Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One metal emoticon

Today I ran across something that caught my attention and rearranged a small corner of the mind. It might not seem like much, but in this article about World of Warcraft on the topic of Arthas and his cameos (An article hilarious in its own right) I tripped over something the blogger just dropped in the middle of a sentence.

"I don’t complain too hard, ’cause, be honest, he’s fricking \m/, but the man does appear to have an awful lot of time on his hands."

The little \m/ in the sentence stands for the word 'metal' (which is how my brain interpreted it) or 'hardcore' or 'awesome' or some mixture of all three. Using the symbol, which represents throwing the horns, suddenly imbues the word with sub-meanings that incorporate bad-assery, death and destruction, coffee, and just general all-around coolness to the nth degree. It's just like saying, "That's so metal!" Only somehow more because it adds a layer of meaning by using an emoticon that invokes not only the word but all the imagery associated with it and the emoticon behind it.

Also, this is just my interpretation of the slangy pictogram. It might have completely different connotations to someone else while still getting the basic meaning of, "Hell yes!" tucked into the descriptor.

It's fascinating to see the weird spiraling evolutions that the internet comes up with. It's amazing just how large of a cross-section it would take to be able to understand even half of the references tucked into casual internet prose like references to Greek mythology that were all the rage a hundred or more years ago. I suppose it's much the same, though. If Jupiter and Juno were the shared experience in the education of a generation, then references for the elite would pepper anything written for that demographic. My shared education, to use the same terminology, ends with me smiling over quotes from Princess Bride, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Tolkien.

So, I suggest that with everyday people writing for everyday people, the language of the in-crowd incorporates the audience in a way that writing didn't necessarily used to. Theoretically, anyone can have a blog that can be read by anyone. Since everyone is encouraged to write by the presence of the internet as forum for mass expression the in-crowd is no longer just the elite taught to read and given a shared vocabulary through classical literature. I know share experiences with everyone else who knows anything about Chuck Norris, +9 ogre-slaying knives, and walruses who miss their buckets. I 'get' the references to philosophers and algorithms, but my odds of coming across them in the casual essays (What are bloggers but self-published essayists?) in my feed is slim to none. The way people write is changing and not just in a shift from formal-to-informal. It's a more subtle shift into a very personal way of narrating thoughts and ideas with a mass audience in mind.

When I write, it's my opinion in my blog with references to my experiences to explain my position. My voice is clear, my frame of reference is easily studied for bias. I throw out my view of the world and expect to find people who both agree and disagree. Eventually. The Internet can see this and pass judgement and give me instant (or not so instant) feedback. So when I exercise my shared experience within my writing, it necessarily forms a tenuous connection. I'm understood on a level above the words I choose.

I'm sure there's been eras in the past where opinions expressed where done so as personal essays with strong voice that were subsequently thrown upon the mercy of peers. However, I don't think anything in the past can rival the scope of today's written communication. The symbol \m/ is just a single example in a huge sample that someone I've never heard of and will never meet has an experience that parallels mine enough that I can understand a normally meaningless symbol and be amused. I don't think that would be possible without the shift in writing style and tone that blogging encourages or without the platform of the internet to provide the shared experience of its very own culture.

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