You’d be hard pressed to find a corner on the internet that doesn’t have a passing reference to the acronymic phenomenon known as YOLO – You Only Live Once.
A mantra adopted by those who possess the un-tamed fire of youth (or for those who are older – eschewing the ‘you should know better’ maxim), YOLO embodies the popular spirit of live-in-the-moment, abandon all hesitation and be-damed-of-the-consequences. (Or, as one meme eloquently puts it – ‘It’s ‘Carpe Diem’ for idiots’).
But as fresh and vital the philosophy may be, it is fundamentally flawed on several levels.
Firstly, the human body regenerates its entire cellular composition around every seven years. So by the time somebody is 21 – the median age for all YOLOic pursuits, a person has already been regenerated three times on a purely physical level. You are completely different person, on a cellular level, from who you were in 2005. By the time you are 50, you have been regenerated 7 times.
Secondly, on a anthropologic level, we wear an astonishing level of different masks as we develop, and have many different ‘lives’ – and given the hyperactive nature of change in the modern age on a cultural level, the cultural subset we subscribed to a year ago might wildly differ in a year from now.
So the problem with YOLO – You only live once – implies that one lives a life that is un-dynamic, that never adjusts or changes, and that only has ‘now’ to answer to. You might only have ‘one life’, in a traditional sense, but how that life is ‘lived’ is never the same – and your future ‘lives’ will ultimately have to live the decision the ‘current life’ makes.
Now, this is not to say that one should not experience dangers, adventures or experience things that one might later regret. Some of a person’s best stories are born out of a moment of stupidity – and as the old axiom goes, it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done.
The flawed aspect of the YOLO philosophy, however, is that this act of spontaneity is pre-mediated. It is literally saying “I am going to be spontaneous now”. The very act of heralding the spontaneity with a YOLO tag, or adopting it in the post-script, neuters it and renders it counterfeit. To offset this, on what seems to be an unconscious level, a YOLO enthusiast wishes to give the YOLO action more impact, so endeavours are taken to push the boundaries of behaviour.
Pre-YOLO, an action was merely done in the spur of the moment, now, post-YOLO it is undertaken with all of the spontaneity of a marketing executive. And we will be damned if those YOLO actions aren’t acted without the presence of cameras or social media posts. Perversely, the actions that one may undertake under the YOLO spell, are sometimes hideous in their maliciousness and selfishness – even thought they are acted upon with full (even hyper) awareness. The even more concerning thing, is that people are willing to make decisions that could affect the entire outcome of their lives due to propagation of a meme, which, in a few years time, will have all of the resonance of “You mad bro”?
One of the best examples of the YOLO primer is that of tattoos. It’s not difficult to see in most major western cities, people in their late teens and early 20s with full sleeve and neck tattoo ensembles. We are a visual species, especially in the post-modern era, and nowhere is this exemplified more in our desire to cover ourselves with body art before we have barely reached puberty.
In a bygone era, tattoos generally represented certain life experiences or milestones – and as crude as they may have been, had a richness and resonance. Now, it appears to be an attempt to fill the space with as much interesting body art as possible. The choice is an individual’s – but one does have to ask, how will the cellular reproduction in cycle 6 or 7 feel about the choices made in cycle 3 in the name of YOLO? If cycle 3 decides to have the logo of a trance night club tattooed on their neck in a moment of YOLO, how will the recipient of cycle 7 feel about it given that at that time they most probably won’t give a quarter of a shit about trance music?
The truth is, YOLO only looks at life fractionally. You don’t only live once. Every day you live in a different way. You are dead and reborn every minute. Your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, tastes and opinions can change like clouds in the sky. Your adoption of YOLO, if you choose to embrace it, requires the wearing of millstones that you will have to carry with your neck for the rest of your days. How much weight can you wear? And, for a moment of fleeting marketing process for your social brand, is it really worth it?