Of the countless internet/texting lazy vocabulary-istic disasters, there amidst the LOLs and LMAOs and the IKRs and BRBs and IMHOs, there is one that stands out. It denotes a curious quality about our technological mentality. Its use puzzles me, a reaction compounded by the fact that I’ve seen it used very frequently of late.
In Real Life. It’s internet shorthand which basically alludes to a physically-based existence we all (hopefully) lead in which our five senses share the burden for our brain in a way which fingertips and eyeballs cannot quite approach. In real life.
Look, I can be as hopeless a Luddite as the worst of them, but even I must step in here. And ask.
Is cyberspace not real life? What is so “fake” if not for the fact that our existence outside of it prevents its ensuing promotion to “real.”
Why our need to clarify real life as opposed to that state of unreal existence we measure in the context of binary points of data? That cyber existence which is at once frighteningly real but ethereally not?
Of course I realize “IRL” is a figure of speech, a reflexive clarification. We know what is inferred by the use of the phrase. However, behind every careless utterance and popular idiom lurks an element of truth, a revealing insight into the state of the communal human mind. Yes, IRL can mean that 3-dimensional world we inhabit and that has shaped the human form and mind for millions of years. IRL is what we know and breathe and smell…it is what lends us our visible existence. In drawing a distinction between the “fake” cyber world and the “real” planetary world, I believe we are failing to absorb the friction such a dichotomy gushes in shaping our daily outlook.
Cyber life is as “real” as any other life. Cyber life, in fact, is a subsection of real life. Without real life we would not have the tangible computers and modems and high speed lines and silicon gadgetry that makes cyber life so unreal. Cyber life is a muted version of real life and though we indulge in it and spend much of our time “in” it (way too much for some, ahem), we fictionalize it. We fantasize it right into casual oblivion. We polarize cyber life and real life, though they are the same. We draw a distinction, unaware we are doing so. We allude to meeting someone IRL, we allude to our hobbies and our job IRL. As if all that we do and say and shape in the netherworld of the internet is less than real, less than significant. We treat the cyber life as a second class reality yet we invest much of ourselves in it. This segmentation comes natural to us in all aspects of life but we name them differently. We have work life, love life, school life, married life, single life…a million segments of this life which we separate from all others, each containing its own values and aspirations. None are more or less real than others. In fact, if I had to pick a life segment which I feels is not real life, it is work. Everything outside of work is real life for me!
I think the terminology is gray and unresolved and prone to misinterpretation.
We use “real life” in the sense that it is a legacy of our pre-internet three-dimensional, concrete world in which concepts and ideas are delineated by the physical structures and barriers of our world. There was not a concurrent “reality” living within the sandy innards of the bricks and mortar that shaped our world in eras past. There was no unseen and intangible existence lurking beneath the surface of our outward reality. Still immersed in this idealization of reality, we call our old world “real” when in fact, it’s all real.
A figure of speech. Perhaps.
Why then did it materialize in the common nomenclature?
Why didn’t we call it “flesh world” or “whole world” or “outside world?”
Because we meant to call it “real” world. This was no accident…we truly understood the ramifications of “real” when used to describe this stumbling farce of an existence we lead out here beyond the silicon fog of dislocated faces and voices. Real is a value judgment for better, and for worse. It is the root of “reality” which has frequently let many of us down. Maybe we should call it the “waking world.” Cyberspace, by extension, is the dream, the fantasy, the escape. Anything that transpires there is unrepresentative of what lives and breathes outside its metallic encased walls.
In the cruelness of the real world.