When I was in junior high and high school, I spent my evenings in chat rooms and forums. I made some great friends, some of whom I still talk to, during that time. I was never alone, because I was always talking to someone. However, we referred to what we were doing offline as IRL activities and our offline friends as IRL friends.
I remember some people found this to be offensive, especially on forums, because IRL we are sitting at a computer exchanging words with other human beings. How is that not real? It denigrated our friendships and hobbies. Many a 2AM squabble erupted in the chat box while we discussed the parameters required to dictate what IRL truly meant. And although online we were highlighting the key points of our arguments, offline we were eating cheetos in our underwear.
IRL, for those who don’t know, means “in real life.” In real life, I was a student, I played video games, I hung out with my friends, I read books. Online I participated in forums, met new people, created and discussed digital art, and was most often represented by an anonymous avatar.
Now, things are different.
We use our own pictures as avatars, putting our faces out there for everyone to see. Even in our Gmail inboxes we see the faces of the people contacting us. There is no anonymity. Social networks are no longer underground rooms on the Palace Chat. With Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, we are a digitally connected world.
The idea of separating your digital life from your offline life is nonexistent. The concept of IRL is gone. The people we know on the internet are simply our friends.
With the IRL distinction no longer being necessary, we must accept a full integration of online and offline. We are our online personas whether we are walking down the street or posting on a forum. We are searchable. We are defined by the amount of information we share over the world wide web. We are our Facebook profiles. We are our feelings in 150 words or less.
How do you feel about the IRL moniker as an offline distinction?