Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Infiltration of IM-speak

I am a child of the 90's. I rode the crest of the the technology boom, learning to use Microsoft Works before my parents could even figure how to get out of that damn MS-DOS interface. I only vaguely remember what life was like before cell phones, when portable computers were the size of tuba cases and a play station was the ball pit you played in after you finished your Happy Meal at McDonald's. The significance of one technological phenomenon, however, won't be appreciated but for another 10 years, when the children raised on it rise to positions of relative power.

Instant messaging. Instant messaging changed the way we did homework. Gone were the long nights spent toiling away at your English paper with nothing but the deafening silence of your tiny room and the occasional phone call to an insomniac friend to distract your thoughts. Your productivity plunged as you alternated windows in an effort to maintain eight simultaneously lucid conversations. Social networking grew exponentially as the possibility for impersonal cyber-conversation greatly expanded the circle of potential acquaintances. Instant messaging occupied a middle region-- a notch above email, but below the intimacy of a telephone call. Tellingly, AOL Instant Messenger has become the de facto typing pedagogue for today's children.

Its success, coupled with an increasingly frenetic lifestyle, presaged a peculiar form of shorthand typing specific to instant messaging. Pressed by the need to maintain simultaneous conversations, expressions like "brb" and "ttyl" and "lol" emerged. This was by no means restricted to English speakers. The musings of French IMers massacred their beloved mother tongue as well, producing in extreme cases expressions like "koi29?" to substitute for "Quoi de neuf?" (What's new?). In English, nuanced progressions in expressed amusement appeared; in order, we have: hehe, haha, lol, HAHA, LOL, rofl (rolling on the floor laughing) = lmao (laughing my ass off), ROFL = LMAO, ROFLMAO.

But I can't do it. I simply can't bring myself to type "lol" in an instant message without at least a dose of self-conscious irony. The problem is that there's no real substitute for it. I mean, if I genuinely laugh out loud, what do I say? I want to convey that I really thought what the person said was funny. I guess I could just rely on the old "hehe" for internal smiles, "hahaha" for real smiles, and "HAHA" for a actual laughs. But you know, it's a tough call there. I mean, if someone's being side-splittingly funny I don't want to be typing "hehe" and "haha" all the time even if I truly am laughing. This is a concern of mine.

So I guess I just smile ":c)" and say hehe a lot. I use ":c)" (though I've recently seen the innovation "(:", which has a distinct why-the-hell-didn't-I-think-of-that quality) instead of ":)" or ":-)", because those usually induce emoticons, which are just silly. What if I want to convey a sarcastic grin? I don't want some goddamned cutesy yellow smile or anything. To be sure, it is only through context and judicious word choice can one arrive at the notoriously elusive sarcastic grin.

Anyway, to sort of make a point out of all of this, I recently overheard on the bus a girl squealing into her cell phone, "That is sooo funny! L-O-L!" Yes, she spelled it out. Now I'm all for innovative language and everything, but seriously, come on. Some things are just stupid.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


5/07/2006 1:19 PM  

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