You know the pattern: trolls infect message boards; disrespectful thoughts are voiced in comments; vile hatred and immature squabbling is shrugged off… all because this online world we both inhabit at this very moment (me writing, you reading) is considered an escape from reality.
Lovers and friends make acquaintances via dating sites, games, and social networks. A global conversation occurs over an electronic medium. Cultures collide, meld, and leak over into each other’s midst all without physical contact.
And still, we shrug off these situations (good and bad) like poor substitutes for living. You wouldn’t believe how many people do not think meeting your partner online is a valid. Or that your friendships that develop through a game or a chat room could possibly hold the meaning of the friends local to you.
But are these virtual experiences and venues any less valid or effective than those that happen in person? Look at all that we accomplish through virtual avenues: raising funds and awareness for global causes; connecting people who can change the world from thousands of miles away; spreading knowledge and ideas to those who may not have access to them otherwise; and, on a personal note, helping people like me learn how to see the world and my place in it in a totally new way. The online world brings change, freedom, and so much more.
Why do we discount an online life? Why do we act as if “Real Life” is always more meaningful, respectful, and worthy of our care? Why do we act differently online than we think is appropriate in “Real Life”?’
Here’s what Alexandra Samuel says at the Harvard Business Review:
It’s time to start living in 21st century reality: a reality that is both on- and offline. Acknowledge online life as real, and the Internet’s transformative potential opens up:
- When you commit to being your real self online, you discover parts of yourself you never dared to share offline.
- When you visualize the real person you’re about to e-mail or tweet, you bring human qualities of attention and empathy to your online communications.
- When you take the idea of online presence literally, you can experience your online disembodiment as a journey into your mind rather than out of your body.
- When you treat your Facebook connections as real friends instead of “friends”, you stop worrying about how many you have and focus on how well you treat them.
- When you take your Flickr photos, YouTube videos and blog posts seriously as real art, you reclaim creative expression as your birthright.
- When you focus on creating real meaning with your time online, your online footprint makes a deeper impression.
- When you treat your online attention as a real resource, you invest your attention in the sites that reflect your values, helping those sites grow.
- When you spend your online time on what really matters to you, you experience your time online as an authentic reflection of your values.
- When you embrace online conversations as real, you imbue them with the power to change how you and others think and feel.
- When you talk honestly about the real joys and frustrations of the Internet, you can stop apologizing for your life online.
If this sounds like the kind of reality you want to live in, I’ve got great news: you can move in today. All it takes is the decision to treat your online existence seriously, honestly and attentively, and you will find that the Internet is RLT: Real Life Too.
What do you think about this? Are online life and offline life different for you? Should they be?