I want to think I’m a smart person, so it’s probably a little worrisome how often I like to revisit my favorite Vines; I’m sure somebody who thinks Idiocracy is upon us would tsk at my unceasing need to see a man who wants to be a cowboy, baby. This hasn’t been an uncommon occurrence. Before Vine shut down at the end of 2016, it was a peerless reservoir of short form, absurdist humor, which is the engine of internet culture. My friends and I would exchange clip after clip after clip, every gag and riff and bit unexplainable by anything but the loop, over and over again. Here is a man who is back at it again at Krispy Kreme; here is a man who has never been to Oovoo Javer; here is a man breathlessly whispering Adam as his vape tornado dissipates before him. It was all so funny, and there was all so much of it.
After the app stopped updating, Vine users were given several months to download their archives. Since then, each recorded Vine has slowly disappeared from the database; old embeds now turn up an “Oops,” and many famous Vines only exist as rips on other platform like YouTube, which forces you to loop the clip yourself, or Coub, an aesthetically ugly video looping website similar to Vine in service only. Anyways, finding a Vine — many of which had nothing to do with their caption — is difficult, as tracking something down through a search engine is usually a game of free association until the algorithm figures it out. The game is particularly frustrating with Vine, because boiling down an indescribable gag into a search phrase is a bumpy road — I started with “shoe Vine” and eventually settled, some twenty minutes later, on this clip of a sneaker aficionado trying out a new pair — and often, the clip is already gone from the internet.
The internet has never promised permanence. Servers shut down, websites are absorbed by parent companies, users delete content so it no longer follows them around; the source section for many detailed Wikipedia pages is a graveyard of broken links. But every time I try, and fail to find some half-remembered clip from the past, I’m reminded of why I miss Vine so specifically, when compared to other shuttered, once dominant web phenoms like AIM or Geocities. Vine was the perfect medium for the internet’s promise of a creative meritocracy. The visual element allowed for narrative innovation and cleverness; the truncated length meant you could actually spend a day sifting through hundreds of Vines, your ear attuned toward the perfect joke. I watched probably thousands of clips through Vine’s existence, which provided a collective entertainment more pure and powerful than any sitcom, or late night talk show, or episode of Saturday Night Live. Scrolling through a chain of potent Vines meant a blissful remove from earthly concerns, six seconds at a time.
I want this, always, and it is always fading. So when I am stymied in my search for something I once saw, and no longer able to access the greater catalog through the now-defunct app, I hunker down for the real hard work: I search “vine thread” on Twitter, and comb through the dozens of returns. Every few days, some diligent aficionado threads the best clips of his memory, and I scroll until the end. The thrill of coming across something new is an even more savored pleasure, now that the pool of clips is steadily evaporating. Even when clips are repeated, I never mind seeing them a second time, because I know they might easily disappear, and I want to encode them into my memory, replacing less important functions like the ability to do long division. I assume this need is similarly felt by all these amateur archivists. It’s an imperfect science, but it works. Just this week, I found a thread where a user began describing memorable Vines, with no clip on hand, everything put into motion through the experience of what it was like, and the early nostalgia for what will eventually be gone.