These days we cannot scroll through Instagram without seeing a Gif of Nene Leakes painting while serving an unamused face. Also popping up everywhere are Gifs of the fictional Stanley Hudson from The Office with a bored or disapproving look. We can best describe Gifs, or Graphic Interchange Format, as looped animated images that communicate an emotion or a response.

Gifs have been around since 1989, long before smartphones and social media. They were the simplest way to add motion to a webpage when the Internet emerged five years later. They were short, easy to produce and ate little bandwidth. In the Tumblr era they exploded in popularity.

Gifs offer a special way of communicating that cuts across language. They convey emotions and reactions with incredible precision. We can always rely on that specific Gif that expresses exactly how we feel whether it is joy, sadness, surprise or frustration. They also add humour and personality to our messages. These silly little videos nuance human expression that text sometimes can’t articulate, and they have become vital to internet culture and how we communicate online.

We take for granted the power of non-verbal cues and how much it aids our face-to-face interactions. Those such as body language, facial expressions and gestures, help show meaning and intent. For instance, teens often express annoyance by rolling their eyes. It is a way of communicating without words. Similarly, Gifs digitally represents nonverbal cues. When used smartly, they can enhance the subtext of a conversation.

Once part of millennial culture, Gifs seem to be going out of style with younger users. GenZ and other youngsters cringe at Gifs and see their use more apt for the older boss who did not get the memo. They now share stickers that are similar in format to Gifs. Jamaican youth find stickers useful because they can screen grab moments from colourful influencers such as Quite Perry and others. And communicating within the culture is much more effective.