Generations of people are typically defined by a myriad of elements such as popular culture, education trends, salient world events, governmental leadership, and economic expansions and recessions. One of the most influential components that highly distinguishes a generation is its linguistic diversity. In the past year a half, Generation Y (a.k.a. the Millennials, the Entitled Ones, the Narcissistic Generation, and Generation “Me” coined by Jean Twenge) has zealously endorsed the use of the phrase ‘YOLO’ (you only live once). Its origin can be attributed to the popular Drake song “The Motto” where he repeatedly echoes the new age mantra of embracing the moment because “you only live once.” If you read any contemporary self-help book, there appears to be a redundant echoing of a life philosophy to live in the present. But there is a huge difference between being present in the moment and absorbing the cosmic wonders of the universe and living in the ever so eloquent YOLO mentality that popular culture romantically glorifies. YOLOites are unconsciously plagued by their addiction to instantaneous gratification. In this state of mind, everything in life is imagined to be acquired effortlessly.
The YOLO phenomenon can be illuminated by a mixture of two psychological concepts. The first is the idea of conformity proposed by Solomon Asch. Through Asch’s social experiments in the 1950’s, he concluded that when an individual is immersed in an environment where a majority of the people are behaving in a particular way, the individual is more likely to adopt that behavior. For example, fashion trends are a prime example of conformity. The more exposed the consumer is to various clothing styles through magazines, movies, television, peer contact, etc., the more likely the consumer will internalize that style and reproduce that particular desire for clothing. A second psychological concept that can be utilized for a deeper understanding of the significance of YOLO is the locus of control occurrence. The locus of control is essentially a coping mechanism for human beings. It explains how a person imagines the control they have in the world. There are two modes of control: the external and the internal. The external locus of control colors a world where the individual feels little to no control over what happens to her or him. For example, when a student applies to go to a university, the external locus individual will leave the decision up the world. The internal locus of control individual is quite the opposite where the person feels absolutely determinate of the events that happen in the world. Thus, an internally localized individual will believe that it is entirely up to themselves to get admitted to the university they desire.
The YOLOite conception of the world for the Millennial generation can be anchored within the two concepts of conformity and locus of control. It was through a mainstream rap song that the popularity of the phrase “you only live once” manifested into a commonly known phrase. According to an English professor’s survey from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, YOLO was a nonexistent slang word in 2011 and by 2012, the term had climaxed as the most popular phrase used amongst teens and college students (http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/08/25/what-yolo-only-teenagers-know-for-sure/Idso04FecrYzLa4KOOYpXO/story.html). Now, the phrase is traversing the entire continuum of American culture (compliments of capitalism). It has become such a rampantly echoed epithet that not knowing what the acronym YOLO stands for is equitable to confining the unaware individual to the peripheries of society. Popular culture is a huge component for social interactions on a daily basis. Thus, it becomes integral for the individual to conform (by conform in this context would be defined as being cognizant of the life philosophy embedded in the notion of YOLO) to this ideology of popular culture. “You only live once” can be further deconstructed by the conceptual understanding of locus of control, particularly the external locus of control. Within the ideology emanating from the YOLOite philosophy lies a complete disregard for self accountability and a complete indulgence in instantaneous gratification. As opposed to taking any responsibility for one’s actions, the Millennials and younger generation have seemingly silenced any form of internal locus of control and are now using an external localized conception of the world in order to justify a YOLOite lifestyle. Personal behavior is not restrained by the internal drive to control the events that happen in the world. Instead, the individual is authorized to live at the whim of the moment just as Drake’s song glorifies without the slightest concern for future consequences because of the notion that whatever happens is determined by external forces.
YOLO is not only a linguistic phrase, it is a trend of behavior for individuals in American society. Humans have become unable to connect with one another on a deeper level. Instead of recognizing the eroding state of human affairs, we have continued to delve deeper into the instantaneous gratifying abyss. Relationships continue to fail and human connections are surviving at only a surface level. What once started as mere lyrics on a page have been transformed into a powerful force of societal conformity and external control. The youth has eagerly adapted to living in the present and American society continues to condone this approach to life. Technology has made knowledge accessible at a finger’s touch, and social networking sites have allowed geographic limitations to fade away and virtual social interactions to thrive. We have fast food restaurants on each block, college degrees that can be earned from the pajama-centric comfort of home, and we can literally travel to any part of the world within twenty-four hours–given the financial means to do so. We are a society obsessed with being instantaneously gratified. Our conformity has enabled personal accountability to dwell in the external where the self is no longer cultivated from within but is validated from outside influences.
By Dayna Meyer , ThinkTank Learning Senior Academic Counselor and Admissions Consultant