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Language has always changed, but it does so as a slow trawl and rarely ventures far. Semantic shift operates like a tree, growing slowly but resolutely, and it’s only with the time-lapse of retrospection that we can see how far it has come.
But then, at the end of the 20th century, something peculiar happened to the world. Suddenly the tiny, isolated communities and regional variations were thrown together. We had the internet.
The internet makes language change faster because it leads to more weak ties, and you can get to know people who you never would have met otherwise.
With hashtags, viral videos, and “following” strangers, we are constantly rubbing up against people of different linguistic communities. Whereas before we would only occasionally meet or form these “weak ties,” now we’re swimming in a sea of linguistic foreigners and interlocutors.
They were the early adopters of the internet. Because few of their IRL (in real life) friends were online, these people needed to use “topic-based tools like Usenet, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes), Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), listservs, and forums” to reach out to strangers. Usenet was the most common, serving as an ancestor to Reddit and Google Groups
The main difference between this generation and the previous is in seeing the internet as a social medium. The Old Internet People mainly kept their social lives offline, but the second wave turned to MSN, AOL/AIM, MySpace, and WeBlog to connect with friends as well as strangers. Slowly, MySpace gave way to Facebook and Twitter, via social gaming sites like NeoPets and Habbo Hotel.
If you can remember joining social networks when they were still unpopulated, niche, fledgling things, then you likely belong to the above generation. If, though, you joined an already bustling online world of social networks, this is your generation. In this group, there are two noticeable clusters: the first is the “Facebook cluster” (which includes Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube), and the second is the “Instant Messaging” cluster (which includes Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, and WhatsApp).
The internet mainstay, 'lol' serves a fascinating variety of functions.
Of course, it still acts as an expression of laughter and enjoyment. You can reply to a joke with “lol” and capitalize or give it an exclamation mark if you really liked it. But “lol” also has other uses. It is a way to soften a potentially misread or offensive message, as in, “You were so drunk last night lol.” It can be a way to flirt: “You look good in red lol.” It can express or underline sarcasm, “This lecture is so fun lol.” It can even be passive-aggressive, “You better buy me a present lol.”
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