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10 Reasons to Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life

by Alexandra Samuel in |

This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.

#thankyoujesus for irl and online friends. Couldn’t live w/o either.

Laptop down. It’s IRL Face Time!

it was so cool meeting you irl! :)

IRL: In Real Life. It’s used as shorthand all over the Internet, to distinguish what happens online from what happens offline.

And it’s a lie.

If we still refer to the offline world as “real life,” it’s only a sign of deep denial — or unwarranted shame — about what reality looks like in the 21st century.

The Internet’s impact on our daily lives, experiences and relationships is real. Our world is deeply affected by networks. From the moment you wake up to news that was gathered online to the minute you fall asleep listening to a podcast, the Internet shapes how you experience the world around you. From the lunch date you make with your BFF (“r u free 4 lunch 2day?”) to the colleagues your company recruited online, the Internet shapes who you interact with. And from the boss who fills you in on a Twitter rumor to the kid who fills you in on her Facebook activities, the Internet shapes how you interact with them.

And yet many of us feel like we don’t have a lot of choices about the role of the Internet in our lives. We spend more and more time online, but feel less and less connected. We resent our Blackberries but feel terrified if we end up somewhere with no cell phone coverage. We may have occasional moments of delight when we find an online video of Shiba Inu puppies (awww……) but they’re overshadowed by the relentlessness and vacuity of an online world in which teens can be literally bullied to death.

Still, the fact that life online can occasionally surprise and delight us points us towards the truth: it’s not the Internet itself that leads to pathologies like cyber-bullying, spam and identity theft. Rather it’s our decision — individually and collectively — to separate the Internet from the context, norms and experience that guide human behavior. It’s our decision to engage in online interaction as if it were fundamentally different from offline conversation. It’s our decision to label the Internet as something — anything! — other than real life.

There’s no denying the differences between life online and off. In our online lives we shake off the limitations of our physical selves, perhaps even our names and consciences, too. What remains are the fundamentals: human beings, human conversations, human communities. To say that “reality” includes only offline beings, offline conversations and offline communities is to say that face-to-face matters more than human-to-human.

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:

1. When you commit to being your real self online, you discover parts of yourself you never dared to share offline.  Read more >>

2. 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.  Read more >>

3. 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.  Read more >>

4. 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.

5. When you take your Flickr photos, YouTube videos and blog posts seriously as real art, you reclaim creative expression as your birthright.

6. When you focus on creating real meaning with your time online, your online footprint makes a deeper impression.

7. 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. Read more >>

8. When you spend your online time on what really matters to you, you experience your time online as an authentic reflection of your values.

9. When you embrace online conversations as real, you imbue them with the power to change how you and others think and feel.

10. 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.

First posted on July 28,2010

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