A Call to End the Use of “Lol”
Social behavior on the internet is so wildly different from ‘irl’ that it took connected populations a number of years to adapt, levying frequent complaints about how ‘tone’ doesn’t necessarily translate, how it can be difficult to judge an individual’s ‘irl’ demeanor by their fashion of conducting themselves in an IM window, et cetera.
Given the sheer necessity of connected communication to the leading tiers of culture and industry in nations like the U.S., it is often surprising when an otherwise intelligent and reasonable person reveals themselves to be less than adept at communicating effectively online or via text message. To offer a more specific example, there still exist people who are incapable of participating in or responding correctly to discourse containing multiple elements of information: You send a txt to your bro being like ‘Do you want to see that movie tonight, if you’re free you can come over when you finish work or if you’re working late I can meet you in Union Square at 7’ and then 30-40 minutes later you receive a text that says only ‘ya.’
At other times there are massively disconcerting contextual disconnects; your bro IMs you being like ‘sup’ and you respond ‘hang on, I’m in the middle of something at work’ and they reply ‘lol.’ Or you get an IM like ‘how are you,’ and you go ‘I’m okay, sick of the rain’ and they reply ‘lol,’ or you say ‘I’m good’ and they say ‘lol.’
There are very few instances in which ‘lol’ is an appropriate response to simple items of factual information such as ‘I am at work’ or ‘I am not happy today’ or ‘there is a new White Fence MP3.’ As historians of modern culture will be able to recount, ‘lol’ is an acronym developed in the early to mid 90s specifically for the growing medium of internet-enabled text-based communication. It stands for ‘laughing out loud’ and presumably grew into popularity because typing ‘haha’ made people feel unnatural and because ‘early adopters’ of internet culture desired to have some kind of internal lexicon to feel futuristic/demonstrate that they were ‘ahead of the curve.’
In fact, it is quite difficult to recall a time when it was patently uncool not to know what ‘lol’ means, like someone’s mom reading your chat logs to make sure you were not communicating with serial killers or internet predators [similarly dated is the fear that everyone online is a serial killer or internet predator] and the mom going “What is ‘ell oh ell’” and you kind of rolling your eyes and turning your Live CD up louder and going ‘mom, it’s an internet thing’ and like giggling.
Recall late night news broadcasts about ‘Netiquette,’ in which a half-amused, half-bewildered broadcaster would discuss in slow, child-like tones that it was actually becoming legitimately important for one to have control over one’s ‘tone’ on the internet and explicate, via infographs, acronyms such as ‘lol,’ ‘rotflmao’ and ‘brb’ for those that had never heard them before. The broadcaster would also grasp awkwardly at demonstrations of ‘emoticons,’ explaining to old people who ‘just didn’t see it’ – why a semicolon plus dash plus right parenthesis was a ‘winky smiley face’ and a colon plus dash plus left parenthesis was a ‘sad face.’
‘Emoticons’ or ‘emotes’ as some people call them or ‘emoji’ because they wish they were Japanese/like to insert expressive icons using their iPhone have transitioned into the ‘new millennium’ [itself a woefully dated term] much more naturally than acronyms such as ‘lol’ and ‘lmao.’ One can only theorize at why this is the case. Seems like those accustomed to using the internet as a primary platform of communication do make some concession that it is necessary to indicate tone, especially since much of the humor that arises from text communication can be abrupt, harsh or extremely inappropriate out of context.
Consider that the proliferation of the casual use of the term ‘fag’ to mean someone who is behaving lamely or is weak or uncool [as opposed to an anti-gay slur that has caused numerous people an inordinate amount of pain] can take much credit from internet message boards, Photoshop threads and other cultures associated with the void of certain communication ethics that is created when people do not know each other and are not speaking face to face.
So it’s likely that internet users, wishing for some inexplicable reason to call their friend a ‘fag’ via IM, become alarmed when the friend pauses too long on the other end of the conversation, and, wondering if the other user was perhaps legitimately offended by the casual hate-speech, need some way to remedy the situation. In that case, according to the metrics of appropriate internet culture, “:)” will suffice.
But ‘lol’ has not aged well. In fact, ‘lol’ is so aged that certain ‘high-end’ internet culturalists understand and embrace the ironic use of ‘lol’, employing it as a sarcastic response to a statement or event that is in fact not funny, or to indicate that an item intended to be amusing is perhaps ‘mad dated.’ However, this implementation of ‘lol’ is somewhat problematic, given that it requires both parties be ‘versed’ enough in internet culture to understand the usage as ironic. Otherwise, a user of ‘lol’ risks appearing as if they do not understand that ‘lol’ is mad dated, or risks encouraging anyone in conversation with them or in witness to their conversation to continue considering ‘lol’ as relevant.
With that in mind, this article should act as a formal proposal to retire the use of ‘lol’ from conversations both sincere and ironic. There are certain military and social conflicts throughout history that had badges, flags or other symbolic imagery associated with them; although the significance of those image symbols either evolved or evaporated in accordance with the progression of the conflicts with which they were associated, it is generally unwise to wear mad dated cultural symbols once their context has expired.
Even if you and perhaps even a narrow vertex of your cultural peers understand and approve of the context in which you are employing the mad dated symbol, you risk being viewed as backward or inappropriate by others [see also: people in the South displaying Confederate flags as an avatar of pride in their area of residence/adherence to a certain cultural ethos that may or may not inadvertently or with subtle intent associate itself with undertones of casual racism and/or specific political leanings, rather than an expression of an actual desire for secession, thereby creating a case when you don’t know whether an individual is attempting to commit a progressive reappropriation or ‘just being really fucking backward’].
Most importantly, despite the fact that most people have never wholly appreciated ‘lol’ or been entirely comfortable with its usage, ‘lol’ has become so prolific and permanent that it has lost its actual intent. Those who type ‘lol’ are most likely not, in fact, ‘laughing out loud;’ they are at best expressing approval of the humor under employ. Thus in situations where they literally vocalize their laughter – in fact being genuinely moved to ‘laugh out loud’ while at the computer or while holding their cell phone – the use of ‘lol’ does not quite suffice. It appears dismissive or perfunctory.
Here then, if we are to retire ‘lol,’ let us move to replace it with a new and effective acronym intended for use by those literally vocalizing their laughter. When someone finds something genuinely amusing in text-based communication, they are recommended to type ‘lvml,’ or ‘literally vocalized my laughter,’ which is both refreshing and truthful.
At best, we have a period of a year or two before the Nightly News catches on and holds a bewildered condescending guide to the ‘new lvml internet phenomenon,’ and at the very least, typing ‘lvml’ will not yet cause your IM client to replace, against your will, your acronym with a sunshine-yellow, red-mouthed and bug-eyed spastic ‘happy face’ and possibly emit a palsied bubble of chipmunk laughter that would hold sonic appeal only to internet child predators.
It started with a right swipe, a little green heart. Tinder of course.
Though I acknowledge and appreciate the differences in human experiences, and while your heartbreak is (and always will be) uniquely and completely your own, I must urge you to consider that I have been where you are.
By Devon Oyler
With his hat cocked back, body tilted away from his cane, and right forefinger pointing directly at his audience, Joseph Ducreux commands the attention of those viewing his self-portrait.
I was born in 1990; he was born in 1973. I’m 23; he just turned 40.