The Internet isn’t Real Life… I don’t THINK

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Ages ago (by which I mean in August 2013 obviously) I wrote a ground breaking, earth shattering piece sophisticatedly entitled “Hey guys Twitter isn’t real… is it?… Oh no IS IT?” which sought to debunk the idea that social media meant a damn. The gist of the whole thing was mostly spelled out in the title and didn’t deviate much from that sentiment. That we were getting too carried away with it all, letting social media permeate our lives to a degree that felt a little bit ridiculous, occasionally embarrassing, and in some cases problematic. My core argument then (as it is now, I’m consistent) was that I wasn’t the same person online as I was off it. I was playing a part, donning a mask, being a curated version of myself – funnier, cleverer, sexier, cooler – but then I’d close the lid on my laptop or press the logout button on my gigantic supercomputer, pull my trousers up and go back to my actual life as a normal person. I might even have a cheese and pickle sandwich for lunch to prove it.

This was back when Twitter was everything, and when its chief currency was making people honk with laughter. To inspire and rule with your quips. Of course, not long after that Twitter decided to stop being funny altogether, then it got quite angry, and god knows what it is now, I’ve long since left. I now spend the hours when I should be doom-scrolling doing other things like staring at magpies (and wondering what fresh vision of hell they’d unleash if I didn’t salute them) or going to the shop to buy a refreshing can of Coke Zero.

I’m not saying any of this to come off as worthier than thou, I’m not one of those eyes-widening “hey look up” people who berate you for missing a sunset because you’re trapped in your phone. I’m saying it because I still, over a decade later, don’t consider anything online to be part of my actual life (outside of work, obviously). Online vitriol, people getting cancelled, someone taking a picture of their lunch. It still feels pretend. I’m from (probably) the last generation that didn’t come of age with the internet, so the world mostly felt enormous, distant and completely intangible, the notion of celebrity felt unfathomable, and war, politics, religion – these were just tick boxes for the drunker members of your family to ruin Christmas with. If someone went off traveling, you didn’t see nor hear from them until they got back (often with a small tattoo, a dreadlock, and a new world view).

I’m not taking the importance away from anything online, for all the kerfuffle it’s also been a place of radical goodness. I’m just saying that you can also switch the internet off. It’s a disposable noise that you can, if you want to, live without. Just put the lid down and have a life away from it, and one that isn’t lessened because you’re burying your head in the sand, but one that’s enriched because you’re not doing that. The internet is the sand, your head is your head – you’ve dug yourself up. You’re allowing yourself to be informed by what’s in front of you. Living life in the most literal sense. Laughing, not LOLing. Agreeing, disagreeing, discussing things with people, not in an intense forum emboldened by your own magnificence, but out in the open, where you have to be a true representation of who you are because it would be utterly exhausting to be anything else.

The internet is real and it’s mostly inescapable… but it isn’t everything and it doesn’t often mean anything either. I think that’s probably the point I’m lurching towards here. Now I just need to communicate that to my children without them zoning out after precisely three seconds. I should probably just make a TikTok video.

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