started to show up on videos.

Now, it would be insane to create a marketing video without subtitles. But just subtitles over a video is boring. That meant the video creators had to look to other techniques. Look at what Buzzfeed Tasty has done with their videos to teach a recipe compared to a traditional cooking show. Only the essentials are kept. The chef isn’t important, neither is a vast kitchen or banter. We don’t have time for that anymore.

What has happened is that the silent film has been reinvented. But in a world where film is cheap, silent films have been able to evolve and branch out.

In a battle between marketers and users, we have accidentally all become fans of silent films again.

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