In Real Life

I’ve just been checking out Thomas Ryberg’s draft paper on Networked Identities, which in a very fitting way I found via a comment Thomas had left over on an Explode comment wall – he’d posted it over at his site in response to an Explode ‘friends nudge’ (basically, messaging to people on your friends list) from Stan Stanier asking for suggestions on explaining the benefits of social networking sites and practices to teaching/academic staff.

Well, here you go Stan, one example of the usefulness of semi-structured networking within and across networks on a plate ☺

Thomas’s article raised exactly the issues we’ve been tackling over at the Emerge project, particularly the limitations of community of practice theorising around online activities and associations, and the current turn towards thinking through network identities.

So far, so useful. However – I’m wrestling with one particularly (to me anyway) sticky related issue at the moment. I was at NESTA’s Uploading Innovation event (co-ordinated by Policy Unplugged) and in one of the breakouts one of the participants pointed out the futility of distinguishing between online and offline in terms of young peoples activity, since for many of them the two were perceived of and experienced as interdependent. No argument from me. However, I have a similar problem to Stan, in that I still need to articulate fields of activity to people whose experience of the internet and technology may be very much less network, or community, or socially based. I’ve been using ‘online’ and ‘offline’ as indicators – but I’m aware that this is a very geek-centric approach which may not sit well with people who don’t spent as much time online as I do. I really have a problem with (and so won’t use) the ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ (real world, real life) as a distinction – even though the popularity of the acronym IRL (in real life) is notably on the rise. I’ve occasionally fallen back on referring to offline as 3D.

Presuming it’s not just me who has an issue, can I ask what everyone else’s thinking is? What your preferred or grudging used terminology has been? Is my dependence on dichotomies a bit pitiful? What do you use?   

3 thoughts on “In Real Life

  1. Thanks for mentioning the paper (which I should have mentioned also to attribute to Malene Charlotte Larsen, who is the co-author). On the discussion of online/offline I have become fond of using the term on-life as an alternative. This is basically to get rid of the dichotomy and stress the interplay between online/offline. But this is sort of an academic viewpoint on methodology and also a theoretical discussion (though also thoroughly empirically founded)
    However, I do also agree with you and Stan that there may be a need to describe the distinction, as often a lot of people do speak of a difference (as you mention with IRL)…so maybe a pragmatic or ethnographic approach would be to actually research when or in what situations people would talk about online/offline or real vs. virtual (which I don’t like either).
    My guess would be that some fields of activity would be described as more ‘online’ or ‘virtual’ than others, where e.g. instant messaging or mailing would be less ‘virtual’ than e.g Second Life or WoW. I would think that in people’s own descriptions there would be a continuum that would – if not completely dissolve the dichotomy – then at least render it more diverse than polar oppositions. I think this is how I would approach the distinction.

  2. Interesting point Thomas – I think you’rew absolutely correct in thinking the perceptions of online/offline/real/virtual aren’t necessarily pure. My experience is the same as your – actually most people don’t consider email to be “online” these days but do consider social technologies such as blogs and IM as online. It has occurred to me whether the real distinction is one of familiarity and maybe the terms “known” and “alien” might better describe the psychology here. Certainly, one of the key barriers I believe we’re encountering here is one of the fear of the unknown “online” world that most of our students are engaging in and that such fear puts a significant pychological barrier in the way of considering how these “alien” technologies might be used in education.
    So, maybe we’re just back to square one again – we’ve dealt with technophobia on numerous occasions and perhaps it’s just back to the drawing board to figure out our latest angle of attack on an old adversary!

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