Morpheus said it best when he first met Neo in person!
However, Neo’s alter ego, Mr Anderson, had previously been living life as a Duracell for deluded A.I. machines who had taken over the World and was getting out even less than the geeky-recluse had realised! Clearly not a real life!
So it nips my head to see “IRL” (in real life) used in reference to off-line activity, as if on-line activity is unrelated to anything real or valid. Like taking the blue pill!
And while it’s mostly well intentioned internet speak there’s a valid point here…
My social media activity is mostly limited to my this blog, Twitter, and Instagram. Occasionally I dip my toe elsewhere but these are my regulars. And I’m quite certain that what I post is real life.
below – Instagram post from July 2013
Instagram for example: My tendency to take ‘snaps’ pre-dates digital capturing, let alone digital networks! It’s something that I’ve always done – an enthusiasm that was elevated by digital – first by the cameras and now by mobile and the ability to share on the spot!
What about Twitter? Well Twitter provides the ability to share widely what I do for a living; as often as not while I’m in the middle of doing it. But more than that it allows me to pepper that feed of activity with other stuff like, personality, links and likes, recommendations, etc. – it’s not all about me!
But if you need tangible evidence of its value then let me tell you that Twitter has brought me a lot of work over the years by making me visible to the people that matter.
Collectively my blog posts, tweets and Instagrams’ all reflect real-life; as real as delivering a presentation; as real as bus-stop banter; as real as water cooler conversations! Not all of those conversations would I rate as valuable in themselves, but building real-life relationships is complex – it’s over time that the value emerges.
We also need to be careful of the message that we send to young people about how they use their time – a lot is invested through on-line communication and to demonise it as the root of all modern day social deficiencies understates the real issues (see update below).
Characterising off-line as real-life and on-line as meaningless un-reality is just daft. It suggests that our life on-line is always irrelevant and has no value and that all real-life (off-line) activity is implicitly genuine, relevant and valuable. No one can assume either of those states, off-line or on-line can be inherently genuine or in-genuine!
And of course, to drive the point home, those of us who have experienced the cross-over between on and off-line worlds will recognise the buzz from meeting an on-line contact in person. And that’s great because, clearly (as we’ve already learned from “The Matrix”), the combination of genuine relationship and in person is near impossible to beat.
But for as long as we’ve been sending letters, crafting smoke signals or banging on drums, the world simply hasn’t existed exclusively in in-person relationships. And while it’s not all good, my positive on-line experiences have resulted in: learning new skills; online collaborations; (and most significantly) food on the table!
So to underestimate the potential of connecting on-line is foolish; and tagging it IRL only perpetuates the myth.
Its 2013. We know better. Or do we?
UPDATE: Since writing this I saw a post relating to the tragic suicide of teenager Hannah Smith in the UK. It presents a balanced view on the relationship between the internet and bullying and, as someone who endured a (relatively short) stint of bullying at school, to me it rang true.
Included in the piece is a similar point regarding “IRL” and, in this context, adds significant weight to the argument for acknowledging on-line activity as ‘real life‘.