Things don't always mean what they mean -- especially on the internet.
When we speak to each other online, we use real-life language in non-real-life environments. The rules of our virtual linguistics shift accordingly, mutating to fit their surroundings. Phrases become abbreviations; abbreviations -- evolved beyond their meanings -- dominate our written landscape.
A few months back, in the midst of doing some linguistic research on the performance of gender through Second Life sex language, I came encountered the following utterance: "im naked in a lawn chair, lol."
The player my research alt was chatting it up with -- a self-admitted middle-aged, overweight, married man -- was testing the waters turning our virtual flirtations into a real-life proposition. He wanted to draw attention to his actual physical arousal, but didn't want to scare away the theoretical cutey behind my alt.
So what did he do? He said exactly what he wanted to say, except he added "lol."
Now, technically, "lol" means something very specific, namely "laugh out loud." Using "lol" makes literal sense, for example, in response to something funny. But the fact of the matter is, it's used for a lot more than that.
In a world of text communication where real-life facial expressions and vocal intonations are impossible, abbreviations like "lol" sacrifice their real meaning in order to articulate our nuanced intentions. They, in and of themselves, become glib, cliche -- while at the same time almost necessary for expression online.
"Lol" has come to mean: I'm being playful; I'm just kidding; I'm flirty; I'm friendly. It tints everything around it with a certain joviality. To replace it's original meaning, we have new favorites, like "rofl." And who knows what that will come to mean, someday.
Of course, "lol" is just one example of many.
This is why it always make me laugh when someone who isn't familiar with internet speak -- my tech-clueless mother, most recently -- proclaims with a knowing air, "Oh, 'lol'? That one means 'laugh out loud.' These kids think we don't understand, but we do."
But what is there to understand? Meaning is no longer meaningful. The pragmatics of the internet have shifted language use beyond real-life recognition.