hese kids today. You give them billions of years of precisely programmed evolution, thousands of carefully constructed civilization, centuries of phenomenally progressive industrial revolution. You offer them Shakespeare sonnets, Hemingway adventures and Foster Wallace footnotes, bestow the most technologically advanced platforms and unlimited abilities upon them, so that they have the freedom to express themselves wherever and in whatever way they desire, in a glorious collection of beautiful languages, lovingly curated by dedicated men and women in dark book-filled rooms, and what do you get?
What does this ultimate culmination of art, science, philosophy and humanity, finally have to say?
Be quiet now, It is about to speak: “You totes have to see this cat, it is so hilar.”
Welcome to the buzz-fed generation, where words have become little sliced and diced pieces of California roll, bite-sized slices of fluffy stupidity, that have less meaning than they do flavour. Grammatically offensive three-minute punk rock songs designed to make us jump up and down with a needless sense of urgency and hyperventilate in manufactured self-importance.
I believe in words, in their singular power. Their power to enchant and entrance, absorbing my very being: each letter building small miniature word castles; in turn, creating cities of sentences, paragraphs of planets, universes of thoughts and ideas. They make me think, they make me question. They make me laugh, they make cry.
Like gangly, sad puppies tied to dead trees, abused and deformed words make me cry the most. None more so than the average headline from so-called “pop culture” websites. You may have seen these. Here’s the worst one I could find in a hurry, from the thousands out there, smugly smogging up the atmosphere:
“This GIF of a cat changing the oil on a ’78 Camaro is totes hilar, you have to see it now.”
This one sentence sums up everything that is wrong with the internet, the salacious little pop culture fishermen that write these kinds of things, and indeed, the very sad state of language today.
Cats, cats, cats everywhere!
I won’t even mention the whole cat thing, other than to ask: you do know the cats are all lulling us, with their blasé act of just sitting there and looking bored, into a false sense of security before they finally conquer Earth and begin torturing humans with pieces of unobtainable string? You have been warned, stop encouraging them and allowing them to communicate with each other through the internet.
Out damned GIFS, out, I say.
A full scrutiny of GIFs – those vacuous vignettes of internet animation that seem clever but are really just clever ways for internet journalists to get out of actually writing something – will demand much more of my space allowed here. But I will let you all in on a secret: GIFs eat up a lot of internet data usage – on average a megabyte per GIF. So, beware, that little continuous loop of Jon Hamm suavely lighting a cigarette will ultimately cost you a lot more than actually Pirate-Baying the whole series of Mad Men.
The sentence, or little psychological ransom note as I like to call it, “…you have to see it now,” is the slimy corner drug dealer in the whole affair. He’s the guy, filled with anxious tics and shifty looks, urging you on: “go on, mate, it’ll change your life, just one click, you can thank me later.”
“You must do it, or all will be lost.”
It is, at least, a well mannered, grammatically correct sentence – sometimes wearing an exclamation point or two, making him look a little like Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch, but for the most part, a fairly dependable axiom, despite a case of the DTs. At least it can spell.
This brings me to the most glaringly infuriating ingredient of typical internet stupidity: the purposely misspelled and abbreviated word.
Out damned GIFS, out, I say
“Totes hilar.” (“fragment” my trusty spell-check warns, “consider revising”, without a hint of irony. If you only knew my pain, humble all-understanding checker of spelling.)
“Totes hilar,” I have to type it again just to make sure it actually exists.
Pardon me, madam, did you just have a stroke? Are you not from around here, or are you just drunk?
“Woo-hoo” screams this supposed phrase, “I’m 2 kool 4 skool, babee. I have suck gr8 time, hangin’ wit mi frens, fuking up da ingleash langwich dat I just don’t hav no tym 2 B …”
A completely sensible word? So the latter, then?
These things of horror, combined, are called clickbaiters, little profane pickpockets of good taste and normality. They are specifically designed to waste your time, sell you car insurance and make you completely forget what a book looks like.
They usually involve cats, Kardashians or devious ways of revealing Game Of Thrones spoilers. They’re ‘written’ by armies of out-of-work baristas or impoverished young adult fiction writers, scattered across the globe. These scribblings that fertilise the internet are destroyers of worlds, annihilators of language and party-poopers for the rest of us who love and cherish words, and like to string more than a few sensible ones together into wondrously overlong sentences that never seem to entirely come to a full…
The Twitter Curse
As you might have noticed, I am neither a fan nor a competent practitioner of brevity. I prefer the long way round, the scenic route. Picking a word there, smelling a turn of phrase here, going “oh look, a lesser-spotted simile mating with an alliterated pun.”
Put me in under a tree with a thesaurus and James Joyce for an afternoon and you won’t hear another peep out of me well into the weekend, depending on how much scotch Joyce brings.
My simple philosophy is that we have all these words, why don’t we just damn well use them.
But sometimes even I, intent on being on affable hand-slapping terms with the hip and happening kids of today, must do battle with that grand digital sub-editor that is the internet.
No example of me hesitantly embracing succinctness and the entire laissez-faire devil-may-care anything-goes style of the modern internet age is more apt than my own Twitter profile.
I hashtag and @ with the best of them, misspell and ‘da’ like a third-rate hip hop rapper, I drop my vowels all over the place, I even stopped using full stops, and for the most part I get my message across. I sound like a lisping imbecile, but the world at least gets to hear what I have to say.
Though, I still struggle daily with the guilt of it all, to the point where my botched backstreet surgery of a tweet about some stirring commentary on society – for example: “I went 2 da kemist 2day”- is a constant cause for embarrassment for me. It will keep me up nights, fidgeting with derisive pillows, fighting duvet humiliation:
“2 da? Good gods, man, are you stupid?” mock the pillows.
“2day? Kemist? Someone needs another dictionary for Christmas, it seems,” laughs the duvet with my favourite teddy bear Ulysses.
Their chorus chanting, “You are really quite stupid. You are not really contributing to society; you are actually single-handedly turning the world into one giant Prince song title.”
I eventually sneak out, under cover of darkness, to quickly run a spell-check comb through it all, no one none the better, and I manage to get a full night’s sleep.
Using just 140 characters sometimes is difficult. I feel I should demand access to a cast of thousands, to let the world know how I feel, or what I am eating right now or what adventures I went on today.
But like the little bird right there on the box, the best I can do is to just go ‘tweet’.