Monday, July 16, 2018

I'm Not Really Laughing Out Loud

by Michael R. Gauthier (writer), New York, NY, December 06, 2008


How we've become a culture where the things we say have lost their meaning

     Razor blade in my hand.  Ready to make the cut.  I stare into the mirror at a vacant face.  I am looking at a man ready to die… 

     Oh, how I wish this were true!  For then it would make this article so much more dramatic.  But alas, it is not.  There is no razor blade and I am certainly not ready to die.  Ahhh!  I can’t believe I did it again.  I’m a fraud.  A liar!  When will this continuous cycle of saying things that aren’t true end?

     Here’s the story: I started using the resources of the information superhighway quite some time ago.  Probably not too long after Al Gore invented it.  It has helped with research, shopping, email and, of course, instant messaging.  Ah, the glory of instant messaging: able to communicate with any and all of my friends and family who happen to be online at the same time as me with a few simple clicks.  I say, ‘what’s up?’ and ‘how’s it goin?’ continuously throughout the day. 

     As the art of the instant message began to advance, it soon developed its own abridged language and little, yellow face things.  From the beginning, I liked the face things. They’re cute and body-less: I can smile at someone from my living room and they have no idea how naked I am.  But the one thing I always resisted was this new abbreviated language.  Not sure why, really.  Maybe it seemed childish.  Maybe I thought abbreviations were an affirmation that people are becoming lazier.  Who knows?  All I do know is that eventually it did happen.  Eventually I did it.  A good friend of mine made a semi-funny comment over instant message and the next thing I knew I had typed it: ‘LOL’.

     I stared at the screen in horror.  My mouth was ajar.  What had I done?  I had lied!  I wasn’t really laughing out loud.  I was hardly laughing on the inside (in all honesty the joke wasn’t even that funny).  Oh, this is terrible.  I’m a good person with a good heart, not a two-faced liar.  What to do next?  I stared blankly at the screen with tremendous anticipation.  Then I heard that beep.  I looked over at the text message window:

“I know.” 

     He knows?  Knows what?  That I’m not really laughing?  That he’s really not funny?  That… Oh, wait!  Another beep.  In the window:

“So what are you up to later?” 

     Could it be?  Did my friend just completely brush aside my ‘LOL’?  After all, I hadn’t typed ‘SLOL’ (Stopped Laughing Out Loud) so how did he know I wasn’t still laughing?  Then, it hit me.  He didn’t care.  There I was laying it all out on the line for him, telling him his joke was so funny that it made me laugh out loud like an idiot all by myself in my own bedroom and all he saw were three capital letters.  My message was rendered meaningless. 

     After that, I became addicted.  ‘LOL’ became my gateway drug for so many other hollow letter combinations: ‘ROFL,’ ‘*sigh*,’ ‘RUOK’…  I figured if I’d done it once, it wouldn’t hurt to do it again.  And why stop with instant messaging?  Left and right I began telling people I was doing things I wasn’t actually doing.  It was fantastic!  My boss asked if I’d made an important phone call I hadn’t and I simply said I had.  I told my mom that I went to the dentist.  My roommate asked when I dropped off the rent check and I said ‘the first’ even though it was still sitting on my nightstand on the 10th.  I even looked in my significant other’s eyes and said, ‘I love you,’ even though we’d only met two days prior.  After ‘LOL’, my world became a world where the things you say have absolutely no meaning at all.  A world where you can do and say whatever you want because all that really matters is telling people what they expect to hear.

     This lasted about six months before things turned chaotic.  I was reprimanded at work (though I know getting fired would have illustrated the point much better), I had a cavity by time I actually did see the dentist, had to pay a steep late payment fee to the landlord, and I was stuck with someone I knew I had no future with.  My life had fallen apart.  Apparently, drugs really are bad for you (though I’m not sure if using ‘LOL’ supports terrorism). 

     For fear of winding up as episode #82 of A&E’s Intervention, I decided that this had gone far enough.  I had to turn my life around.  Enough was enough.  Words are supposed to mean something, aren’t they? Isn’t that why they exist in the first place?  I mean, what is the point in saying something if you don’t mean it? 

     We live in a generation that has gotten used to the idea of words meaning nothing.  No new taxes means new taxes and mission accomplished means a minimum of five more years of war.  I’m beating around the bush, folks: it’s not that saying things that don’t mean anything is a problem, it’s that we accept it.  Dr. Phil isn’t even a doctor for Pete’s sake!  And isn’t it safe to say that once words lose their meaning that letters will follow?

     You can’t really have most words in the first place without letters, after all.  They’re like laborers in a communist society.  Putting themselves together for the good of the whole word. They just go on putting themselves in order so that the masses become a word, which become a sentence, which become… They don’t complain.  Or do they?

     What does the ‘L’ think when he sees the ‘I’ standing out there on its own making up a whole word by itself?  And what’s that ‘A’ doing out there in the field all capitalized and self-important?  I can only imagine that poor ‘L’ gets a wee bit jealous.  ‘What about me?’ it screams.  'I’m an individual letter, too!' 

     Here’s where we get to the dangerous part.  The rebellion.  The ‘L’ excuses itself as it squeezes by the ‘M’ and the ‘N’ (“Hey, watch where you’re going!”) and finds the ‘O’ and says, “Hey, you don’t always have to be lower cased.”  The ‘O’ proudly stands up tall and says, “I’m not always lower cased, thank you very much.  I can start a sentence just as good as the rest of them.”  ‘L’ asks ‘O’ if he’s ever thought about being upper cased all the time.  The concept is too foreign to the ‘O’ so he simply shrugs the idea off until the ‘L’ leans in and says, "I have a plan."  ‘L’ assures ‘O’ that if they capitalize on his idea it will certainly work.  They do and it does.  Born: ‘LOL.’  (Luckily, the ‘O’ says nothing of ‘L’ getting it’s share in the glory twice.)

     As I digress you are probably asking yourself ‘why is this dangerous?’  (probably after you asked yourself ‘what is he talking about?’)  Letters aren't people.  Letters don't think.

     I guess now that I look at it more carefully, it isn’t the letters or words at fault, it’s the people who use them.  I mean, people do actually laugh out loud from time to time.  What’s to say they don’t do it when reading an instant message?  Ah ha!  The power lies not with the letter, nor the word.  The power lies with the free-thinking mind that employs it.

     So I’ve made my decision.  I shall no longer fear ‘LOL’.  I shall embrace it.  Its autonomy and its ability to save the precious time it takes to fully type out its meaning could come in much handy throughout the course of an instant message.  I suppose its initial intentions were good after all.  All it wanted was a little more importance and a little more attention.  And what’s more American than that?

     I shall continue to use the vast vocabulary of new IM abbreviations.  But, and I appeal to you the reader to do the same, I will use them much more carefully.  We as a society must start saying only what we truly wish to convey.  Use your words wisely- and your abbreviations, too.  From here on out, when I say or type something I will mean it.  I am not a fraud.  I am not a liar.  And the next time I send you an instant message that says ‘LOL,’ I’m actually laughing out loud. 

About the Writer

Michael R. Gauthier is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on I'm Not Really Laughing Out Loud

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By Seema Upadhyay on December 06, 2008 at 02:33 pm

LOL. Michael good article.


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By Joan Westin on December 06, 2008 at 06:36 pm

Interesting.  But your statements: We live in a generation that has gotten used to the idea of words meaning nothing.  No new taxes means new taxes and mission accomplished means a minimum of five more years of war.

That’s George Orwell double-speak rather than words meaning nothing, isn’t it?

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