LOL: Languid, Oblivious, and Lazy?

Written English and spoken English are two vastly different monsters. Any teacher of composition can tell you that, and most can prove it. Just because we speak in certain accepted patterns does not mean we should write in them, they say. But over the years, crafty as we are, we have developed many ways to circumvent the conventions dictated to us both by dusty grammarians and
rhetoricians whose glory days of face-to-face, interpersonal communication have faded into the realms of nostalgia.

Text messaging, instant messaging, and various other forms of digital messaging that negate the necessity for proximity have supplanted archaic forms of communication like conversation, debate, telephone use, and written correspondence. Our fancy new methods of interaction do not require us to be honest with our behaviors, our reactions; they allow us to be stingy with ourselves, giving something to the conversation without actually being forced to feel anything.

Perhaps more fascinating than anything (for those of us who fancy ourselves wordsmiths at least) is the habitual melding of written and spoken English that developed organically from digital communication media. Now, more often than not, we can conflate the way we communicate in informal situations with the way we write, causing those grammarians and rhetoricians in the musty, dusty corners of our culture to cringe and twitch and denounce us all.

A combination of this sort has its own unique requirements though. A new language, new universally accepted thought processes. Thus was born a hybrid language, one content with abbreviations and substitutions, cryptic in their trendiness: LOL, BRB, ROFL, and LMAO.

While theses abbreviations certainly serve a useful function for those of us too lazy or too busy to complete our thought processes in complete words or, God forbid, complete sentences, they do imply more emotional activity than we generally physically express.

For example, Laughing Out Loud is a wonderful sentiment. And we would probably all be better off if we did it more often. But the truth is that we don’t do it nearly as much as we say we do, creating in us the kind of emotional liars we would never be if we were communicating face to face. The truth is that more often than not we don’t even crack a smile as we LOL at our friends and loved ones. And while I’m pretty sure the sight of someone Rolling On The Floor Laughing would probably make me LOL, I have never actually seen someone do it, but there it is, all the same, in emails and text messages, floating through cyberspace, bringing feigned joy to those for whom it’s intended.

Most of this communication is harmless in its effect. We are not, as a rule, scarred by the mingling of conversational and formal speech, and an acronym, to my knowledge, has never harmed anyone. But what happens when our semantics and our behaviors don’t match up? What happens when the disconnect between what we say we feel and what we actually feel is found outl? What do we do when we realize we really aren’t as funny or clever as we thought we were? Do what we say we feel and what we actually feel have to be so exaggeratedly different? And what would happen if we reverted to honest communication, if we didn’t LOL every time we didn’t want to sound too harsh?

The truth is: IDK.

A Sinking Ship

Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “I am a rock/ I am an island.” But they were speaking figuratively, not literally. It seems, however, that we have adopted this mentality in its purest form.

This self-important, self-perpetuating idealism is evident in all places, in all facets of our daily lives. Take the morning commute, for example. How many times have you, bleary-eyed and coffee-deficient, been cut off on the freeway by someone who didn’t use a blinker (probably because driving and talking on the cell phone are not conducive to flipping the turn signal lever)? When you honk your horn, does that person acknowledge that they’ve committed a freeway faux paux? Or do they look at you as though you’re the one who’s done something wrong? Of course you were wrong. Because what you have to do could not possibly be as important as what that person has to do. Right?

It happens in grocery stores too. There was once a time when general civilities were exchanged between the shopper and the cashier (How is the weather? Have you been busy here today? I’m just ready to get home.). Now, however, we can’t be bothered to put down our cell phones to converse. When the cashier asks if we want paper or plastic, we just wave frantically and hope she or he recognizes our intended meaning. To the question, “Debit or credit?” we respond with an enthusiastic nod. There is no effective communication taking place, and by the time we leave, we have no clue whether our paper towels were, in fact, on sale, and we have successfully managed to leave an already under-appreciated cashier feeling a bit more slighted than she or he was when first we approached the conveyor belt.

But nowhere is this lack of manners and common courtesy more evident than in the shopping malls, which are really nothing more nowadays than glorified daycare centers for adolescents. The only personal space that matters belongs to them, and as far as they are concerned you are hogging it up. But they are not the only ones. Never was there a more obvious place to manifest one’s own self-importance. We bump into each other without saying “excuse me.” We violate each other’s personal space, and we mentally chastise everyone else for being in our way. We don’t say please anymore because, the way we see it, we are only obtaining that which is rightfully ours. We don’t say thank you because whatever we are receiving (whether good or service) it was someone else’s job to provide for us.

Have we all but forgotten that manners are a necessary part of communication and community? That in order to get respect we must first give it? When we cease to provide each other with small common courtesies we only foster a sense of division, a sense of self-preservation exclusive of all reliance on other people. Most of us cannot afford a liability like this. We have, whether or not we realize it, a great need for other people, for interaction, communication, and motivation. And when we disconnect ourselves, when we start to separate ourselves based on some arbitrary sense of self-importance, we cease to be a rock or an island. We have become our own sinking ship.

Tell It Like It Is

People love a good story. We always have. We like to hear them, and we like to tell them. But what is it about telling our version of the story that makes it so exhilarating? Why do we expend the effort to tell the same tales over and over again? And why do certain aspects of the telling change each time we do it?

The oral tradition of storytelling has existed for, well, longer than I care to estimate. Storytelling, much like writing, gives us a way to make sense of things, to create order where we may not otherwise perceive it. In telling (or retelling) a story, we are preserving our own voice. We are maintaining the integrity of our perception of life and the people in it.

But what does storytelling do to truth? Sure, people make amazing storytellers. If we see that we have a captive audience, we bind ourselves to continue the telling, embellishing what can be embellished and omitting that which doesn’t work in our favor.

They say there are two sides to every story, but none of us will tell it the same way twice. How many people have a voice in any one story? What if we all have a side, and what if they are all different?