Vine Video: Short Content With Century-Old Roots

Whether we’re talking about Twitter updates in 140 characters or Vine video clips no longer than six seconds, many people are clamoring to communicate more through less.

Some critics say Twitter statuses and short Vine videos are gloomy reminders that society can no longer focus. Modernity is killing our attention span, they say. Just look at this super-short aberration!

I’m not here to argue the finer points of dwindling mental capacity. I haven’t done enough research to take a stand. But I do think it’s interesting to note that abbreviated media isn’t exactly cutting edge. It has been around a while.

A man using a kinetoscope

A publicity photo for the Edison Kinetoscope

More than a century, actually.

Quick history lesson:

At the end of the 19th century, Thomas Edison — yep, the guy who developed the electric light bulb — invented an early motion picture camera (called a Kinetograph) and a device to view the films (Kinetoscope). The films were short and sweet; Edison suspected people couldn’t endure the “flickers” for long.

The new technology was a hit.

Kinetoscope parlors started popping up around the country. People were eager to spend their hard-earned money to catch a few seconds, maybe a minute, of moving images.

Kinetoscope Parlor in San Francisco, around 1895

Some critics today are quick to wag their fingers at the banality of user-generated content. Indirectly those criticisms hint to me that, once upon a time, banal subjects had no place in cutting-edge technology.

But if you watch some of the first Kinetoscope films, you’ll see that’s not really how it played out.

They featured remarkably unremarkable events, really. Snuggling couples. A woman dancing. Buff dudes. Play boxing. A barber shop. Stuff like that.

Here are a few of ’em:

In many ways, what Vine and its ilk offer in the way of video is new. Paired with modern technology, these services make micro-video incredibly affordable to make and easy to share on huge scale.

However, for all the novelty associated with Vine and short video, it’s interesting to note that people fixated on snippets of everyday life more than 100 years ago. And I suspect they’ll do the same a century in the future, too.

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