Exclusivity as Reinforced Through the Idiosyncratic Composition of Cyberculture

With the ubiquity of formal education has emerged the fascination and formation of a primitive form of communication on certain subdivisions of the Internet cyberculture. This primitive yet surprisingly complex communication, however, fosters the formation of exclusive cyber in-groups that repel inexperienced Internet users, leading to the breakdown of a freely accessible Internet. This phenomenon is most prevalent while exploring the distinguished form of composition contained in two subdivisions of the Internet: online message boards and internet memes.

Although there are many online message boards, the composition found on message boards such as forum.bodybuilding.com[1] forums and 4chan (I strongly recommend using a buffer site to 4chan as it contains a large volume of unsuitable material) reflects the fast paced flow of messages constantly being posted to the websites at all times. This fast pace has, over time, led to the abbreviation of not only words but even the telling of stories. Below is an example[2] of a “greentext,” narrated stories which usually originate on 4chan then spread to other websites such as knowyourmeme.com.[3]

Greentexts are excellent examples of how composition has the ability to mold to the idiosyncrasies of a culture. Instead of typing “I go to England,” the anonymous user types “>go to england;” the user needs to make his story as accessible as possible while still communicating the story in a coherent manner. The user also heavily relies on implied pronouns such as “I” and “my” to avoid unnecessary clutter. In a Darwinian manner, a more concise form of composition emerges in favor of readability and brevity. With this brief anatomical knowledge of a greentext, one might suppose that composition in this medium is straightforward.

To an outsider, however, the format and syntax of greentexts are unusually fragmented and excessively abbreviated. When do I start a new line of green text? How do I know when to use pronouns or proper nouns in order to maintain a constant voice? When am I supposed to use “mfw” (my face when)? As of now, it takes a good amount of exposure to the communication and composition of these Internet communities to learn enough about the array of ubiquitous memes (Internet inside jokes). In fact, Robert Lanham’s Writing for Nonreaders[4] is not too far off when it jests at the idea of a college class on “Internet-Age Writing.” In order to successfully compose in the subdivision of cyberculture discussed so far, one would need to have an expansive knowledge of the idiosyncrasies that range from the correct application of phrases and memes to the appropriate form of composition for the topic at hand. The only way to garner such a knowledge base is to immerse oneself in the greentext factory itself: current online message boards. However, message boards often employ systems that delete threads when they reach a certain level of inactivity, further complicating the efforts of new users to understand this cryptic form of composition through observation. Understandably, a steep learning curve discourages many new users from taking the time to interpret the communications of cyberculture, leaving a small, dedicated group of cyber geeks to run the show.

Words and phrases have also evolved and shortened as a result of the fast paced Internet. Examples include the substitution of pwned for owned (the “p” key is next to “o” on the keyboard) and teh for the (teh is a common misspelling of the). The spread of these phrases and “accidental spellings” is self-perpetuating. If one user uses a phrase or misspells a word, another user will see it and use it to fit into the community. The word “n00b” has gone through multiple transformations. It first began as “newbie,” somebody new to a game or community. Then, someone realized that the “bie” ending sounded like “b,” so newbie turned into “newb.” This sounds exactly like noob, which is more aesthetically pleasing and easier to type. Finally, the letter “o” looks just like a zero (0), so the word transformed into “n00b,” complete with its original meaning. Due to the constant formation of new words, there is a large vocabulary that users must learn in order to communicate colloquially.

“Feeling” is often replaced by “Feel”[5]

Since these words and phrases originate from these online communities, they give members of the community a sense of identity or belonging, fulfilling one of Maslow’s proposed psychological needs. Just as students of Georgia Tech flaunt that they attended a convocation speech that went viral, members of online communities recite fresh words and phrases as a way of communicating social superiority over their peers, reinforcing meaning in one’s life. Words and phrases go in and out of operation very quickly, and any use of older terminology is sure to evoke serious backlash from experienced users who spend a considerable amount of time learning exactly what is “hip” today. To accept someone for still using outdated[6] “Rage Comics,” multiple panel comics starring various Internet characters, would undermine the hours of research and participation that experienced members of the community partake in. Thus, as memes such as Rage Comics spread to too many other websites or start to facilitate old or lame connotations, it is time for the “in” community to aristocratically step in and suggest to others that they are no longer acceptable in order to preserve their pride. Thus, for one to seemingly remain a component of this in-group, one must be completely aware of the latest trends in hopes of understanding new memes and avoiding ridicule.

A key underlying reason for the heightened popularity of purposeful misspellings and fragmented composition is that knowingly using wrong grammar and style actually lets the author feel that he is flaunting his knowledge of the already complex English language. By taking a stake in the English language, members of the online community feel that being a part of the idiosyncratic composition of cyberculture is of historical importance. This brings successful members of the community closer together and more strongly repels outsiders, mostly due to increased complexity. More techniques of cyberculture composition such as disemvoweling (removing all vowels from words) and leetspeak (replacing an a with a 4, an o with a 0, etc) are employed in the following animated story, 5ever, published by YouTube user “David Norgren.”[7]

5ever, an exaggeration of cyberculture composition, is an exemplary model of the degree of complexity that Internet memes have begun to adopt, leaving inexperienced users wholly confused and uninformed. First, the viewer must realize that the transcript of the video is a satire of a typical blog post with very poor grammar, resulting in the use of the poor grammar as irony. Next, he must realize that “forever” is often shortened to “4ever,” leading to the ironic use of the phrase “5ever.” He then must understand that bloggers sometimes post messages at the end of blog posts pleading for users to reblog their ideas (which is looked down upon yet found humorous by online community members) and that the video instead elected to use the Facebook version, “like.” Finally, the viewer must know that the use of symbols such as “xxx~*” is commonly used to get the attention of users in online titles or aliases. This excruciatingly complex example of an Internet meme reinforces the push towards the exclusivity of online composition. Without the required extensive knowledge of every nook and cranny of Internet composition, one cannot casually compose in such a specific cybercultural niche due to its unrestricted complexity. Composition in this medium is free to morph into almost any shape or form while lacking a universal set of rules and regulations. This barrier to entry is a bit of a letdown in an Internet that is supposedly open to everyone with a computing device.

