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Why do I talk like a moron now?
Are we noticing this? At some point during the past three years, a switch flipped in my head, and now I talk like a fucking dullard, constantly. I call everyone “king” and “queen.” I say the word “vibes” once per sentence. I hyperbolize everything to a fault so that everything either elicits a “damn. that rules” or a “damn. that sucks ass.”
When I am called upon to say something, I find myself mentally flipping through a rolodex of phrases for something that most accurately represents how I feel, even though none of them quite fit, so I often end up sort of crudely jamming my opinion into a pre-built sentence and say something like, “It’s the lack of class analysis for me!” I don’t understand why I do this; it feels almost impossible to stop. Health-Ade Kombucha has a flavor called “Grape Vibes,” which is probably something I would say out loud if I were eating grapes. Every time I say something like this, I spend 10 minutes internally despairing that I lack the capacity for original thought.
I know where I “got” it. I’m a ridiculously susceptible person and I spend a lot of time online. Most of the phrases I use were probably originated by gay Black teenage TikTokers, who have the ability to say anything and make it sound original and fun. I, however, am a 25-year-old straight male South Asian software engineer, the least original and fun demographic, and coming out of my mouth, the phrase “The MTA’s leadership is lowkey extreme chaos energy” sounds like a pathetic dad cosplaying youth for no one.
If the arena of human interaction, “culture” is like an ocean—droplets free to mingle and interact, an almost boundless array of possibilities for communication and interaction—then social media has forced us all into pipes. Narrow, Project-Manager-defined pipes that regulate acceptable interaction. While you can distill elements of interaction into easily definable digital models—a conversation, a first date—there’s so much messiness that eludes capture. We’re adept at picking up subtle facial clues, body language, shifts in tone. Language once spread more slowly and organically, often hyper-locally or within a certain class. But now, instead of gentle, lapping waves, we’re subjected to the firehose every day. The pressure is so high and the speed so fast that new slang becomes commodified as soon as we learn it and demands to be discarded. The way you speak becomes an insane game, signaling in-group status to everyone around you, slapping another layer of context onto their mental model of who you are and where you belong in the hierarchy. Maybe you start talking that way as a little tongue in cheek reference to the fact that everyone seems to be talking that way, and it quickly grows into your entire vocabulary. You can never escape.
Look, I am very stupid these days, as we’ve established. I know that “complaining about new slang” is fundamental to the human condition. I know that minor differences in language have been used to oppress and divide for millennia. I know the tweet from up there basically said all of this, but in a pithier way. But something about the intense speed and ferocity with which new ways of speaking are introduced, adopted, exploited for profit, and discarded, feels hollow and useless. What is the fun in any of it anymore?
Damn. That sucks ass