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g2g, brb, and what the loss of early MSN language means

The demise of early, classic internet acronyms signals a major shift in human behaviour – we no longer ‘log off’

Most of us have pretty much never lived our adult lives without the internet. It’s affected us in innumerable ways – some good, some very bad – and despite not really knowing what a world without it looks like, it still continues to surprise us. In our Extremely Online series, we explore the apps, trends, subcultures, and all the other weird stuff the internet continues to offer.

In a world obsessed with a largely fictional stereotype of millennials as walking avocados ready to burst into tears at the sight of a ‘for sale’ sign, there are few perceptions that actually ring true. But – while it might be the domain of boring old men to actually comment on it – our culture of constant connectivity is undoubtedly one. With your phone a one-stop-shop for dating, shopping, arranging catch-ups, arranging meetings, monitoring your water intake, monitoring your steps, and even monitoring your period, it’s little wonder that around 75 per cent of us reportedly interact more regularly online than we do in person.

But if our iPhone-ready thumbs unite us in 2018, our memories of and nostalgia for a time before them ring just as strongly. This was the era of dial-up internet and shared family computers. This was the era of MySpace and MSN Messenger, a time of pay as you go phones and 20p texts. This was the age of ‘g2g’ and ‘brb’.

Mention these phrases to a teenager today and you’ll likely be met with a bemused look or roll of the eyes. And who can blame them when these terms have been rendered largely extinct by the dawn of constant connectivity? Once an important part of the elaborate secret language programmed into the brains of 2006’s 14-year-olds, ‘got to go’ and ‘be right back’ have quickly become obsolete as we’ve stopped logging off altogether.

In the halcyon days of MSN Messenger, ‘brb’ could mean many things. More than likely, it meant that your dinner was ready, or that your mum needed to make a phonecall, unceremoniously kicking you off of the shared dial-up internet connection for its duration. ‘g2g’ was saved for longer periods of disengagement: when your dad switched off the router for the night, perhaps, or when it was a few minutes before Skins was starting and you had to make sure your TV volume was turned down low enough for your parents not to know you were watching it.

“While these were functional explainers, they were also strategic weapons in the ongoing battle for status and popularity”

Not that you’d say that though: while these were functional explainers, they were also strategic weapons in the ongoing battle for status and popularity. “brb, need to log off so that (this week’s crush) will see my name pop up when I log back in again”; “g2g, off to an amazing all-weekend rave which you haven’t heard about and definitely not to my granny’s house in the countryside where there’s no phone signal let alone dial up”.

But gradually MSN messenger made way for Facebook, and we started oversharing and showing off on Twitter and Instagram instead. There was no more ‘afk’ (away from keyboard) when you were carrying one around in your pocket all the time, and no need to employ MSN’s ‘nudge’ function when you knew that the object of your affections would have to look at their phone soon one way or the other. The use of ‘brb’ petered out like your interest in that boy from the year above once he put another girl’s name in his MSN bio. g2g was sent off to the internet’s graveyard to fade into obscurity alongside Habbo Hotel and all your Limewire downloads which were meant to be the latest Razorlight single but which were inexplicably all clips of Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” speech.

With the demise of ‘brb’ and ‘g2g’ comes not only nostalgia, but perhaps also a tinge of regret. Maybe we were just younger, but the world did undoubtedly seem simpler without constant breaking news alerts, Tinder fatigue, and the bleeding of work into leisure as you absentmindedly refresh your emails for the fourth time while you’re meant to be watching a film.

There’s nothing like reminiscing about pre-internet life to make you feel like the kind of middle-aged man who would pretend never to have heard of the Kardashians, but there’s no denying something slightly Black Mirror about how the internet has crept into every corner of our lives without us really noticing. If memories of first crushes and 2000s song lyrics haven’t made you nostalgic for the old-school internet yet, just think of it this way: one day you said ‘g2g’ for the last time and then never logged off again.