The Voice of a Generation
The tyranny of "Hey guys"
An inconvenient truth—no, an incontrovertible fact—is that the best parts of the internet are the worst parts. Obvious caveats aside (QAnon, 8chan, this tweet, other gross shit, etc.), it is patently clear that the people keeping Tim Berners-Lee’s vision alive, humming, dripping with possibility, are everyday morons. Tell me I’m wrong.
This guy is so wet. And he has fingerless gloves. His tone and demeanor suggest an interpretation of 2009 “sardonic/INTJ” types updated for the woke TikTok age, and his voice has that same stilted, shaky diction, but then you gotta laugh at the pause between “Indigenous” and “women.” He is also so damn moist, for no reason.
Enough with that guy; he just popped up in the last day or so. Because the most curious development to come out of YouTube/Instagram/TikTok content creators, the one that sticks in my craw, is what the guy above lacks (so far): The Voice.
You know the one. The lilt; the cadence. The speed and rhythm. The way it sounds like the speaker is apologizing the whole time, shrugging, but still desperate for you to hear every rushed word. Every sentence a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys, every period accompanied by an upturned consonant. NYT Magazine Editor Willy Staley, one of the Twitter greats, has a short thread cataloguing this type of guy, with this voice.
Remember this godforsaken Guy, from the beginning of quarantine?
He has The Voice. He has it in spades.
There are millions of these idiots on TikTok. A particular favorite of mine is the “Day In My Life in NYC”—these are the breeding ground for the pure, uncut dosage of Voice you need to truly have it ruin your life. This girl, gab_nyc, is the queen of these videos, as she documents “A Day In My Life in NYC Day #62” with the exact same tone, phrasing, shots of her skincare cabinet, and sign-off every time; she also uses “Bloomie’s” to refer to Bloomingdale’s. This woman, lyss, is peak Voice, as well as a fascinating document of her insane life as an influencer; in one video, she says she just needs a break from it all (from what?) and books a one-night stay in a luxury hotel right next to her apartment in Williamsburg. Itsbyalexis is always down to walk us through the perfect things to do as a fashion student in NY. My ride-or-die, Ari J. Elkins, who is notable for being a whole other type of idiot (making the worst playlists you’ve ever heard), has somehow perfected the alchemy of The Voice and the long-voweled, false bravado of Michigan Greek Life Guy Voice; it’s a masterclass in both 1) content creation and 2) pissing me off. And this guy doesn’t have The Voice, but he definitely is doing a voice (😬).
This all means nothing, at the end of the day. Everything is dumb as fuck. But how do we explain it? How do we quantify this sociological phenomenon—how to make sure The Voice doesn’t fall by the wayside, lost to the annals of time like its YouTube predecessors, AnnoyingOrange and Fred?
I don’t know, but it takes work. And the work falls to the historian, as always—the cataloguer of the human record. I don’t do this for pleasure. I do this to preserve the world we live in. I wallow in the muck so that you don’t have to. I subject my ears to torture the world has not seen since Dick Cheney, all so you can lay your head to rest and sleep soundly at night. As Dua Lipa once said, “If you don’t like the way I talk / then why am I on your mind?” I don’t know, Dua. I don’t know.
I, too, have noticed the proliferation of The Voice (seems to spread faster than COVID), and I’m finding myself deeply uncomfortable with it. There’s a sort of sexist mid-2010s phenomenon of people being annoyed with vocal fry, but this feels like the accelerationist version of that—emphasized to the point of generating nausea. I think it’s a vicious cycle, actually.
In school, there were always kids in class who had trouble reading quickly. No shame to them—everyone learns at a different pace, and if you weren’t able to quickly read, process, and understand how to deliver blocks of text in the way they’re meant to be understood, with emphasis on important words and inflection to indicate tone, that is completely fine. But I think this cadence, this monotone, proliferated upwards into these people’s adult lives. Look at all the videos Nabeel has linked here. All of them are basically low-production Youtube or TikTok voiceovers. The content creators probably wrote down a script and were rushing to get it out with the timing they needed. It’s an entire group of people who read out loud in this way, this completely dispassionate and flat voice. And if you’re consuming videos like this 14 hours a day, who can blame you for adopting some of these mannerisms in your own everyday speech?
There’s something a little scary about this becoming the dominant mode of speech for a certain class of internet-addicted teens—it seems to evoke some sort of dystopian nightmare where people all speak in robotic monotones. But that’s better than a world filled with theater kids on TikTok so… y’know. Whatever.