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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Monday, April 25, 2005
Futile Rant #2: LOL
Okay, folks. I'll warn you in advance: I will be ranting incoherently, and at some length, here. I will be getting self-righteous. And I will also be absolutely, unassailably, infallibly right. (And if you don't agree, you're wrong. So sayeth Mori.) If you don't want to listen to me being a sanctimonious prick for the next several paragraphs, please feel free to skip on to the next entry. It's a cute story involving Torley Torgeson. (Well, a little bit.) And who doesn't like Torley?

See? I can name-drop, too. I'm officially an SL blogger now! I feel so proud. But enough of that. On to the vitriol.

I'm here to vent my spleen about "1337 Speek." IRC chat speak. Whatever you want to call it. I mean the idiotic shortcuts half of SL takes when they talk to one another.

Take, for example, the all-too-common "LOL." Seems like folks feel obligated to mindlessly chatter the acronym every time someone within a 20 meter radius says something even mildly amusing. How many times do you really Laugh Out Loud at your screen? You're sitting there alone, in the dark, typing by cathode ray light... And Laughing Out Loud every 37 seconds? I don't buy it. Laughter is a social phenomenon. Sitting there and continually chortling to yourself isn't hilarity. It's a sign of incipient mental illness. There's a reason why insane asylums are sometimes called "laughing academies."

So I assume you're not really sitting there, alone, giggling like an idiot every single time you type LOL into your chat bar. Once or twice a night, sure. Sometimes, even when you're by yourself, you just laugh for the pure joy of it. And I'll grant that it's a little easier to do so once you've become immersed in the game, and see those three-inch-tall pixel dolls as friends in the room with you. So, if you must, save your LOLs to show your appreciation for those rare cases when you actually catch yourself guffawing at your screen. It'll mean more, and it's more honest.

Even better, use an emote: "/me giggles like an idiot and snorfs Coca-Cola all over his screen." "/me laughs loud enough to wake the neighbors." Whatever you choose. Just change it up a bit. Use a little imagination. It won't come up that often, and the would-be comedian will appreciate the extra five seconds it took to type. Just do anything but machine gun yet another thoughtless LOL down the line.

LOL is perhaps the most insipid and overused term online today. (In my book, it's supplanted "cyber," which is a real feat.) You want people to know you're nominally joking? Want to keep them from giving you the verbal beat down you so richly deserve for your latest thoughtless and hurtful remark? Follow it up with an LOL! It worked on the playground when you were six ("You're ugly and you stink! Just kidding! Ha ha!"), so it's got to work now, right? Want people to know you're still there, soaking up server resources and wasting their time, but not actually participating in the conversation? Periodically hammer out an LOL at odd intervals! Maybe you can even set up a macro, and they'll never know you're watching TV and clipping your toe nails instead of paying attention. LOL is the wonder acronym! It can do anything, right?

No. Most of the time, LOL just makes you look like a twit.

Smilies are nearly as bad. But I can at least understand the evolutionary necessity in online communications. Stripped of the tools of intonation and body language, it is very difficult for a person to accurately convey his thoughts. Many of the things you would say in person, as an inoffensive joke, come across as calculated cruelty and spite when typed on the screen. If you can't manage to tailor your writing such that the ambiguity is removed (and I know I often can't), maybe a smiley is a good safety net. Just be aware that it smacks of the same playground humor mentioned above. If you find yourself putting a smiley in every other sentence, maybe it's time to rethink your online behaviour. Smilies are not the universal panacea for removing emotional misunderstandings. They're an shaky crutch, at best.

Then there's the old standbys: U for you, R for are, UR for your, and so on. There's no good excuse for these. I knock about 30 points off the estimated IQ score of anyone I see using these. Nobody is in that much of a hurry. It only costs you two extra keystrokes on your keyboard to type the full word. So why do it? When you get right down to it, it's kind of insulting. You're saying that, deep down, you don't care enough about the listener or what he has to say to grant him the few extra seconds it would take to write a complete, coherent sentence. I hate to break it to you, but your time just isn't that important. If it was, you wouldn't be in Second Life.

And, on top of that, you're also looking like a complete idiot. That's the most unforgivably sad thing about IRC-speak. This is Second Life! You can be anything you want, without the constraints of your probably-inadequate body. Face facts: if you were even marginally suave and handsome, you'd be out moving and shaking in RL. Frankly, you'd be out getting some, and not chatting up the scantily clad pixelated hotties at a random virtual Club 54 wannabe. (Swap adjectives as your RL gender and sexual preference dictate.) In the vast majority of cases, SL is the sanctuary of the outcast and the socially inept. (And, yes, I include myself in that class.) Being one of the Beautiful People there is simply a matter of carefully selecting how you present yourself. This means buying the right virtual clothes and carefully dragging the right appearance sliders. But, given that anyone can tweak the gravity on their boobs, narrow their waists to Jessica Rabbit proportions, or bump their privates from "coin purse" to "duffle bag," virtual appearance is nearly irrelevant. If everyone is beautiful, beauty no longer matters. Ultimately, your online persona, that indefinable something that makes you unique, comes down to what you say and how you say it.

Maybe it's just my own class hubris, but I see another defining factor of the SL community: intelligence. We may be awkward introverts with bodies like the Pilsbury dough boy and faces like a mud fence, but nearly all of us are resting quite comfortably on the right-hand side of the intelligence bell curve. Those players who made it past the 7-day trial without saying "Bwuh? Where's the monsters? Boooooring!" and hitting uninstall are probably amongst the sharper tools in the shed. (Yes, this even includes the Tringo players and the SexXxyBabies, much as it pains me to admit it.) This is a high concept, and it takes a pretty fair mind to wrap itself around it. Given all that, it honestly astounds me that someone would choose to construct his online image from things like "U suck!!1 LOL!! :)"

You're capable of so much more, or you wouldn't be in Second Life! Have a little pride, huh?

Addendum, 5/18/05:
These comics agree with me. Do you need any further proof that I am right? No, I didn't think so.
Ah, thank you so much for saying this. Cyberspeak in general, and SL in particular is a huge pet peeve of mine as well, especially the dreaded el-oh-el.
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