Irene Ly:Internet language prohibits productive conversation

A couple weeks ago, one of my closest friends came to me and said he needed help, and the proposition was a funny one. He had realized after using dating apps for a while that he had a bad habit of frequently using Internet language like “lol” and “haha” a lot when talking to girls and friends online. Wanting to get rid of the habit, he told me he wanted me to start yelling at him every time he used those phrases when texting me.

Of course, I willingly obliged. I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t encourage him to talk like the young adult he is.

So, I started reprimanding him for his repetitive language. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I would end up examining my own language online, and seeing the same annoying tendencies as I typed and sent messages to friends. I think of myself as a pretty good writer who tries to convey myself professionally, but when I’m texting some of my closest friends, boy, do I sound like a robot.

Most of us could use some self-reflection about how we’re portraying ourselves online and through text. We can all probably find some kind of annoying habit we were unaware of before, whether it’s abusing “lol” and “haha,” or something else, and start working to change it.

This embarrassing realization made me flash back to my sophomore year of high school, when another one of my best friends and I decided to try a social experiment. Both of us would completely eliminate using “lol” and “haha” from our online exchanges for as long as we could, even when we really were laughing out loud.

Surprisingly, our little experiment went on for a couple weeks before one of us finally cracked. It was tough in the beginning: We both initially had the impulse to add in our forbidden words, and sometimes had to reread our messages before sending.

What we noticed though, was that our conversations became much more productive. They were still random, entertaining and funny, but without the repetitiveness of starting messages with “lol” or tacking on “haha” at the end of sentences. We no longer used them as filler words that served no purpose.

For a while after this little experiment, we continued to restrict the frequency with which we used these words, although they were no longer banned. And yet, somewhere between then and now, we just forgot and went back to our old ways of using those words as go-to responses.

It’s not clear why people use Internet language like this so often. Maybe it’s simple laziness or social desperation, as a humorous op-ed in The Los Angeles Times proposed. Maybe it’s a way to make statements seem less serious or aggressive, since the person reading it can’t necessarily understand your intent.

For me, I think the bad habit started years ago, before I had discovered there was an option on Facebook to appear offline. I sometimes found myself in conversations I wasn’t very interested in being in, so I started replying with “lol” and “haha” just to say something (I know I probably sound like a horrible person right now, but I guarantee I’m not the only one who’s done this). Now, it’s just an almost-automatic response, even if I am genuinely engaged in a conversation.

Sure, using Internet and texting language isn’t actually going to hurt anyone (except maybe stab a metaphorical arrow through the heart of the biggest of grammar-lovers everywhere). I also love emojis and GIFs as much as the next person, and think they add something fun to conversations. While excessive lol-ing may not kill the conversation, unless you’re actually laughing until you can’t breathe, it’s not adding anything either.

By taking a careful look at how we are communicating online, we might notice some bad habits we have. Maybe you’ll just chuckle at it and move on, but maybe you’ll realize you’re portraying yourself in a way that others may find annoying or off-putting. Worse, you may even find yourself annoying, in which case, you’d definitely want to make a change.

It might seem like a trivial thing, but kicking little habits like these is actually a pretty good way to improve yourself. Also, with potential employers more commonly looking at online profiles, the last thing we want is to give a bad impression by sounding childish.

Who knows, maybe one day people will completely stop saying “lol” and “haha” and it will just become another outdated fad, like when people used to think it was cool to tYpE LiKe tHiS. And I don’t know about you, but in that case, I wouldn’t want to be the last one hanging on to an old trend.

Irene Ly, a sophomore majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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