I spend a fair bit of time online, and a good portion of that time involves social media of one form or another. More and more, it’s how I connect with the wider world outside my home. It’s become my source of news and entertainment, and a way to make friends and grow a business. Professionally, I actually help other businesses with their social media channels. It’s fair to say that I’ve spent a good chunk of time hanging out on Twitter.
I recently built myself a new website. Its purpose is to collect all of the stuff I do online and provide a single place where you can see it all and find out exactly what I’m up to. It’s my attempt to organize my online life, which sometimes feels a little chaotic. I chose my tagline for the site rather hastily, and I came up with this:
I do lots of stuff online…and in real life, too.
As I was looking back over my site, something about that tagline stuck with me. It’s the delineation between the online world and real life. It very much suggests that what happens on the internet is somehow not real life. I’m not sure I like that implication.
Now, to be fair, unplugging and spending time face-to-face with the people who mean the most to you is very important. I’m not suggesting for a moment that it isn’t. It’s also true that sometimes hanging out online can get to be a little bit much. It’s good to unplug regularly. Get outside and breathe fresh air. Turn off the beeping and the pinging and the stream of constant updates. I totally understand that, and it’s why I set aside dedicated offline time myself.
Meeting some online friends “in real life” at BlogHer in San Diego
All the same, I believe that the internet is real life. We are real, and anything that we experience gets integrated into our life story. This could be a conversation you had with a stranger in a cafe that left you looking at the world in a whole new way. It could also be a blog post written by a stranger that left you breathless at its beauty. Chatting with someone half a world away online is every bit as real, in my mind, as making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store. When we remember that, and bring our whole and authentic selves to each experience, it changes the way we interact online and offline.
One of the reasons that’s often cited for people behaving badly on the internet is that it’s easy to be anonymous online. When you’re anonymous – and geographically removed from the person you’re trashing on – there aren’t the same consequences as there would be if you decided to sling insults to someone’s face. But the sting of hurtful words online is very real. There is always a real person in there somewhere, hiding behind a screen. That’s what makes it real life, and it’s the reason we really shouldn’t spend our time trolling online and leaving nasty comments. People have feelings, even if you can’t see their reaction with your own eyes.
If you approach everything you do as real, it changes the character of your experiences. In real life we need to cultivate positive relationships. In real life, we need to consider the impact of our actions on others. In real life, we have to consider how best to prioritize our time. In real life, we build community and make our art and work and parent. When you’re approaching a situation authentically and purposefully, you’re bringing your best self to the table. That best self can make great things happen, online and offline.
You can’t walk barefoot in the grass online. You can’t hold a baby online. You can’t taste food online. But the things you do, the connections you make, and the way it affects you are all very real. They’re no less real than anything else you do. So don’t feel the need to apologize for time you spend online, when it’s providing you with some kind of value or personal satisfaction. And remember that it’s always your choice how you use your time online, and what you bring with you when you’re there.
Ready for a change? Check out the Crafting my Life Playbook, and find your own bliss in your own time, at your own pace, without every leaving your house. Or follow Crafting my Life on Facebook and subscribe to the mail list and be the first to hear about some exciting new things coming down the pipe.