Rhetorical chivalry is dead. Its body lies limp in the back alleys of cyber-capitalism, passed up by spiky-haired, twenty-something business school grads thumbing away at their iPhones. And in 1989, Timothy Berners-Lee inadvertently facilitated its discreet demise with the introduction of the World Wide Web.
Welcome to the “gimme-a-sec” generation. Fueled by espresso shots, instant messaging and turbocharged SUVs, it’s not enough for today’s go-getters to wait for something. They need it yesterday, with overnight shipping and a tracking number.
Such condensed expression comes at a cost that seems trivial in modern society, but could retrospectively turn out to be inestimable: The English language is deteriorating.
OK, so this generation that needs to do everything in a faster, simpler manner is killing any and all classical modes of communication, but innovation often emerges from the ruins of the outdated. It’s a violent process. Case in point? The creative gem of our commercialized generation: LOL.
This painfully simplistic interjection, the brainchild of AIM and preteen insight, was willed into existence merely as an agreement to any humorous dialogue in general. Its addition was superficial nearly to the point of futility – but not quite. LOLs were like floaties for the shallow swimming pool of Internet conversation. They weren’t necessary, but they provided some level of reassurance.
Several years – and countless blogs – later, LOL has absorbed many communicative techniques that were lost in binary translation. Its value completely changes according to the context of its use. The following is a set of examples of the acronym’s versatile nature:
LOL is used to defuse a potentially hostile statement, as in “Well, it’s not like you ever help out, LOL.” It also helps one avoid giving an uncomfortable answer to “Am I really like that?” Example response: “LOL, I dunno.”
LOL decreases the magnitude of a situation: “So I totally failed the orgo exam LOL.” Injecting sarcasm and changing the mood of a topic are other uses.
You’ve noticed I have yet to explain what phrase this three-letter acronym represents. There are two reasons for this. First of all, to be uninformed enough to require one, you must have virtually no access to the Internet. Second, the phrase’s literal translation has become completely extrinsic. Nobody applies it with any amount of sincerity. Even if one were to chuckle at a message, it would warrant an upgrade to the more potent “LMAO” or “ROFL.”
The question is: Why has there been no public (over)reaction? The public is typically adept at accepting such linguistic atrocities. (R.I.P. and “bling bling” are perfect examples.) Interestingly enough, LOL has a pathologically invasive M.O. One can develop an addiction to the point where he or she will use it – MUST use it – somewhere, anywhere, in virtually every sentence. Everyone knows one of these geniuses. Any sentence devoid of LOL might imply unintended seriousness. The aforementioned genius is caught in a trap.
So is LOL really that bad? Historically, no. Innovation is minimalist by nature. As long as the public is on the same page, such developments are generally considered progressive. Therefore the question isn’t whether LOL is bad, but rather whether we as a society have become willing to sacrifice culture in the name of progress.
The impact of LOL won’t be known for another couple of decades. Maybe its concept will be indoctrinated into the English language. Perhaps it will make an appearance on VH1’s I Love the 00s and create a moment of mass nostalgia. For now, though, as has always been the case, the few amuse each other by poking fun at the many gripped by the byproducts of modernization. What can I say? LOL.
Mohammed Ibrahim is a senior majoring in pre-med biology.