May 23, 2013

For Shame: The Internet Cruelty Machine Torments GIF Inventor

I've never been quite sure what it is about the Net that tends to bring out, amplify, and exacerbate the cruel, infantile, and snarky side of so many people, including persons who really, seriously should know better.

Perhaps they get caught up in the moment like a rioting crowd, and the degrees of separation from "real life" -- allowing the easy spouting of bile that most of them would never do in person -- is also in play.

But none of this is any excuse for acting like a jerk.

Case in point, the rampant, mean-spirited attacks now being widely deployed against Steve Wilhite, who created the omnipresent "GIF" graphics format in 1987 while at CompuServe. Still widely used for conventional photos even in the face of more recent formats, it is the backbone of repeating animated image displays, from funny cats to serious diagrams.

A couple of days ago Steve -- who suffered a stroke in 2000 and now primarily communicates using email over the Net itself -- accepted a well-deserved lifetime achievement "Webby" award.

In the course of subsequent discussion, he noted his long-standing belief that GIF -- a term we must remember he invented -- should be pronounced with a soft G rather than a hard G -- not the first time this issue has arisen by any means.

Immediately, the Web pounced in ridicule, with satirical articles, obscene comments, and even a video whose producer claims is in fun but just comes off crude and cruel -- like pulling wings off insects.

As it happens, I've always pronounced GIF with a hard G -- not Steve's pronunciation. I always figured that since the G stood for Graphics, the hard G made the most sense. And I'm not going to change that now.

But for the love of the Net and basic human decency, can't we give the man an award -- someone who provided us with a tool that has become part and parcel of the Web -- without tormenting him afterwards like children during recess torturing another kid about the pronunciation of his name?

As the creator of GIF, Steve Wilhite outranks us all when it comes to what he feels is the "official" pronunciation. But you and I can still pronounce GIF any way we choose, and we can do so without behaving like asses.

Consider growing up just a little bit people, please.


Posted by Lauren at May 23, 2013 12:58 PM | Permalink
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