A new craze has swept across American college campuses in the form of a little app called “Yik Yak.” The premise of the new iOS/Android application is simple: you can see the posts of people in your vicinity. Think of it like a messaging board where people can post comments, reply to posts and vote others’ up or down. The catch: all posts are anonymous.
The app was intended for college audiences, but high schoolers, and now even middle schoolers, have adopted it to chat anonymously with their classmates. Posts can range anywhere from inane observations to the online equivalent of wolf whistles, from frustrated rants to obscene insults. And there’s the sharing of confessions publicly. Here’s a tame example, to give you an idea: “Im drunk rn and wish I had a girl to bsng her against the wall.”
Why did this app spread like wildfire? Yik Yak is certainly not the first of its kind. If you remember the craze of formspring.me back in high school, you’ll recall that people would post anonymous questions to your profile and you had the option of answering them or not. This entertained my grade for about a year, and then I watched it spread across the Atlantic to my middle school sisters in Hungary.
In the meantime, we didn’t stop there. Next came Ask.fm, and with it the college Facebook groups. What started out as NJIT Compliments, a place where you could anonymously make someone’s day, took a turn for the naughtier with the advent of NJIT Crushes, where (using Ask.fm) people could anonymously post wicked thoughts about specific people.
So, why are we so obsessed with anonymity? There are a few reasons. The major one stems from our love of communicating our cruelest thoughts without having to fear the consequences. Yik Yak allows people to share whatever mean, unsavory comments crosses their minds–just download the app to see. This desire is so widespread that the news is alive with the buzzing of educators and parents as they worriedly discuss this new, powerful cyber-bullying tool. Whereas normally we would tamp down ideas that would make us seem like jerks, now there’s a platform where such posts are applauded.
Take, for example, this one from my hometown high school: “[Insert girl’s name] ur muffin top isn’t cute,” which garnered 7 upvotes.
Furthermore, there appears to be a belief that every inane thought that enters our mind is worth sharing. It’s hard to say whether this is a generational issue, or if every generation experiences this early on, but it seems to be an epidemic in our generation. Sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter really promote sharing every mindless notion, and Yik Yak just takes that up to the next level by adding delicious anonymity.
Here’s a fitting example: “Sometimes I like to crawl around the kitchen floor naked, pretending I’m a slug.” Sure, the image this Yak paints in our minds may be considered funny, but is that really worth your time to read, or the poster’s time to post? Or, better yet, the generic “I need [stuff] to do.” Breaking news: a college student is bored.
Are we really so conceited as to think that our every silly thought is gold, or is there another, deeper reason behind our sharing so much of our frivolous ideas? And will there ever come a time when people will share these mean-spirited comments without the shield of anonymity to hide them?