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For Some of Us, WWW = IRL

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Barry Murphy via Getty Images
Barry Murphy via Getty Images

No doubt you've seen some manifestation of a species of essay wherein the author goes cold turkey on the Internet for some length of time, and proceeds to discover themselves anew, or some such. The proliferation of these pieces, and the moral or revelatory high ground they often claim, often makes me roll my eyes so far back that I can read my own thoughts. That's why this piece by Nathan Jurgenson was such a breath of fresh air. See here his take on this particular meme:

This concern-and-confess genre frames digital connection as something personally debasing, socially unnatural despite the rapidity with which it has been adopted. It's depicted as a dangerous desire, an unhealthy pleasure, an addictive toxin to be regulated and medicated. That we'd be concerned with how to best use (or not use) a phone or a social service or any new technological development is of course to be expected, but the way the concern with digital connection has manifested itself in such profoundly heavy-handed ways suggests in the aggregate something more significant is happening, to make so many of us feel as though our integrity as humans has suddenly been placed at risk.

But has it? Certainly one can be on the Internet, or on one's smartphone or what have you, "too much," but what exactly that means has more to do with what one is doing while online than whatever percentage of one's day is spent doing it. In other words, if you're staring at Facebook for 12 hours a day, you have a problem, but "the Internet" isn't it.

Anyway, more to the point I want to get to, here's Jurgenson again, talking now more generally about the popular opinion that somehow we're all overdosing on iPhones, and the "disconnectionist" gurus who blatantly avert their eyes from Retina displays while aloft their high (and very IRL) horses:

The disconnectionists see the Internet as having normalized, perhaps even enforced, an unprecedented repression of the authentic self in favor of calculated avatar performance. If we could only pull ourselves away from screens and stop trading the real for the simulated, we would reconnect with our deeper truth.

This is what always bothers me about these types; the assertion or suggestion that we're not being truly ourselves online. And as someone who has found the exact opposite to true, indeed, as one who has in many ways been redeemed by the Internet Age, I say, fuck that noise.

As I've now documented ad nauseum on my blog (and shall again!), I am a fairly severe introvert. Personal interaction in "the real world" with human beings corporeally in my presence is exhausting and stressful to me, even when said humans are those I love and trust. This has lead to a great deal of energy wasted on hiding myself, be it trying to blend in unnoticed in hostile-seeming situations (like school or when something horrible like sports are taking place), to presenting a falsely extroverted version of myself in evaluative situations like job interviews. I wear myself out in pretending to be a person who, say, really enjoys small talk and networking, or by donning any number of awkward, gawky masks -- like those worn by actors of ancient Greece, but so absurdly top-heavy as to make me stumble and topple over mid-choral ode.

With the exception of performing as an actual actor or musician on stage, the real world has been stifling to whoever or whatever the hell it is I "really" am.

Online I've found a taste of liberation. Not only do I feel more free to expound upon all manner of subjects, to make dumb jokes, and to promote myself with a sincerity I could never muster in meatspace, but perhaps more importantly, I more often feel at ease in simply explaining things about myself as a person, to talk about my kids and my day-to-day life, to unpack some of the mundane stuff as well as the heavier things. Behind the screen, at the keyboard, at the flick of the scrolling display, even in the midst of the cacophony of the Internet, I can communicate without so much of the same noise within my own mind, where each synapse second-guesses the next.

It's not so much that I use the Web as some kind of giant confessional with "like" buttons, but that I can just relax a bit more and talk about even boring and trivial things about myself. I even find it easier to be curious about others and their own trivialities, which I rarely am in physical space. I can breathe.

I'd be curious to know whether many or most of the folks who espouse disconnection are extroverts, if they are biased by their own inclination toward revitalization through in-person human contact, all within a "real world" already largely constructed around extroverted predilections. If I'm on to something, well then of course they see the online life as valueless, or as phony. It doesn't serve their own needs. But for me, and I suspect for my kind, the Web is the means of expression, the gateway into general society, that we've been waiting for. We're damn lucky it came about it our lifetimes, and you better believe that for us, it's real life.

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