Yesterday afternoon, office productivity levels nationwide ground to a halt when a short clip from Reddit found its way to Twitter and quickly went viral. A fierce debate spread online over an apparent auditory hallucination: What do you hear when you listen to it, the word “Yanny” or “Laurel?” No one could agree. Listen for yourself.

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“‘Yanny’ Or ‘Laurel’: What Is Happening In This Recording????” cried Buzzfeed. Within an hour, nearly every site of note had a scientist on the horn trying to figure out what was going on. The Atlantic dragged a linguist into the debate. National Geographic posted a scientific explainer, as did Popular Science. It even prompted Chrissy Teigen to be wrong online for the first time.

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Audio engineers, professional and otherwise, set to manipulating the frequencies to isolate either word.

“Okay, you’re not crazy. If you can hear high freqs, you probably hear ‘yanny’, but you *might* hear ‘laurel’. If you can’t hear high freqs, you probably hear laurel,” one wrote on Twitter.

Turns out the discrepancy in what people were hearing was just science stuff! It was clear from the outset the reason was going to be “because acoustics” or whatever, because we’ve been through this before.

“RT so we can avoid the whole dress situation,” that same engineer added in his explainer. The dress he’s referring to is the infamously viral and controversial (blue, for the record) dress from February of 2015, a similarity sites everywhere were quick to pounce on, from People to Vice. “The audio version of ‘the dress’ has arrived,” wrote CNN.

It was a noble attempt to grab some cheap traffic, but it also felt like the internet collectively was trying to go back.

We can never go back.

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It was like meeting up with your ex and trying to make it work again, but you’ve both changed too much, and maybe you never had anything to talk about in the first place. The whole thing felt sad—there’s no more fun to be had online.

Back in 2015, I called the dress day, which as you surely remember also brought us the saga of the two gallivanting llamas, “the single worst day on the internet” of the year. I was exactly wrong. Aside from possibly the day Ted Cruz got caught jerking off to porn on Twitter, it was the last good and pure day we would all spend together online before, well, [gestures broadly to everything else].

As the debate over the audio clip transpired, a much less viral but even more demonstrative point about the state of things went down. CNN’s Chris Cillizza, a watery paper bowl of mild salsa, was set up as the target of a bad faith smear by the internet’s worst people.

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Cillizza posted an image of the president, in which the specific GIF-building tool he used cropped it to appear like a gun’s sights were trained on him. Quickly and predictably, a bevy of bad actors and liars attempted to turn it into a story about CNN suggesting the president should be assassinated.

“Chris Cillizza, of all people, is not going around putting gun sights on Trump,” tweeted the Hill’s Will Sommer. “Yet we’re going to get a mini-cycle of outrage around this nonetheless.”

It was a noble attempt to grab some cheap traffic, but it also it felt like the internet collectively was trying to go back.

So, no, it’s not novel that we might hear or see something differently. Every hour of every day in the Trump era has reinforced this idea over and over again. Facts no longer hold. You and I can look at the same information and interpret it, not just in slightly varying ways, but in completely diametrical opposition.

Earlier this week, dozens of Palestinians, including children, were massacred by Israeli forces on the Gaza border. White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, speaking for the president, looked the collected press corps in the eye and said that those deaths and thousands of other injuries were a “gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt” put into motion by Hamas. A debate then raged in every corner of the political internet. What do you hear: Victims or terrorists? Protesters or provocateurs?

It’s hard, when things like that are happening, to give much of a shit about Yanny vs. Laurel. If it sounds like I’m saying we can’t have fun with a silly diversion because terrible things are happening in the world, that’s because I am. We’ve long since passed the point of no return. Yanny vs. Laurel did not break the internet. It’s already broken.



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