Brb, ttyl, g2g – we used to be so good at stepping away from digital conversations, and it’s time to bring those old-school habits back into practice

According to a study by Ofcom, people in the UK check their smartphones every 12 minutes of the waking day, with 40% of adults looking at their phone within the first five minutes of waking up. In so many ways, our smartphones are the focal point of our attention, and the conversations that we have on them follow us throughout our days.

Our attention is accessible no matter where we are, we’re at the beck and call of our friends, families, and colleagues at all hours, and we’re constantly switched on – ready to follow up the latest notification that pops up on our screens.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Cast your mind back to the early 2000s, when digital conversations were dotted with abbreviations such as brb (be right back), ttyl (talk to you later), and g2g (got to go). Admittedly, our tech was heftier and less transportable back then, but what we were doing when we sent this kind of text-speak, was setting realistic expectations about how available we were going to be.

At times, being constantly available to others can become a burden, draining our social battery. It’s about time we put the boundaries back in place. And how better to do that than to inject a little noughties vintage glamour into our 2021 vocabulary?

Brb: It’s OK to take a break

You can’t always be switched on and available, it’s as simple as that. Over time, you run the risk of burning yourself out, as well as losing enthusiasm for the things you enjoy about texting – like catching up with friends and sharing interesting things.

Additionally, sometimes you just have to get on with other things, without the distraction of your phone. Think about it, if the average UK adult is checking their phone every 12 minutes, that doesn’t leave much space for concentration – whether that be on work or spending quality time with a loved one, IRL.

Stepping away from our phones can feel daunting, for many reasons. Perhaps you experience FOMO – a fear that you’re going to miss out on something exciting or important – or maybe you’re anxious that someone might need something from you.

But when we tell someone that we’ll brb, we’re communicating to others that we won't be available set amount of time – whether this is 10 minutes to grab some food, or a couple of hours to crack on with an important deadline, or an evening you’ve planned to spend catching up with a friend over dinner and a film. This gives us freedom to enjoy some tech-free time without the pressure of notifications hanging over us.

phone in pocket

people in the UK check their smartphones every 12 minutes of the waking day

Ttyl: You don’t need to reply instantly

Sometimes, you’re just not in the right mood to text. Whether that’s because you’re already juggling 101 things and simply don’t have the headspace to take on another thing, or because you’re going through a difficult patch, and won’t be able to offer the conversation your full attention.

There’s nothing wrong with replying back to a message with, ‘I’ll take a look this evening!’, or ‘Give me an hour or two, and I’ll get back to you.’ That way you’re acknowledging the message, and letting them know that you’ll be getting back to them when you can.

Your friend, or whoever it is who has messaged you, won’t think that you’re ignoring them, and you can take the time that you need to process the message and continue the conversation without it becoming overwhelming.

G2g: Switch off when you need to

This is a hard and fast boundary that lets others know that you won’t be picking up messages. Studies have shown that our phones can affect our sleeping habits, and so it might be an idea to set a cut-off point for how late you’ll be on your phone at night – ideally putting it down at least 30 minutes before you would usually get into bed.

Perhaps you could try getting into a strict routine about when you will be available – having a tech-free bedroom is one way to do this, but you might even want to take that cut-off point earlier in the evening, so that you can truly enjoy some quiet time at the end of a day.

Know that it’s okay to step away from things every now and then, or whenever you need it, and let others know so that they know not to expect to hear from you while you do what you need to do.