I was in fourth grade when I learned about the Internet. We’d always had computers in school. I grew up taking typing classes and playing Carmen San Diego. I vividly remember the year my friends and teachers started talking about the World Wide Web. A series of commercials on TV showed smiling families with buzzed-cut kids saying “All my friends have AOL!” My family got a computer and some guy with a truck and wire cutters spent an afternoon connecting our house to the rest of the world. If I’d been a few years younger, I would have no memory of a time without Internet access. That is something I’ll spend the rest of my life comprehending.
There were suddenly references to E-mail on Seinfeld, “Dot Com” was heard at the end of every radio add, and Chat Rooms were said to be more dangerous than riding a bike without a helmet. As Yahoo and Hotmail overshadowed AOL, I was entering Middle School. Instant Messaging was more popular than talking on the phone. I started seeing things like brb, ttyl and LOL. No person explained these shorthands to me. The Internet, who had seemingly spawned these lingual mutations, was eager to define its new children. A simple Yahoo search for LOL solved my worries that it meant something dirty or intellectually complex. “Laugh Out Loud” was both a relief and a disappointment to discover. It was so vague and lame. I vowed to never use it. I figured that a little maturity and adulthood would replace it with beautifully specific and descriptive language. I thought for sure that LOL was doomed to be short-lived.
One of my first tours was spent driving from Spokane to Chicago and back with no one but a Tom Tom GPS. I had toured before using a paper map, and by the time I hit Coeur d’Alene I knew I’d never want paper again. It told me where to turn, where to stop, what to see, and through the magic of Bluetooth, even read my text messages aloud to me as they came. It spoke in a female voice with a British accent. During the course of our magical journey, I noticed the Tom Tom had trouble saying some basic things. It was notorious for mispronouncing names of towns and rivers, but it had a lot of trouble with some uses of the letter R. Every time I was instructed to “Head North…” it sounded like “Head No-do-oth.” This digital stutter was amusing at first, and annoying after the first day. I couldn’t believe that in a navigational system, they couldn’t at least program correct pronunciation of the four cardinal directions. Then came a text message. As always, before I could read it Tom Tom read it out loud for me, in perfect Robot Brit: “We’re having fun without you Laughing Out Loud.” I pulled over. I looked at my phone. “We’re having fun without you LOL.” My friends were having fun staying home, and my GPS, who couldn’t pronounce “North,” could translate “LOL” into phonetic “Laughing Out Loud.” That day I finally accepted that LOL wasn’t going away anytime soon. Language was changing, permanently.
I still don’t use LOL. Unless I’m really in a hurry, I will spell words out and use capitalization in e-mails and text messages. I don’t know how long I can hold out. Even Bill Maher tweeted “becuz” to save space. When I was in fourth grade, if you wrote “becuz” you might be held back a year. Now, LOL is found in dictionaries. As we leap forward with 140 character sermons, I can’t help but think that we all are being held back by trading correct for quick.
I guess what I’m getting at is, I’m interested in seeing what the consequences of brevity will be.