Let’s Chat: IM is so last decade

Let’s talk about Social Media. Let’s talk about online personalities. Let’s talk about Facebook and smartphones and always online. According to my sources, these things have become somewhat popular of late.

Discussing modern life connectivity invariably brings up two responses. The first:

1. OMG it’s GR8, I can tell the world what I had for breakfast and where I am RIGHT NOW and I can keep in touch with my friends ALL THE TIME, I ❤ how I can share my cool thoughts the moment they come into my head through twitter

and then there’s the mourning and woe and much gnashing of teeth:

2. Oh woe! This generation of kids babysat by glowing white rectangles can’t tear themselves away from their screens long enough to enjoy what’s around them, to smell the roses and appreciate the world. They demand satisfaction and entertainment and instant gratification that they miss the value of introspection and reflection and creative boredom. I pity them for they are DOOMED to a lifetime of cretinous consumption and superficial socialising.

The first is true but pretty much completely misses the potential of being Connected, while the second is mistaken and missing out. Now, I’m not so intelligent as to have fully-formed original ideas spouting out of my head, so I will point in the direction of a long article which, by-and-large, had me nodding along with assent.

If you haven’t the will to read the whole thing, I’ll summarise it as follows: The obsession with being offline, and celebrating being able to disconnect, be it by abstaining from Facebook, putting away a phone,  feeling secretly superior at keeping away from email, or proudly declaring distraction-free digital sabbaths for introspection are a fetishization of being offline. Rejecting the attention span-destroying and creativity-sapping convenience of modern connectivity for the retro and the vintage steams from Digital Dualism: the belief that the online and offline are distinct and mutually exclusive. That one can be one, or the other, but not both.

But, fact is, we don’t have digital dual personas, we have online extensions. Photos posted on Facebook were taken at a party where you actually danced with someone, and that lunch date you just had was at a restaurant recommended by a friend online and organised through the internet. When you turned your phone off and went sightseeing on holiday, you were thinking of  sharing your great experience on your blog.  As the author puts it:

“But this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline. That is, we live in an augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say “IRL” to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”

Permit an illustration through a medium of which I’m particularly fond: games. This article was what prompted me to go down this rabbit hole, and it is as dauntingly long as the previous one, and very likely even less penetrable or interesting. In fact, if you ask me I’d say I don’t get half of it either (and I’d ashamedly surrender some geek cred), but the bit that is relevant, as illustrated through a pair of games a decade apart:

“In truth, ‘the internet’ doesn’t exist anymore. There is rarely any point speaking of it as if it was separate from the rest of the world – which is a cyberspace too. Uplink’s fantasy of separation (or separatism?) is now barely coherent. But then, it was always based on a Hollywood vision of the electronic frontier. In their use of space and distance, and the aesthetic choices that surround them, Watch Dogs and Uplink seem to bookend an ontological shift in how we think about the internet, a move from fantastic digital dualism to rhizomatic complexity. Now the only question is whether Ubi’s game can capture this moment as brilliantly as Uplink captured mine.”

Personally I’ve never been as deeply enmeshed into the online world as some people; I don’t tweet, I can stay away from Facebook without withdrawal symptoms, I don’t upload photos of everything I eat or everyone I meet. But I still consider myself a digital native. I like undistracted time to work or think, not offline time for simply being offline.If I have to disconnect so that I’m not interrupted by invites to Farmville, so be it, but I’ll still meet you as readily online as offline.

But, for all the folk who haven’t yet developed an intuitive understanding of how there can be no online/offline divide, it’s time to get with the times where online and offline selves are the same. Web 1.0 Email and IM, or Web 2.0 social media, or whatever comes next, we connect with our fellow fleshbags in both meatspace and online, often simultaneously. So, take a leaf out of the book from the characters in Christine Love’s (absolutely fantastic must read/play) visual novel don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story and curate your online personality with a bit more care, because it’s only going to become more important, and more real.

3 Responses to “Let’s Chat: IM is so last decade”

  1. melodily Says:

    “When you turned your phone off and went sightseeing on holiday, you were thinking of sharing your great experience on your blog. ”

    While I appreciate the general idea of integrating both online and offline worlds, I feel like more could have been said about the nuances of each for a better resolution — the examples given about sharing photos and experiences are still very much a limited aspect of what social media can do, almost as if you are deliberately only looking at this small area just for that direct comparison to what “real life” is. For the online world is not just about having so-called real life experiences and then translating them to virtual space; the online world thrives heartily on abstract thought processes that have nothing whatsoever to do with what people have done away from an electronic device.

    At the heart of the online/offline debate lies, I think, a modified version of the sensing/thinking divide — if you are “thinking of sharing your great experience”, it is taken that you are not fully living that experience, because your mind has already assumed a metaphysical position. Thus to address any online/offline issue one has to resolve the aforementioned divide first — does thinking about an experience take away anything from it? The social media phenomenon– is it just an extension/exacerbation of what we’ve been doing all along? If it is, then perhaps the virtual space is just a physical manifestation of this human propensity to project themselves away from that space/time, and so is more integrated with the physical world than opponents would have us believe. Probably one needs to address why this manifestation makes people uncomfortable (easier facilitation of drifting away) and why it shouldn’t/how to direct this phenomenon to THE GOOD OF HUMANITY etc.

    Of course, I haven’t read your two articles haha so feel free to tell me that “oh that’s all in the two articles YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO READ BEFORE YOU COMMENT”

  2. jx1992n Says:

    No doubt, the enmeshing of online/offline goes beyond merely publicising or translating meatspace experience online, and has the potential to still go much much further. And, yes, there are opportunities for being and living and thinking and creating online that would be much more difficult, or downright impossible, offline. Crowd-sourcing, open-source projects, wikis, and online fora all come to mind.

    So, yes, the potential of extended digital lives goes fay beyond just curating offline lives. But, it is useful to point out, to those who still see an increasingly irrelevant and inaccurate online/offline divide, that it is not a zero-sum game. The point isn’t that online lives can be had completely independently of offline lives, because that still sits on the digital side of the dualist divide. Rather, online lives and offline lives are subsumed within a singular existence where our online activities (thing slacktivism) and offline activities (old-school physical activism) can partner to create something truly powerful. I admit though that we still have much to go beyond merely pruning our online personae.

    That second article quoted up there, about Watch Dogs and Uplink, is actually pretty good at making this point. Perhaps, when Watch Dogs is released, we’ll see a world that demonstrates the potential of digital/meatspace integration

  3. lol Says:


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