Accidental time capsule: the internet in 2003

I unearthed some ancient backup CDs in a box today. Last time I moved house, I threw out a huge number of old pirated Linkin Park albums and ancient, third-hand copies of Call of Duty 2. But these CDs… they held some promise. Could be anything on there, you know? What was I doing in 2003? That’s ten years ago. I was online ten years ago, but I was also 15. These discs could be the bomb. They could also be a horrifying glimpse into a past best left forgotten. Naturally, I needed to check.

In the end, only one of the six discs actually worked. The rest had been scratched or bent or otherwise degraded. An indication of the transience of data storage, I suppose. I remember a story about how the Army has got warehouses full of vital, secret records. But the machines used to read those tapes, or cartridges or whatever they are, weren’t similarly preserved. So there’s acres of data and no way to ever access it. I suppose someone could reverse-engineer a machine from the tapes themselves, but… it’s obviously not a priority.

Anyway. The contents of these CDs were clearly not state secrets, but could be interesting nonetheless.

What I found was dull, for the most part. Grade 10 maths assignments. Webcomics. Cool robot illustrations. Images saved (from Internet Explorer) or sent (via MSN Messenger). I was clearly very interested in Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie back then. There’s also a semi-hidden folder containing some relatively tasteful, massively airbrushed photos of Carmen Electra. Poor old 15-year old me. His head would explode if he saw the internet these days.

Along with Warhammer fanart and plastic breasts, I also found a cache of saved Messenger conversations. If you have any of your own similar records saved anywhere, I would heartily recommend deleting them. Don’t look. It’s not worth it. I remember, when I first began using the internet (it was capitalised back then, a proper noun, not yet inextricably meshed with our very beings), that I point-blank refused to use acronyms like ‘LOL’ or ‘ROFL’. In the arrogance of youth, I believed myself a bastion of the English language, a stalwart bastion against the degradation of speech.

As you can imagine, I was a hit at parties.

Jump forward a few years, and it’s clear that my stoicism didn’t last long. Those chat logs are poorly punctuated and emoticon-filled (of course), but there’s also plenty of work that makes me cringe now. Sentences like ‘hwo r u feelin’ abound. It’s not even saving any time! The word ‘you’ is already short enough!

Cut to now, when I’m (ostensibly) a trained and practicing editor. My lady friend has asked me more than once how I can bear to have uncapitalised initial words and other grammatical horrors in my tweets. Obviously it’s in deference to the medium, or maybe I’m just lazy. The jury’s still out.

These days, though, it’s not uncommon to hear ‘lol’ being said out loud, in real life, by otherwise normal human beings. That was one of the many lines I drew over the years regarding ‘net-speak’ or whatever, but it’s obviously folded into the language now. And that’s fine! This is how languages evolve. Of course a whole lot of new words came out of the internet – they come with the ideas. It’s only been ten years since I discovered the wonders of broadband internet, and the next generation along have had smartphones for most of their lives. Terrifying.

“The evolution of language” is no excuse for the current trend of shortening words. Australia’s always done this. Every Dave is a Davo, every smoke break is a smoko. But it’s getting out of hand, and it’s already wearing away my defences. I started with a blanket refusal to brook the word ‘devo’ for “devastated”. Then we got ‘bevvies’, short for beverages, even though it has more syllables than drinks. Now we have ‘gatho’ for gathering, otherwise known as a party (count the syllables).

This is getting absurd, but in the nature of changing language, it’s also nestling deep within the language centres of my brain. Already I catch myself saying “obvs” only semi-ironically. It’s a slippery slope and I’m no longer convinced it’s worth fighting the slide.

Anyway, everyone loves my abbrevs.

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1 Comment

Filed under words

One response to “Accidental time capsule: the internet in 2003

  1. Man, those days on MSN. I remember the first few conversations where someone mentioned gg, brb, lol and roflmao. I had no idea what was going on it was like a foreign language.

    In retrospect, and after discussions with my nieces, I wonder if that was the point. If in part we, our generation, were trying to create out own secret language. As if English was the provence of our parents and teachers only.

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