The nation is divided again: are you laurel or yanny?

Phoebe Luckhurst

Modern frenzy is cheap, and rarely predictable. While some things are destined to cause collective insanity — any given Kardashian, “covfefe” — others are unlikely hits.

A case in point was The Dress, 2015’s vile confection of polyester and lace that was either blue or gold, depending on your perception. Scientists tried to help — though the people were less interested in rational explanation than in the thrill of vehement, futile argument.

Brace yourself — once again we are divided. Overnight, the internet has cleaved into two, impassioned camps, split irrevocably over an audio clip that you either hear as “yanny” or “laurel” . Colleagues are in furious stand-offs; the meme is trending on Twitter. Incidentally, it’s obviously “laurel”.

Science is again trying to make itself heard in the cacophony — apparently the difference in perception is down to audio frequency, and listening on different devices could affect which one you hear — which is all very interesting, probably.

But what we’re really interested in is an argument with no prospect of reconciliation. There’s something very liberating about the absolutism: you hear either one or the other, which means you don’t need to cede any ground, or listen, patiently, to any other positions. You can just keep yelling “It’s laurel,” eyes swivelling wildly, and sending hateful messages on the group WhatsApp calling the other side “literally deaf”.

Inevitably it’ll all be over by tomorrow. Though if you squint — and bear with me — yanny versus laurel does have a touch of the zeitgeist about it. Obviously, the hysteria is ridiculous, especially as it is unquestionably laurel, but such binary positions are also now the way of the world.

Yanny or laurel joins Leave or Remain, hard or soft Brexit, and any given daily internet outrage that excludes nuance. Everything is a referendum, rendered in uninspiring shades of black and white — or blue and gold.

Indeed, the idea that two people can hear the same thing and interpret it differently also resonates. Two people hear “make America great again” and one hears the dog whistle of racism; the other the return to a prelapsarian state where things felt safe and unchallenging. This has always been true, the world has always been subject to interpretation, though the bitterness feels new.

Perhaps our memes now hold a mirror up to nature, then, though I presently have other concerns. As I write, I am in limbo, waiting for my boyfriend to tell me which one he hears.

If it’s yanny, I may cancel our dinner plans this evening; I will certainly reconsider everything.