The oldest surviving film is Louis Le Prince’s Roundhay Garden Scene, created in 1888. It shows four subjects, Prince’s son Adolphe and three members of the Whitley family, and runs about two seconds.

This past weekend I spent some hours on, a web browser that runs a constant feed of “Vines”: six-second amateur videos uploaded to Twitter. Le Prince’s film kept coming to mind. There was a compulsion in his work that exists within many of us still; Le Prince was not a showman like fellow innovators Auguste and Louis Lumière, or a man of uncommon genius (and ego) like Thomas Edison. He was a more ordinary man who used his new invention in the humblest way possible: to show others a tiny moment of his daily routine. He did this, significantly, at the mercy of technological limitation.

After Le Prince’s mysterious death two years later, the medium of film would be taken over by artists and businessmen. Instead of capturing the ordinary world, film exaggerated it. It became dramatized and artificial. Even the earliest feature documentaries, like Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, manipulated reality for the sake of entertainment. Prince and other film pioneers were bound by technological limitations. In subsequent decades, these limits were overcome. Films became longer, louder and more colourful.

Upon the camcorder boom of the 1980s, ordinary people suddenly had practical means to record their lives on film, but by then technology had progressed so much that the opportunity was unbound. Videotapes were cheap and could hold hours of footage. Instead of capturing selected moments of interest, amateur ‘filmmakers’ (a generous term) shot without brevity or exclusivity. Certainly interesting bits could be extracted — just ask anyone who worked in local news or, you know, Bob Saget. But, by and large, it turned amateur video into a tedious, artless thing.

The six-second time limit is a stroke of genius on the part of Vine’s developers. It forces users to be, if not exactly creative, at least more considerate of what it is they’re capturing than they would be using its precursor YouTube. Some of the most common amateur YouTube clips — covers of songs, webcam rants, sporting events — are practically impossible using Vine. Whether consciously or not, Vine uploaders often place emphasis on objects and environments instead of activity, as six seconds is generally long enough to get an impression from a clip but not enough to understand context or follow a narrative (though some users do manage to tell a “story,” loosely, even within those precious seconds).

Surprisingly, most Vines are not just brief extractions of longer videos but self-contained pieces. The impact of a clip is often dependent on what precedes and / or follows it. Moments of serendipity form — just this moment I saw a clip of a father joking with his young child, followed by footage of a roadside memorial. I was taken from a middle American suburb to the streets of South America. A homemade teabag dipping machine followed a clip of students socializing in a coffee shop. is not affiliated with Vine / Twitter officially, but it damn well should be. It takes the format to its only logical conclusion: a constant stream of clips, a television station where the only show is The Whole World. Few Vines are interesting in and of themselves, but taken together they form a collective, amateur documentary of daily life. I’ve always thought that, at its best, film is the most empathetic art form. It is better than any other at fitting us with other people’s shoes. Movies offer a window into the world at large. Vinepeek is, then, an infinite number of windows endlessly opening and closing.

Like all art, Vinepeek is exclusive — those without access to technology cannot participate — but it could prove to be the biggest collective film project in human history. Hyperbole, perhaps, or wishful thinking, but it is a format filled with incredible promise. If film was born from Louis Le Prince’s hope of preserving an otherwise ordinary moment in time, Vinepeek is the closest we’ve come to fulfilling that on a mass scale.

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