"The passion of Laughter," Thomas Hobbes argued, "is nothyng else but a suddaine Glory arising from some suddaine Conception of some Eminency in our selves, by Comparison with the Infirmityes of others."
This is, Hobbes being Hobbes, a fairly pessimistic view: Unless there's some kind of banana peel situation involved, our laughter doesn't usually come at the expense of others' "infirmities." And that's particularly so when the laugher takes digital form. Online, our chuckles are, more than anything else, affirmations. They are acknowledgements of the hilarity of our conversation partners. And they can, in that, be incredibly nuanced. Earlier this year, Buzzfeed published a tongue-in-cheek list: a guide to the 42 ways to laugh online.
Part of this variety comes from that fact that our representations of laugher evolved from the descriptive—LOL, LMAO, ROFL—to the more immediate. Now, instead of simply informing our conversation partners that we are laughing, we represent that laughter directory, with hahas and hehes and hehs (and also hahahahas and BWAAAAAhahahas and all the rest). Now, there are nearly as many ways to represent laughter online as there are simply to laugh.
I was reminded of all this, most recently, by eBay. Which occasionally does research into how people use the Internet—looking into the relatively popularity of such things as, say, the :) versus the :-). The research team, using the task platform Mechanical Turk, surveyed more than 1,000 people about how they laugh online. And while a clear majority—668 people, or nearly 61 percent of the respondents—still use the tried-and-true "lol," a hefty percentage also use the less descriptive "hahaha."