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Communicating Via Tumblr And .gifs: The whatshouldwecallme Trend

Today’s post comes to us from Laura, a soon-to-be sophomore at NYU who has noticed a particular trend among her generation. They’re using non-traditional media for communication. When text messaging, social media, and the rest isn’t enough, they’ll invent their own ways to connect, which is what happened when two law students on opposite ends of the country wanted a better way to keep in touch — so they turned to Tumblr and animated .gifs. Laura explains their story, which became a cultural phenomenon, below…

Communicating Via Tumblr And .gifs: The whatshouldwecallme Trend

The multitude of ways our generation communicates today has been a topic of fascination for years now in the wake of new technologies that range from texting to Skype chats. These methods are simple, direct, and great for keeping in touch with friends or family that could be located anywhere in the world. But for two best friends attending law schools on different coasts of the country, the available communication tools weren’t enough.

The law school ladies, who insist upon staying anonymous to the public, wanted to find a way to stay in touch and entertain each other throughout the day. They found that they could create their own funny, often self-deprecating private jokes or tidbits about their lives using captioned .gifs — short, soundless moving image clips from TV or movies. The captions, which they wrote themselves either before or after finding the appropriate .gif, truly makes the joke, since it puts the unrelated content of the image into the context of their point. For example, a .gif clip from the evening news of a culprit running away becomes the metaphor for “when my sister tries to leave the house wearing my clothes.”

The two got a laugh from these Tumblr exchanges, naming it whatshouldwecallme after one of them accidentally wrote “what should we call me” instead of “what should we call it” when coming up for a name for the Tumblr. They claim to have been using their creative system for only a short while before it mysteriously spread to a greater public access. Within two weeks the page had enormous traffic, and since then the popularity of the site continues to steadily grow with one to two million viewers per day.

Something about the girls’ sense of humor just clicks with our generation. The .gifs often refer to drinking, school, awkward encounters, and relationships with family and friends, which are all relatable topics for college- and grad school-age young women. Some recent captions include: “when my friends have to take me home from the bar,” “after an interview, when I don’t get the job offer,” “when I actually look at a guy’s feet,” “making fun of my siblings,” and “during finals week, when someone asks me how I am.”

For all other viewers of whatshouldwecallme, the site offers many functions. Many just like to log on and see what’s new, as it is another fun way to procrastinate on the computer or have a chuckle to brighten an otherwise dull moment or day. But others enjoy spreading the girls’ posts on blogs or Facebook walls between friends for many of the same reasons as the original creators: to share a private joke or comment on the funny but true facets of life at this distinct age. What other time would it be funny or appropriate to joke about stumbling home from a late night or having a temper tantrum over a test?

As a soon-to-be sophomore in college, I definitely can relate to the girls’ sense of humor, and I love sending and receiving .gifs. My NYU friend stumbled and fell in heels on a cobblestone street a few weeks ago, scraping her knees and requiring twenty minutes of attention. The next day, I received a .gif of a girl in stilettos falling on a cobblestoned street, with the caption “when I walk on cobblestones in heels.” It was a laugh-out-loud, cute reminder of what happened that showed she was not the first to have this happen to her. I’ve also sent .gifs to high school and international friends that have something to do with a sweet memorable moment from the past, acting as a creative way of saying hi and reminiscing without a lot of effort or lengthy conversation. It’s a new level of communication that therefore fits the bill for what lots of young women want: fun, brief, creative, and to the point.

Many colleges are (unsurprisingly) picking up on the whatshouldwecallme fad and creating .gifs with captions that relate specifically to the campus, social life, location, professors, academic reputation, etc. of a particular university. This makes the inside joke even more private to a smaller group of people — in this case both men and women. Some great examples include Harvard’s “when being in a finals club goes to a sophomore’s head,” Dartmouth’s “when I walk around in a costume for cutter,” BU’s “when you had to open your backpack when leaving Mugar,” and Boston College’s “when I see the sculpture outside of Robsham.” These .gifs are great to share between college friends because everyone will know and appreciate the joke, resulting in communal school pride or disdain. Some of the .gifs will likely even stand the test of time because alumni will be able to understand and enjoy the jokes, reminding them of the glory days. Or at least that’s what people of our generation believe, as there is a palpable glorification aspect to the jokes that seems to exude a “hey, this may be silly or self-deprecating, but this is awesome and funny and it is great to be young” mentality.

Whether for colleges or the general public who reads the original, whatshouldwecallme is a site that seems beloved by all who view and use it. In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that all major colleges have a version, and, as time continues, perhaps it will evolve to fit for an older viewership who would appreciate more mature, adult-world humor. But for now, I’m just waiting for a post to come up that addresses when you come home from college and find that all your favorite shows have been erased from the family DVR.

Laura Edelman

Laura ELaura is a freshman at NYU planning on studying Art History. Originally from Baltimore, MD, Laura is loving the city and is constantly pursuing her ideal “Sex and the City” lifestyle of shoes, girls nights with her sorority, visits to museums, attending Broadway shows (she recently met Miranda), eating exotic meals…and shoes. Though she’s partial to topics on fashion and art, Laura always has an opinion and wants it to be heard. She wants to make a difference in the world through her writing, volunteering, and hopefully curatorial work, so she hopes her readers come away with a little something!