When You Exist Primarily Digitally, What Happens IRL?

stk-fgr6 I’ve noticed lately that I’ve become somewhat of a hermit in the eyes of my non-digital friends. My ‘in real life’ (IRL) peeps. I wonder if this is detrimental or if its only made to feel that way by those who just dont get the benefit of virtual friendships.

Dont get me wrong: I’m by no means sitting home all day every weekend chatting or xboxing with people across the globe as my main point of human contact. I still go out on the weekends. I still catch the occasional post work drink with coworkers both past and present. I’m still entertaining in my home and meeting people offline in the dating world.

If you’re like me, you know a large number of people online that you may have never met. Not yet, or maybe, not ever. Does that make these relationships less real? Are they one dimensional? Are they just ‘pretend’ or ‘play’ friends? I’d argue not. But some people may have you thinking of yourself as Sandie Bullock’s character in ‘The Net’. Kinda sad. Too much food delivery and not enough interaction. But that was the 90’s and now these types of relationships proliferate and people need to update their judgements.

Some of my online peeps are more involved in my life than some friends I live close to. Some comment more on my virtual existence which bleeds into my ‘real’ life  (blogs, Twitter, Facebook pics and posts, etc.). Lately, I’ve spent more time Tweeting TV shows, football games and social outings with online peeps that they’ve become my main base of contact. But here’s why: I have the ability to always be connected. Sad as that may sound, with the cold, harsh winter taking its toll on my outings with friends, and my recent lukewarm feelings for phone conversations, Tweeting/Facebooking/Texting have become the norm even with IRL peeps.

My argument is that I’m more connected to people than ever. Just because I’m not face-to-face doesnt mean that my interactions are any less fulfilling. I know more now about more people than ever before because I can be updated in real time. I can comment on things that I may not normally have known or be told because they get caught up in the minutia of every day life. I’d argue that I feel closer to more people with minimal effort. I’d ask my non-connected friends why they arent?

So: what is ‘real life’? How do you feel about your digital existence?

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3 thoughts on “When You Exist Primarily Digitally, What Happens IRL?

  1. Jess,
    good question. In my case my “RL” friends (some of which are coming over to dinner in a just a few hrs) have a completely different view on digital existence from my own. With most of them, I have to do face-to-face if I want to connect (none of them are on Twitter, and I’m often sad about the one dimensional way they use FB). But I see my digital existence as a way to ‘meet’ and connect to people I geographically can’t and learn from and share snippets of life with. Most of it is professional/career related but I do think I am connecting with some folks on a deeper level as well. I’m still having a hard time explaining the concept and the need to some of my RL friends…

  2. I’m always fascinated with the studies (the Pew Center has had a few) that find society more connected than every before, but also feeling more isolated than ever. And I know of people who spend all day at an unfulfilling job, go home to do nothing but play games online and then ponder their unhappiness.

    Maybe the biggest factor is the difference between understanding the Web as a *community* vis a vis communication. Today’s students who have been building community (without even realizing that’s what they are doing) as long as they can remember can and will move fluidly between the virtual and real lives. I certainly see this among my students.

    And I have friends who don’t get the concept of online community as well. Who avoid Twitter because it seems pointless; but then many of these people are now on Facebook after resisting. And repeated attempts to get my mom online continue to prove fruitless. You’d think being able to drop her three sons and her nephew a line on Facebook any time would be encouragement?

    In your case, you seem to be well-adjusted to balance it all. I think realizing that’s all it is — a need to create/maintain connections in real life as well as cyberspace — is key.

    Oh, and I hate the phone. Totally. Makes me an even bigger fan of the Internet.

  3. In this way, I relate to the millennials. I was on AOL back in the mid-90s when I was still in HS and had a lot of friends online, some of whom I still talk to this day. (And still online)

    So it’s never been weird to me, because it’s been such an integral part of my existence for so long, that I can’t really imagine life with it.

    I do have lots of vibrant friendships with ‘real’ people, but at the moment, almost all of them are in other places and I have no real ‘local’ friends, so..it changes the game for me a bit.

    So I think I’m more grateful for my online existence and yet, I’m certainly the kind of person that you really need to meet and spend time with to “get” and so, it’s very much a love/hate relationship with the web.

    I’m currently learning to deal with people who never seem to respond to tweetbacks, but respond to everyone else’s. It’s not personal, but I still hate it and have all sorts of ideas about how to “deal” with it…

    See, more reason to not be online at all.

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