Text: A proverb that postdates the internet – “YOLO”

Informant: NS

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English

Age: 26

Residence: San Francisco


The phrase “YOLO” became popularized when the informant was in high school (around 2012) after it became mainstream through rap lyrics and culture. YOLO is an acronym for “you only live once,” and became an important personal mantra for the informant and his group of friends.


“YOLO” embodies a cultural ideology that values taking risks with the intent of living life to the fullest. Popularized by rap lyrics and further pushed through digital culture and social media, I believe that the phrase is an embodiment of youth attitudes towards life at the time, placing emphasis on optimistic nihilism. This piece of folklore also reflects a shift in societal outlooks on mortality. Past generations generally worked towards long-term goals. However, newer generations, starting with millennials, have adopted approaches to life that prioritize instant gratification more often. Furthermore, in the digital era, because platforms aimed towards younger generations (such as Tiktok) provide endless sources of this across a user base of millions, the internet has become a critical factor in youth culture. As a result, YOLO can be seen as a landmark for generational identity that represents an overarching anthropological shift in social behaviors and culture.