These days, the internet is filled with meaningless “LOLs” and “LMAOs,” shorthand that indicates that something is funny, even when, truthfully, there’s usually no laughter behind the screen. Since we now have a whole host of laughter-oriented emoji at our fingertips (think the crying-with-laughter face, the tears-streaming-down-my-face-I’m-laughing-so-hard face, or the throwing-my-head-back-as-I-cry-with-laughter face), it’s getting harder and harder to negotiate the spectrum of humor online.
The editors at The Pudding, a digital publication that explains ideas debated in culture with visual essays, noticed this problem and set out to explore how the limited visual cues we have access to online make it harder to decipher genuine laughter from the passive acknowledgment that something is “funny.”
The result is a three-part visual essay full of funky data visualizations which, as The Pudding describes it, take “a closer look at the usage, evolution, and perception of the digital laugh” to help us decode the intricacies of tech-based communication.
The first installment looks at our “laughter vocabulary” and ranks different sorts of responses, from “bahaha” to “heh” to “rofl” in order of usage. Unsurprisingly, “LOL” accounts for a whopping 55.8% of the world’s laugh language, and “ded” is the least used, at 0.2%.
The team’s second go at data collection tracks the evolution of everyone’s favorite shorthand, “LOL.” Over the past decade, it has only risen in popularity, in part because of its myriad applications. It can connote nervousness, be an attempt to soften the blow of a harsh text, or actually mean someone is laughing out loud (albeit rarely). “Lol’s transformation is less like a shift and more like an evolution,” the team at The Pudding notes.
Most recently, The Pudding has explored degrees of funny. The website offers users the opportunity to match each laugh style with the level of laughter that it represents to them. (After all, intention, and reception, are different for everyone!) So, when you type “rofl,” does that actually mean you’re rolling on the floor with laughter, unable to speak? Does using “lulz” indicate a passive chuckle? You be the judge.