The Internet: IT’S MADE OF PEOPLE

People often toss around the idea that the internet is “not real life,” as though this thing — made by people to allow those people to share and interact with other people — is just the playtime before more serious business. The real business.

I object.

Here are some things that happen on the internet:

  • People make friends.
  • People order pizzas.
  • People go to school.
  • People find love.
  • People work.
  • People Amazon Prime themselves things they could easily pick up at the drugstore down the street, and they totally would just walk over there this afternoon if it weren’t raining.
  • People connect.
  • People create.

Here are some other things that happen on the internet:

  • People lose friends and family.
  • People lose jobs.
  • People are bullied and mocked.
  • People are threatened and forced from their homes.

All of these things really happen between real people. (Really.) They are therefore, by definition, happening “in real life.” When you claim that the internet is “not real life,” you diminish all of these very real experiences. For the positive ones, that just sad; for the negative ones, it’s dangerous.

Humans are connecting. Interacting. Learning. Supporting themselves. Ordering pad thai.* Sometimes, these things happen over a series of tubes, sometimes over a cup of coffee. Claiming one is more real than the other is disrespectful to the people having those experiences. To us. When you say the internet is “not real,” you diminish the deep bond of the couple that live on opposite sides of the world and met on a message board — their relationship is less-than. You diminish the man furthering his education and professional development with online courses — his efforts are less-than. You diminish the woman receiving rape threats on Twitter — those threats are less-than — and you diminish the culpability of the very real person who made those threats. It’s not a real threat. It’s just the internet.

If you want to support that conception of the internet, go right ahead. But first ask: do that couple, that man, or that woman feel a lesser degree of love? Of accomplishment? Of fear?

We could pontificate about the attributes of “realness” until the conversation comes to an abrupt end when we all get sucked into our own navels, or we could just decide that any place where human relationships, education, and livelihoods blossom is a real place. We can do that because not only did we make the internet, we made the language we use to talk about it. We define. We decide. That power-slash-responsibility is not one I’m about to abdicate. “It’s just the internet…” Okay, except we are the internet. It’s “just” us.

It is possible that all of life is just an illusion; a false front erected by an evil demon, as Descartes once mused before concluding otherwise. Maybe the internet itself is an evil demon; that would certainly explain the popularity of child porn rings and Farmville. But until I have proof of that, I’m going to behave as thought it is, y’know, real. That’s the only experience I have, and I refuse to call it less than that. Last I checked, the opposite of “real” is “fake.”

Without people, there’s no internet, not the way we know it. There’s just a bunch of servers, sitting in a room somewhere, wondering when the people are going to come along to upload cat GIFs.

TL;DR: Are you alive? Is something happening? Then it’s happening IRL. Full stop.**

*Yes, I order a lot of take out on the internet. You tell me you wouldn’t do the same, if your city had a bakery that would bring you hot, fresh cookies and a glass of milk when you asked them to via the internet.

**Holy crap, pontificating about the internet really sends my punctuation usage to a whole ‘nother level of excess.

156 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. I decided to read it first because I disagreed with it – if course, I’m French so I couldn’t do anything but say something AGAINST what is said here in a grumpy way, because as everyone should know, French people are very good at pissing and moaning! But reading it made me realise that the point that is made here is a ‘real’ one and that it actually IS relevant. And although I assume it can be argued otherwise, the content of your post was definitely convincing – and that is a huge compliment coming from someone who is more into books and paper than into technology (I’m getting there though)!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s an interesting post. My dad and I have had an argument about this exact topic about once a month since 1996 or so. The first time I have ever read anything about it though.

    Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This was a really interesting piece!
    For me the Internet is vital. I use it for my long distance relationship with my boyfriend who is in the military. We Skype and Facebook daily, I see his life and he sees mine with the Internet. It is very real!
    As a teacher, I am concerned that sometimes that reality created by the Internet can make someone’s offline reality worse. Many of us as children (or adults) could have escaped bullying in school when at home, home being a safe place. However, now the Internet has allowed people more opportunities to connect they are never able to escape. This just proves the harshness, dangers and as your blog depicts, the Internet is very real! Just ask the parents of poor Amanda Todd.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You know what isn’t real life? Books. I rue the day these damn kids gave up their oral traditions and worshipped at the altar of the printing press. Mark my words, it’s the beginning of the end.

    (I didn’t read all the comments, so if anyone already said this, let’s just assume I am funnier)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If there wasn’t internet, there wouldn’t be WordPress and I would be scribbling my thoughts on every little scrap of paper I could find. I’d only be a writer in my head. I wouldn’t have met all my writing buddies, sharing, complimenting and encouraging one another to keep moving forward in our originality. I hit the delete button if invades by the uninvited and I keep experiencing it it for the good it was created. Selah!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What gets me is that so many people feel comfortable saying and doing things online that they would not, could not, dare not do in “real life”. As if it’s okay to bully, belittle, gang up on, be intolerant towards others because, hey, “it’s the internet!” No, these are PEOPLE with feelings and words on the internet hurt just as bad and can cause the same amount of hurt and damage, if not more! The internet is a great, positive tool, but like many tools, it can be misused and abused.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My own opinion is that internet is going to be a needs not so far away, because made a easy life for us. Example of this is a country from Europe side starting implement use plastic card to all country for eliminate bills paper and currency smuggling is the priority for this government . All the transaction people make should do with plastic card to expand whole country and Europe.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I admin a crafting group in FB and we are just short of 1000 members. What do people say they love about the group? That they feel part of a community. That they have found friends. That they have help and support and encouragement. That they are inspired. When the Internet works, it us better than the quotidian reality through which we trek each day. It is a prism through which we glimpse other people’s lives. Are internet friends any less real than people we can see and touch? I think not.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Another thing is people judge on the internet more openly than in their real life. More outspoken that is. Maybe it has something to do with this pseudo-hypocrisy concept of some sort I read a weeks back.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t really get why people say that the internet is not real because, like you mentioned, the internet is made of people. If tomorrow nobody would connect to the internet then it will start dying and very quickly it will shut down.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I guess many people treat the Internet as not real life because they like the idea of having a facade, or at least a screen shielding them, protecting them or just letting them to hide away from the real world for awhile. That’s how keyboard warriors and cyber bullying and fake cyber identities come about too, I guess. Thank you, for writing this post and giving people a wake up call!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. What the article said is definitely right. Internet is a part of real life. With it we are able to connect and see what is happening to other real people. Because of the internet, other people are probably bullied. But still internet shouldn’t take over one’s real life. Internet is real because the ones who are using it are real people. We should learn to use it properly and responsibly.

    Like

  13. When you claim that the internet is “not real life,” you diminish all of these very real experiences. For the positive ones, that just sad; for the negative ones, it’s dangerous.

    These are my favorite lines. Thanks for expressing many thoughts I’ve had.

    Like

  14. What a great article. How do you feel about the fact that the way you browse and the content/activity you produce on different sites like Facebook can automatically categorise you as a person? As you mentioned the internet can be an awesome place of connectivity and on the contrary a dangerous environment that enables cyber-hate. But why aren’t we questioning the actual value of the data we put out there? Companies like Facebook value our data, in fact they make money off our data, like lots of money. So why don’t we care?

    Like

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