There are, however, memes that focus less on complexity and more on brief entertainment. The following is another example of a meme, this time an image macro, that focuses on the deterioration of correct spelling and complete sentences titled “registur 4 class” published by Reddit user FootyPyjamas:[8]

Although having very little text, this image macro, a meme referred to as Interior Monologue Captioning[9], expresses the stress that a college student goes through while registering for classes. The student, met with “very ruff” times of “collej lif,” has to take “15 unit[s]” of classes which will be “such difficult.” A scholar might find this grammar and spelling atrocious, leading him to believe that the author is only just learning English or illiterate. In the eyes of many Internet users, however, this grammar and spelling is very amusing.  This image serves as an even more concise form of composition that brings humor to the subject of the image through purposeful incorrect mechanics, seeming to date back to a time centuries ago. In fact, there seems to be a similarity in composition between the image macro and George Gascoigne’s Certayne Notes of Instruction[10] dated 1575:

And in your verses remembre to place euery worde in his natural Emphasis or sound, that is to say, in such wise, and with such length or shortnesse, eleuation or depression of sillables, as it is commonly pronounced or vsed.

-George Gascoigne

Just like Gascoigne, we find that the image macro actually spells out words such as “profesir” in ways that sound as if they are spoken (although we know he did not purposefully misspell words). Gascoigne even uses the phrases “such wise” and “such length,” both relating to the use of “such difficult” in the image macro. Perhaps this relationship suggests that, as with Gascoigne’s writing, this idiosyncratic composition is but an ephemeral trend in its experimental stages. Just as composition has changed drastically from the spelling and style of Gascoigne, so will this primitive form of textual communication in a rather primitive medium of conversation. These experimental stages, however, are characterized by their unique style of composition and isolated from the rest of composition by years of aberration, leaving the roadblock of an exorbitant learning curve. This instigator of exclusivity, then, deteriorates over time as ingroup members move on to more exciting and sophisticated composition. There is certainly an entire future ahead for the Internet to facilitate even more unique forms of composition with their respective ingroups who support them.

At this current point in time, this restrictive access to the more idiosyncratic online communities is not of much concern to the general populous. However, as the Internet grows with more users and we live our lives increasingly more on the Internet, the number of everyday users will keep growing, certainly adding to the “n00b” count. It is only a matter of time until elite members of online communities, “terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words,” (The Onion)[11] bombard long stories not in the form of greentexts with the phrase “tl;dr:” too long; did not read, or shape their composition in ways that are entirely inaccessible to other users. It is also of concern that this trend leaks to core Internet users, leading them to unknowingly shape an Internet that deters casual access in favor of highly unique and selective communities. Each of these occurrences is detrimental to the accessibility of the Web as a means of composition, and a movement towards this behavior will only fuel the formation of a divided Internet.

For more information on Internet slang, see the knowyourmeme.com Internet Slang page.[12]

Works Cited:

[1] BodyBuilding.com, LLC. No version. Web. 5 September 2013.

http://forum.bodybuilding.com/

[2] “Green Text Stories – Image #532292.” knowyourmeme.com. Cheezburger Inc, n.d. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/532292-green-text-stories

[3] knowyourmeme.com. Cheezburger.inc. No version. Web. 5 September 2013.

http://knowyourmeme.com

[4] Lanham, Robert. “Internet-Age Writing Syllabus and Course Overview.” mcsweeneys.net. McSweeney’s, 20 April 2009. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/internet-age-writing-syllabus-and-course-overview

[5] “I Know That Feel Bro – Image #107432.” knowyourmeme.com. Cheezburger Inc., 14 August 2013. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/i-know-that-feel-bro

[6] “Rage Comic.” Google Trends. Google Inc. Web. 21 September 2013.

http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=Rage+comic#q=Rage%20comic&cmpt=q

[7] Norgren, David. “5ever (Animated).” Youtube.com. Google Inc. 17 Jan 2012. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=CQuR8LVKhUE

[8] FootyPyjamas. “registur 4 class.” Reddit.com. reddit inc. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://www.reddit.com/r/SuperShibe/comments/1l731t/registur_4_class/

[9] “Interior Monologue Captioning.” knowyourmeme.com. Cheezburger Inc., 16 May 2013. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/interior-monologue-captioning

[10] Gascoigne, George. “Certayne Notes of Instruction.” Bartleby. Bartleby.com, n.d. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://www.bartleby.com/359/2.html

[11] “Nation Shudders At Large Block of Uninterrupted Text.” The Onion, 9 March 2010. Web.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/nation-shudders-at-large-block-of-uninterrupted-te,16932/

[12] “Internet Slang.” knowyourmeme.com. Cheezburger Inc., 14 August 2013. Web. 8 September 2013.

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/internet-slang

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