Normally, I am not one to indulge in hollow hyperbolic exaggeration, but I swear you are not going to believe what you are about to read. This is going to literally blow your mind.
That's right, I said "literally", not figuratively. And as a professional user of language, I know exactly what I am implying when I say that.
I am implying that by the time you reach the end of this column, anyone within earshot will hear a loud "BOOM!" followed quickly by a "SPLAT!" as your mind literally explodes, shooting little fleshy fragments all across the room.
Here goes, are you ready? Actually, hang on. Before I get to that awesome, epic thing, I think it is best if I first give you a little bit of background just to set the scene.
The scene I am setting is on Facebook but feel free to extrapolate it to any other part of the World Wide Web.
Now, if you've been on Facebook recently, I bet you've noticed what a dump that place has become. I am probably showing my age here but I remember a simpler time, back in the early ages of Facebook, where people had maybe 12 friends on their list and it really hurt when someone unfriended you.
It was an age when one could quite easily sit down at a computer for a few minutes and browse through every single post that every single friend put up. Everyone was very nice about it, no one would try to force their political views down your throat, show you food pictures you didn't care to see or bug you to play Farm Heroes Saga. There was genuine connection between you and your online friends and it felt simply like an extension of the real world. Just about the most annoying thing that could happen to you on Facebook was getting "poked".
That Facebook is dead. Today, Facebook is a rowdy wet market.
Most people don't really know the friends on their friend's list any more. Some of them were added purely by accident, others were acquaintances they met at a conference and promptly forgot. We just sort of accumulated them along the way, not unlike how a car on a highway accumulates flying insects.
And now you don't even know who is in your network. Your Facebook feed is a complete mess. There are few interesting nuggets about the few people you care about but they are buried under a mountain of posts that make you want to pull your hair out.
You think you can solve this problem quite easily by cleaning up your list and you swear you are going to go on a ruthless unfriending spree one day.
Except you don't. I mean, you have been meaning to tidy up your storeroom for years and somehow never got around to it. It is now more cluttered than when you first decided you would clean it out.
The last time you tried, you got stuck in a half-hour internal debate over whether or not to keep or throw your junior college lecture notes. (But what if I need to look up the stages of the Krebs Cycle later and Wikipedia is down?)
And so you carry on with your Facebook pasar malam, trying to teach yourself how to spot the gems amid all the junk.
But it is getting harder. In the stiff competition to try and get your attention, every stallholder is now yelling at you at the top of their lungs, offering seemingly wonderful goods. They are doing this with the use of a new sort of language - Viral Internet English.
Viral Internet English is almost exactly like normal English except that it has removed all negative, neutral or only mildly positive adjectives. It does this to have a way of saying something is "just ok" or even "quite good".
In Viral Internet English, bad is unbelievable, ok is awesome, good is amazing and very good is mind-blowing.
Let me give you some real life examples. These are actual headlines of posts take from my Facebook news feed.
1. "These 31 rooms will blow your mind."
I read this headline and straightaway my mind braced itself for what I assumed would be rooms that my limited brain could not fathom. They must certainly be defying the laws of nature in some incredible way in order to blow minds. And it is amazing to me that there are 31 different rooms all sharing this same life-changing quality.
I click on the link and what do I get? A bunch of nice rooms, some with a good view of the ocean.
2. "You won't believe what colour this horse is."
To cut the suspense, let me tell you the horse, an animated one in the videogame EverQuest 2, is purple. I don't know about everyone else, but I am able to believe a animated horse is purple. I can even deal with it if it was blue, that's how open-minded I am.
And that's basically what the Internet has become now, a market where everyone is shouting lies at you. See enough of them and you slowly start to use Viral Internet English yourself. You eat a muffin that is pretty good but you don't tell people that. By the time you put the picture online, it has become a mind-blowing muffin.
I just wonder what would happen if something genuinely amazing, epic, awesome and unbelievable were to happen. How are we going to be able to differentiate in our written record from a decent muffin? When I think about that...
This article was published on April 28 in The Straits Times.
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