The world wide web can be an ephemeral place. Tweets get buried under more tweets, and viral fame lasts for 15 seconds rather than 15 minutes. GIFs, for their part, present the world in bite-sized loops.
Artists Juha van Ingen and Janne Särkelä offer an alternative digital timeline. Their project, “As Long As Possible,” turns a GIF into a millennium-long experience. Currently on display at FISH Gallery Helsinki, the piece is like no GIF you’d see on Buzzfeed. It’s designed to loop only once every 1000 years, with 48,140,288 numbered frames that change every 10 minutes.
In 2017, when the GIF file format turns 30 years old (ancient in Internet years), the animation will get started and loop until the year 3017. Well, in theory. The technology of the future may be so wildly different than today's that the GIF could prove to be unviewable by then. While 21st century historians can admire the tablets of ancient civilizations, 31st century historians will likely be baffled if they happen to dig up some of our technological trash. How do you study the contents of a computer that hasn’t run for centuries? The piece brings up the possibility that the digital world might be erased from historical record.
Or, perhaps GIFs will be eternal, and everyone will still be watching animals doing dumb things in three-second loops until the end of time. And maybe we'll finally have decided the correct pronunciation of GIF by then.