Wednesday, September 30, 2015


If Russian spies blew my front door off it's hinges right now, stuck a pillow case over my head, dragged me out of the house, and into a van to some basement, all they would have to do to make me give up all of my government secrets is make me text them and not reply for five hours. That's it! Guantanamo be damned, because that's real torture! Texting always irritated me, since even before my teens. Unfortunately, I've since developed the same ill-will toward instant messaging too, which is weird for a dude who counts MSN Messenger as a cornerstone of his puberty. I attribute all of this to a loss of what I call the BRB-generation.

In 2003, I bought my first Nokia. I was 12. SMS messaging was still a fresh concept so everyone was still coming off the heels of having to hear the other person's voice in order to speak to them, exchanging voice mails and weird archaic shit like that. I speak of the days where a text message would hurt you and your friend's wallet every 160 characters, which meant that only the girls I really liked ever got a message from me. Personally, I didn't like it from the git-go. It felt like I was writing messages on little pieces of paper to someone and we were passing them back and forth across the classroom without the teacher noticing. It's the longest way to have the smallest conversation, especially in a world where there are these awesome things called "phone calls". 

In what will soon make sense, at the same time I adored instant messaging. Despite sharing certain similarities with texting, the attitude toward MSN Messenger was so different. While a call would begin with hello and end with goodbye, an MSN conversation started and ended in pretty much the same vein. Walking away from the computer without saying "BRB" or "be right back" was a crime amongst crimes. In fact, the days of dial up internet meant that many of us only had a meagre couple of hours a night to IM, which is the typical length of any great phone session anyway. With MSN existed the same etiquette of a phone call only reapplied to a different platform. Even once the always-on nature of broadband internet became more affordable and therefore more pervasive in this country, remarkably the etiquette still remained with MSN. But RIP BRB , because that shit ran it's course a while ago!

BRB died with the death of MSN Messenger (Windows Live Messenger) and the birth of Facebook Chat. Gone are the days when a window sat at the bottom of your screen like a small friend jumping up and down in strobing orange. Gone are the days when we sat at our screen and were as present in the written word just as we were with the spoken. Gone are the days when SMSing was about character-counting and your pocket money. Gone are the days where we said hello and goodbye because conversations very seldom end any more; have you noticed?

With the rise of the smartphone and the introduction of Facebook Chat and Messenger, BRB became more of an implied social convention rather than an enforced one. To my chagrin, it essentially turned IM into texting, while texting became more like IM with the iPhones conversation view, with both ironically just becoming the same beast in the end. Just look at the Facebook Messnger app and the messaging app side-by-side.

Nowadays, I see any non-verbal electronic communication, regardless of the platform, as a mountain stream that never seems to end but you take sips from whenever it suits, and that's fucking grim. In contrast to the fulfilling and exciting MSN conversations I had at 14, I'm now 24 in the middle of a grocery list of week-long, fragmented conversations, which are neither deep nor engaging, and kind of feel like nagging chores. How good can a conversation really be when the other person drops a message like a grenade and dashes away without a trace for hours? This is the entire problem.

BRB still occurs, sure, but it's unwritten now and it's implied following every single little exchange. "Hey" BRB "Hi, how are you?" BRB "Good thanks" BRB. No longer is it an acronym for "be right back". It's instead an indication to me that I'm in that classroom passing ripped pieces of my workbook back and forth again, only this time the classroom is significantly larger. IM is dead and it's shit.

Whether the unwritten-BRB follows "okay," "cool," "I hate the blacks", or "I've loved you since the first time I met you", they've BRBed you indefinitely. Sometimes it's just because we are no longer glued to a desk anymore. Maybe they just got off the bus, or they bumped into a friend on the street, or they're back at work from their toilet-break, or maybe they just don't give a fuck about whatever it was that you were saying. It's allllllll BRB, because you can't have an MSNesque BRB in a conversation which consists of no beginning, no end and no solid location. 

Call me an old fashioned funny-duddy, but I'd give my left nut to open up a conversation with a hello and close it on a "GTG" again. I'd give anything to not have to deal with radio-silence, constantly questioning whether or not the previous reply will be the last for 8 minutes or 8 hours. Do I close the window and move on with my life, or do I remain glued to the screen in anticipation as I did back in "my day"? This didn't happen with MSN, and if it did then your friend was a dick whom you would spam until they replied. I now make more calls now than I did ten years ago thanks to the generation which has preceded my own; either that's maturity or I'm just fed up with having long, empty, fragmented exchanges with people. It's a frustration which feels so starkly familiar to the frustration I felt as a teenager texting girls.

Oh, and don't even get me started on that thumbs up feature of Facebook Messenger!

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