What's Wrong With the Phrase 'In Real Life'

I confess to using the acronym IRL (in real life) on occasion to draw a distinction between my life online and my life offline -- the real one. But this has always seemed like a false distinction: My online life feels real: I have real conversations with friends, real emotions while looking at old pictures, and real laughs from funny videos or sites. What about this isn't real?

In the video below, Canadian social-media theorist Alexandra Samuel calls on us to give up this idea that what happens online is not "real." Rather, she says, "When you're online, you're often more real, more authentic, than you would be offline." If we take our online lives more seriously, and recognize that other people online are real too, we can build a more empathetic, thoughtful, and interesting Internet, she says.

The distinction isn't purely psychological. Samuel argues that collectively discounting our online experiences leaves them vulnerable to regulation and censorship. "If we are not prepared to acknowledge our online conversations as real, they can be shut down," she says.

Samuel's talk is a helpful check to the calls for quitting the harried, socially-networked life and spending more time being more "present" in unplugged quiet. The problem isn't the screen or the Internet connection; it's what we do with them. And there's no reason we can't be as present, or as real, when we're online as when we're off.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Technology

Just In