I had no idea what Vine was for when it launched. It seemed dumb and arbitrary, an app that would make a six-second video loop. Why video? Why six seconds? And who was even watching?
The answer to that last question, beautifully, was "Almost no one." And that solved the other questions. A Vine was a way of capturing a moment of consciousness, a way of scratching a little mental itch. It needed no logic other than the logic of the brain and the eyes and the ears.
Its six seconds could be crammed full to the point of frenzy, if that seemed an appropriate goal for the occasion.
Or a Vine could capture a straightforward event, to make it slightly less ephemeral.
Or it could capture a near-formless sensation and loop it open-endedly.
It was the arbitrariness of the format that made it absorbing. Six seconds of consciousness can cover a remarkable range of activity. It was enough time to craft a dumb joke.
Or to capture the naturally occurring jokes all around.
The most contrived or intentional Vines nevertheless usually had something awkward about their pacing or focus or production, the natural result of being built linearly on the fly, the way being alive is built.
Consciousness is inherently private, and trying to express it visibly meant bumping up against other consciousnesses. This Vine was from my point of view about the general act of smoking in a smoke-free world:
But it arrived in one person's Twitter feed — then-Gawker editor John Cook's wife's Twitter feed — as a specific report that her husband was sneaking cigarettes when he was not supposed to. Six seconds of visual and auditory information can be a lot!
One lesson of shooting Vines was that, between working in an office-less office and living in a family of four, I could rarely count on experiencing six seconds of silent or neutral background. One solution was to chop it up into incoherence.
Another was to welcome the voiceovers.
Whatever other moods they might have contained, the unifying aspect of Vines was one of fleeting intensity. This was how it was, if only for a moment. Scrolling back through them can be powerfully diaristic. Here's a boy at an age he'll never be again, in an apartment that will never be so uncluttered again, experiencing a floor plan that is still new for the first time, looping for at least some version of an eternity:
Here's what record-breaking cold was like:
Here's what Christmas in suburban Indianapolis was like:
Here's what having a Zipcar membership was like:
The captions and hashtags can feel embarrassing or alien now — they're Tweets, essentially, constructed heatedly and hastily — but the Vines just feel correct, the way things felt. Even the stagey ones.
You move through a world of things, and you see some of them and you have thoughts about them. Then they pass.
It was good, while it lasted, to be able to hold onto some of the things of the world for those extra six seconds.