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  • Raven James

Remember to Live IRL




I started learning how to type on the computer when I was 8. By the time I was 11, I could easily type over 50 words per minute. By the time I was 14, I had been introduced to online communities; mainly other teenage girls from all over the country that also shared my interests (which, at the time was mostly B2K, B5, and just about anyone else who participated in the Scream Tours).


One could say that I've been "living online" for quite some time. After all, as a millennial I had the chance to experience life through many technological transitions: from CDs and Mp3s to streaming, from dial-up internet to wifi, from MySpace to Facebook, from indestructible Nokias/flip phones to smartphones, from stranger danger to regularly talking to "strangers" on the internet and calling them friends.


I enjoyed my online life. It definitely made me feel more ahead of the curve regarding online socializing, online safety (aka avoiding creeps), and general computer skills. There were many positives to having a thriving online life.


However, I can't always say I like how online life has progressed for all of us. With social media especially, I feel like we're now so much more susceptible to living the whole of our lives online rather than living in real life (or "IRL").


No, I'm not taking this as a chance to wag my finger in everyone's face about social media. And I'm not climbing on a soap box to say how "social media ruins everything". But I can't deny its influence on how a lot of us carry ourselves in daily life.


Detaching from Reality


I hear this phrase thrown around a lot when it comes to how people conduct themselves online. For many, social media gets a lot of the blame when it comes to the deterioration of friendships, romantic relationships, as well as basic social skills altogether. The idea is that social media platforms (Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook) allow people to be so detached from reality that they don't know how to conduct themselves in "real life" situations. After all, there's a huge difference between having scathing debates online with Twitter thugs and having an altercation with...actual thugs. It is very easy for people, especially the younger crowd, to have a distorted view of real-life consequences for heinous actions.



People who are Perpetually Online (also known as Chronically Online) are those who spend so much time online it skews their sense of reality and hinders their ability to effectively communicate about hard topics. In other words, a lot of their existence revolves around being online.


Yes, it's clear that scrolling on social media and other entertainment apps is a common form of escapism (I find myself doing it from time to time). But for most people, it's just a temporary fix for boredom before moving on to something more important. For someone Chronically Online, however, it is the most comfortable way to live.


Something that my friends and I will say when met with an overzealous troll: "please go outside. Please touch grass". This phrase is directed at people who are putting way too much time and energy into being nasty and argumentative (especially over extremely petty topics). Even a half-comical/half-serious phrase drives the point: find something to do that matters, not stress yourself out and argue with dense people online as full-on adults.


Misplacement of Identity


Just the other day on Twitter, I saw a thread oriented towards putting one's identity into their job or career.


Even though it's not necessarily my narrative, I know all too well that there are a lot of us who make the mistake of making our job/career a bigger part of our identity than it needs to be. Many of us have heard the phrase that "social media is just a highlight reel", meaning that people are likely to only post about their highs, not their lows. People will naturally want to share any good things that are happening in their life, but not as many are willing to be vulnerable enough to share more of the rough patches. For this reason, it's easy for others to reach the false conclusion that their own lives are lackluster, that they haven't accomplished enough, and that they are falling behind their peers in success and growth.


More people associate this type of discouragement with apps like Instagram, but now in more recent years even 'professional' social media sites like LinkedIn are beginning to seem like more of an 'influencer hub'. The app has definitely evolved past a simple networking or job search site. Now I see people post multiple paragraph statuses about the new position they're starting, or make formal announcements for their departure from a previous company. Obviously, people can be excited about their new journeys and share that with their following. But it does make me wonder how many people like their jobs, and how many people like how their jobs make them look to others.


And you may be wondering: How does this pertain to not living in real life? Your job is definitely something that happens in your real life! That may be true, but living in real life is hard to do when you're living life constantly worried about how everyone else perceives you.


I live a hop and a skip away from the District of Columbia, what a lot of people would refer to as "the city of status". Comedic accounts like Overheard DC tend to highlight how much people wrap themselves up in the identity of working at a major company (i.e. Deloitte, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, etc.) or working for a government agency. People are much more likely to lead a conversation with "What do you do?" before any other question. And, depending on the crowd, they may have their own judgments on whether or not you have a "good job". I remember going to a networking event and while I did eventually ask the old "what do you do" question, I didn't feel the need to make it the center of our conversation. It turns out that outside of her government job, she actually enjoyed anime and art (and once desired to be an animator). By the end of the conversation, she said:


"I honestly don't remember the last time I've been able to talk about this kind of stuff with anyone!"


That made me pretty sad. It's as if, for the sake of image and status, people are more willing to talk about things that don't actually interest them. And maybe it helps that I don't have a glamorous 'instagrammable' job (or even one that allows me to disclose any interesting information) that I'm able to separate what I do for work from who I am as a person. When we make our career/work our identity, we inadvertently deny what makes "us". Furthermore, we're much more likely to enter a personal crisis if we get laid off from our jobs. It's no different than when a woman becomes a mother and has to figure out how to still be themselves rather than simply "someone's mom". Generally, placing our importance in a title is a dangerous game to play with our self-image.


What Does Living IRL Look Like?

I've honestly spent years asking myself this question. At first, I thought it meant going out every single weekend to sightsee or attend events, but that immediately became exhausting. I also thought it meant quitting social media entirely.


Living in real life is simply just living a life that's true to you regardless of how others perceive it. Truthfully, I don't think social media is this evil monster that ruins relationships or has that much negative effect on society. However, I do think that social media of all types has to be used in moderation when it comes to our personal lives. There are times when I may take a brief break from social media when I feel like it's occupying too much of my time, but overall I still find it to be a fun way to connect. My personal account and the Serendipity & Such account are separate on purpose. Branding, marketing, and execution are something that we do for businesses or blogs, not ourselves. Simply put: my life is not a brand. And I don't want to put pressure on myself to seem like an influence; rather, I want to put time and effort into genuinely becoming a person of influence.



Living in real life is going to look different for everyone. It may mean putting more time into your interests and hobbies. It can also mean making an effort to detach your job from your identity. Maybe you really do need to spend more time "touching grass" instead of arguing with dense people on Twitter. Or maybe you need to reduce the amount of time you spend scrolling. Sure, maybe I'll eat something delicious with a close friend and have a nice photo to put on my story; but I also might completely forget to do so. Maybe I'll see a beautiful sunset and snap a picture of it as a happy memory. The important thing is that I'm not having those experiences with the sole purpose of putting them on social media trying to be perceived as adventurous, interesting, attractive, etc. Rather, I'm having those experiences for me and I'm making the choice to share the experiences with others.


I hope you take the opportunity to explore and live IRL!


-Raven


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