Is Yo a new low?

Amy Wu says the enjoyment of new ways to communicate hasn't blinded her to the fact that some of these apps are far from meaningful

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 5:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 1:48am

I got my first "Yo" the other day through my smartphone. It was from a friend who had gone missing for a while - phone calls and e-mails unreturned, the Facebook pokes long since faded. I felt strangely snubbed in the social media stratosphere.

Yo is a new mobile phone app that allows you to send a "Yo" - nothing more - to friends. No more 140-character tweets or lengthy Facebook posts.

This "Yo" was proof that my friend had resurfaced. I laughed because "Yo" sounds somewhat goofy and sophomoric, but sadly emblematic of our fast-moving society. Has communication been boiled down to two letters?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not set on letter writing and nostalgic about the answering machine. The emergence of new ways to communicate is cool overall.

Yet, the latest apps appear to make us dumber and lazier at times. Besides Yo, there's now a social network that lets you connect with others solely through a suite of "emoticons" (an upgrade from the smiley face). "Yo was the last mostly useless app to get a load of attention, so I guess we're the next one," Tom Scott, one of the Emojli app's creators, said recently.

So what do I have against Yo and Emojli? Perhaps it started with the wedding invitations my fiancé and I sent out and the number of RSVPs I received by instant message or e-mail.

My fiancé had neatly written out and stamped the RSVP envelopes, and we received almost none back. If the envelopes were addressed and already had stamps on them, how much effort does it take to throw it into a mailbox?

Every so often, I do miss the good old days when communication was simpler, and correspondence involved care and thought: the handwritten note in the form of a letter; the greeting card that arrives by mail; the article cut out of a newspaper attached with a note: "Saw this and thought you'd be interested"; the phone call from an old friend simply asking, "Hey, how's it going, haven't spoken to you in a while". My students tell me that only grandmothers call each other now.

Recently, a friend and I went to a museum and pored over correspondence between two lovers during the first world war. The handwriting was prettier than the prettiest fonts found on Microsoft Word.

Today, however, few people even bother with e-mails any more, and handwriting is a lost art.

As I waxed nostalgic, a "ding" from my phone snapped me back to reality; it was a new WhatsApp message from a sister who greets me with TGIF and a smiley face blowing a kiss. I also got a virtual gift from a cousin who wished me a happy wedding and life.

Perhaps Yo, which has raised US$1 million from investors, is emblematic of the new economy. Maybe there's just too much money rolling around Silicon Valley, and an overflow of ideas from millennials.

My Yo story ends with me sending my fiancé a Yo invitation, to which he e-mailed "Yo back", and declined to download what he said was the dumbest app he'd ever heard of. What's next: What's up? Let's hope not.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator