The Yikkest Yak by Mike Nagel

         Before Yik Yak we had bathroom stalls. Public restrooms were our original location-based anonymous messaging platform. Taking a shit while writing shit down has been common practice for millennia, since the Roman Empire. There’s an academic term for it. “Latrinalia.” I asked Yik Yak users what percentage of their yaks were written from the bathroom. They said 90%. Most of them were in the bathroom right then. And that’s where I was too. Taking a shit.

I’m taking a shit right now. Just kidding. Maybe not. (Does it change the way you read these words?)

Reginald Reynolds (1943): “Stereotyped and crude, our lavatory inscriptions are the measure of our social fixations…[they] should reveal more of the truth than all the bombastic historians who will so soon be clothing our grotesque society with dignified phrases…”

In other words, we get the poetry we deserve.

It’s possible that our desire to write things down while taking a shit comes from a primitive impulse to smear shit on the walls. And that our desire to read while taking a shit comes from a primitive impulse to replenish what’s being lost. More likely, though, I think we all just feel a little bit lonely when we finally get a chance to sit down and think about it.

I went looking for Dallas’s latrinalia to compare it to Dallas’s Yik Yak but after six or seven bathrooms I still hadn’t found any. Either the city has improved its graffiti clean-up program or we have found another outlet.

In his landmark study, “Here I Sit: A Study of American Latrinalia,” [1965] Alan Dundes identifies five forms of latrinalia: 1: Advertisements 2: Requests or Commands 3: Directions 4: Commentary 5: Personal Laments.

Similarly, I have identified 5 forms of Yaks: 1. Solicitations (for sex or advice) 2: Confessions 3: Jokes 4: Missed Connections 5: “Should I tell them how I feel?!?”

The most obvious difference between latrinalia and Yik Yak is that latrinalia is gender-segregated whereas the whole point of Yik Yak is talking to the opposite sex. Rather than a major difference, though, this could be seen as simply an improvement on an ancient form of communication. (Men and women are passing notes behind enemy lines.)

I have written things on Yik Yak that I’m embarrassed to admit. I’m not sure if I’m embarrassed because these things are so not me or because they are so me. But now I’m asking a very old question. Who am I when nobody is watching? Or, more accurately for an anonymous location-based messaging platform: Who am I when nobody knows who I am?

One theory of anonymity, Deindividuation Theory, claims that people lose their sense of self and society when given anononimity. There is no depth to which we won’t sink. But another theory, SIDE Theory, suggests that once people lose their self-identity, they adopt the identity of the group. New norms are created. Our standards drop, but then things level out.

On Yik Yak you not only have no identity, you have no history. Every time you post something you are somebody new. Everything has been forgotten. And so: forgiven. Which isn’t to say that people on Yik Yak don’t know anything about you. They know one thing. They know where you are.

More than what Yik Yak can tell us about who we are I am interested in what it can tell us about where we are. What can an anonymous location-based messaging platform tell us about our cities? I’ve been thinking about that. And I think it can give us an impression of our city in reverse. A negative image of our repression. In Dallas: sexuality, feces, racism. The things we can’t talk about in real life are the things we talk about on Yik Yak all the time. So maybe Yik Yak doesn’t tell us what our city is but what our city is not allowed to be.

Right now somebody at BLVD wants to fuck. Somebody wants to know where them bitches at. Somebody is pooping. Somebody likes black girls in red dresses. Somebody is just honestly not that attracted to Asians. Somebody has an open tab at Twisted Root. Somebody loves a good midnight wank. Somebody wants to eat you out.

Every morning I check Yik Yak to see what I’ve missed. What went on without me. I scroll down. Always the same things. People looking for sex. People looking for interaction. People testing the limits of what they’re willing to say out loud. And always that one post, unanswered, sometime around 2am. Anybody still there? The faint squeak of marker against a wall.


Mike Nagel’s essays have been published by The Awl, Apt, Curbside Splendor, Crab Creek Review and elsewhere. He and his wife live in Dallas.

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