A couple weeks ago I hit up the 2011 Northern Voice conference at UBC, which was a great opportunity to learn more about blogging, podcasting, social media, and other web-related activity, as well as a chance to meet a bunch of cool folks I’d only known through Twitter.
I attended lots of great presentations but the most inspiring was Alexandra Samuel‘s “Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life.”
In her session, Samuel took on the whole idea behind the acronym “IRL” (In Real Life). In her related Harvard Business Review post, she writes: “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 way I’m seeing it applying to me is twofold.
The first part is dealing with the criticisms that portray online activity as not real. I am proud of my blog and I promote it to my offline friends and family, but I don’t generally tend to disclose that I used to write fanfiction, and I avoid talking about my Twitter friends to my offline friends. Even when I do talk about my online life I can get a little defensive or downplay its importance to me.
That’s partly because I keep hearing this idea that somehow online experience isn’t real experience, that the friends you make on Twitter aren’t as legitimate, that blogging isn’t real writing, and that being hooked into the internet through laptops and mobile devices is somehow preventing people from engaging in society in a healthy way. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers being a teen gamer and fanfic writer and having a parent harp at me to spend more time away from the computer screen.
But what I’ve learned and what Samuel helped articulate is that our online activity is just as “real” and important as what we do offline. For example, my blogging has let me engage with feminists around the world, in a very real and dynamic way and I’ve learned to much from these interactions.
Writing fanfic has not only been an outlet for creative expression but working in an online writing community has helped me develop my writing, editing, and collaboration skills. I have online friends around the world who I’ve never met in person, but there are many I’d love to go for coffee with if we were in the same physical location, and I have a few great long-term offline friends who I first met online.
The second component comes out of Alexandra Samuel’s recommendation to fully embrace your online presence and make it more authentic.
This may mean purguing some Facebook not-really-friends and treating the remaining ones as you’d treat offline friends. For me, it also means taking my writing and photography seriously as art and using my online time on things that are valuable and important to me like helping promote feminist causes, engaging in an online feminist community, and more deeply exploring my other interests.
One of the 10 reasons Samuel sites to stop apologizing for your online life is: “When you focus on creating real meaning with your time online, your online footprint makes a deeper impression.”
That’s why she suggests an alternate acronym to IRL: RLT or “Real Life, Too”.
Though I haven’t purged my not-so-real Facebook friends lest it inhibit my ability to publicize my blog, I am determined to try to live the RLT idea better, to stop downplaying my online life, and to make sure my real self comes through in this world of real life, too.