What's now. What's next.

The internet IS real life.

by Nextness published August 21, 2012 posted in Real life

The best nights are always the least Instagrammed, they say.

Bloggers you follow have probably started self-righteously announcing “I had the most amazing weekend ever, but there are no photos because I unplugged.”

Or, “I had the best meal, because we phone stacked and just paid attention to each other for once. We talked, instead of social networked. It was amazing.”

You tweeted, but I wrote a sentence in my notebook; that means mine was much more meaningful.

And remember that NYT piece about The ‘Busy Trap’ that everyone tweeted and Facebooked and emailed last month?

The author finds himself submerged by email and ‘endless frenetic hustle,’ unable to think or work or relax.

…finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this. Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months.

Writing! Reading a book! Being creative…. Those things come naturally when you’re not chained to Facebook. Buttercups, stinkbugs and the stars! That is real life.

Except that it’s not. That viewpoint is smug and wrong.

Everything you do online is real. Online is real life.

The IRL Fetish.

Writer and social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson called out this trend in his piece The IRL Fetish. (IRL of course is web shorthand for “in real life.”)

He says plenty of people spend plenty of time offline, and like it – just as they are happy to spend time online and like it. “To obsess over the offline and deny all the ways we routinely remain disconnected is to fetishize this disconnection.”

He thinks commentator after commentator bemoans the loss of “real life” simply to make themselves seem more special: “I am real. I am the thoughtful human. You are the automaton.”

Digital dualism.

Moreover, to draw a distinction between online and offline life is absurd. We don’t toggle between them; we live in both, and are equally real in both. Jurgenson says,

What is most crucial to our time spent logged on is what happened when logged off; it is the fuel that runs the engine of social media. The photos posted, the opinions expressed, the check-ins that fill our streams are often anchored by what happens when disconnected and logged-off. The Web has everything to do with reality; it comprises real people with real bodies, histories, and politics.

If you believe the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real,” then you’re a “digital dualist.”

We, the web kids.

It could be generational.

Polish writer Peter Czerski (born in 1981) wrote We, the web kids to describe the mindset of people who grew up with the Internet and on the Internet.

…we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us… The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us.

What does it mean for us?

Let’s be clear. Nextness believes in solitude, quiet, thoughtfulness and reflection.  We believe in nature. We think creativity can be nurtured through offline and online means. But we also love the internet. And change. And new stuff.

The wonderful thing is, if you discard the digital dualist viewpoint, you don’t have to choose between online and “real” life. You don’t have to be ashamed about liking Facebook as much as you like dinner parties, or filing your inspiration in a Tumblr instead of a Moleskin.

And what does it mean for the industry? Well, as web kids grow up, there might be fewer ads exhorting us to ‘Get real. Get outside.’

As blogger Sarah Wanenchak says, Dear Stihl: I’m already real, thanks.

Jessica Stanley is the Editor of Nextness. Some of her other Nextness posts include: Is the internet making you sad? | On process. |  Introverts in ad agencies: a helpful guide. | Left brain vs right brain. | How do you solve a problem like climate change? Or: why having the facts on your side doesn’t mean you’ll win. | The future belongs to the curious.


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