A primer on “yolo”: Are young people crazier now?
Yolo. Hashtag, yeah.
No, this column isn’t about Yogo, the delicious chocolate yoghurt substance of yore.
It’s (kinda) about a phrase that’s fast catching on with Gen Y, so much so that even a few of my older colleagues are aware of it.
Like many twenty-somethings, I was introduced to “yolo” by a 14-year-old, during one of those rare moments said 14-year-old was looking up from her iPhone.
It’s a great word, just because it’s so awful. One of those rare ones with the capacity to instantly annoy everyone in earshot, like those new-ish nouns “totes” (oldies, that means totally), and its hideous step-sister, “toties” (pronounced tote-ees).
“Yolo” isn’t just an abbreviation, though.
Pioneered by teenage girls and a tattoo on Zac Efron’s left wrist, it stands for “you only live once”.
Translation: “Excuse for young people to do stupid shit”.
According to social media search engine Topsy, it’s been tweeted 3 million times. Like this one from @BoyBelieber: “Grinding against a tree while listening to Love Me Like You Do cause YOLO”. Okay…
Anyhow, at the weekend there was talk the younger generation being the “YOLO generation”.
Fairfax newspapers drew a bit of a bow. They had a great story about how the number of young Aussies taking LSD is at a new high, so they cast Gen Y as the “YOLO generation”. They quoted drug educator Paul Dillon, who said:
‘One kid said to me about six months ago that ‘We are the YOLO generation’. The whole notion behind it is ‘Why worry about the harms, we only get one life so we might as well live it to the max’.’
And the reporter wrote:
They have dubbed themselves the YOLO (’‘You Only Live Once’‘) generation: curious but careless or unconvinced about possible health risks.
I’m unconvinced by that. A slight uptick in young people guzzling acid doesn’t mean the whole generation doesn’t care about their health.
But when you combine this with cyberbullying and extreme sports and sexting and mixing drinks and drugs - is this really generation more daring than previous gens?
Yeah, there’s the argument that us young people are more likely to travel, to take big risks like changing careers, and to be topical, to plummet from space for fun.
But… that’s pretty much every single generation of young people.
And we’re also fairly abysmal when it comes to life skills. Like making useful stuff using tools.
Health stats show we’re pretty safe, too. Young people are more likely to live for longer than their parents because of their health choices, not genetics. Alcohol consumption is actually down on what we were drinking in 1981. Fewer of us smoke.
We don’t die as much when we’re driving and there’s a lot more of us on the roads. We don’t take as much LSD as hippies did in the ‘70s. It’s impossible to get kids in their early teens off Facebook.
Doesn’t sound like the riskiest generation to have ever lived.
Maybe that’s because “you only live once” isn’t really just a call to live life adventurously, even though many may take it that way.
It’s actually tempered by what’s left unsaid.
You only live once, so, if you can help it, don’t waste it by dying early.
Zac Efron might just be onto something.
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