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.


  1. I think it’s a matter of perception. Those who are experiencing reality through the internet will say it’s real alright. People who are there to fake, to have fun and spin make-believe stories and pretend would probably say it’s fake.

    Liked by 14 people

  2. I agree with you. The more comfortable I get with the Internet, the more I feel connected to people. It’s like the argument some people present that as a society we are not social enough because we are too connected to our devices. I never understood that argument. Who do they think is at the other end of those devices – robots?

    Liked by 12 people

  3. Beautifully said and very true, its just keeping it real. I must say though its much easier to see the real in those not hiding but just being themselves and sharing that, to those hiding behind a fake facade. The difference isn’t always so easy to see.

    Oh but darn .. more importantly : you can get warm cookies & milk delivered 🙂 WOW .OOO & darn I miss a city 🙂 …not that the middle of nowhere doesn’t have its charms, but I’m finding you can never quite take the city totally out of a girl.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. In the past week, I have had one not-real friend send me a playlist of tunes via Dropbox and another kindly ask Nick Hornby to autograph a book for me at a reading, which he (the not-real friend, not Nick Hornby) has since put in the mail. Way more than my real friends did for me last week.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. It’s that belief in not-realness, I think, that allows people to turn themselves into trolls: they don’t have to notice that the people they attack are real, and have real feelings.
    Now if only someplace was close enough to deliver that pad thai. The internet may connect us with the entire world, but it hasn’t solved the delivery problem.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. “It’s that belief in not-realness, I think, that allows people to turn themselves into trolls: they don’t have to notice that the people they attack are real, and have real feelings.”

      Exactly this.

      Have you read this piece about what happened when writer Lindy West confronted one of her trolls? Fascinating.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Things that have never, ever happened to me over the internet:
    – made a lasting friendship (or any friendship)
    – read the expression on someone’s face to know if they were kidding
    – found meaningful help for my very real personal problems (hint: it won’t involve cat videos).

    So I guess it is a matter of perception: it works for some folks, and it’s real for them (third person is intentional). It doesn’t work for other folks, and therefore it’s just a thing, a device, a prop, a facade, the technology du jour.

    As for trolls, they are just people who lack empathy. They lack it in real life too, but they’ve been supplied a megaphone for their hate speech, called the internet.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It’s for sure a matter of perception, and of personal experience. It’s not to say that everyone has the same experience of the internet, but that the blanket “not real life” idea is not a helpful one, and, as @ellen hawley points out above, enables trolling behavior that certainly does have a real impact on its targets.

      The problem is the generalizing (isn’t it always?), not how any one person experiences the internet.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Michelle, I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last year and I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid growing up in Louisiana, I had a pen pal in Oregon. We wrote for several years, exchanged photos, told each other about our lives and where we lived – that was real. I learned about places, how to converse using the written word and many other things. When someone saw the Declaration of Independence posted in a public forum and read it and felt something – that was real. When someone reads a novel or poetry and it affects their lives or view of the world – that’s real. The internet is just one of our current ways of doing the same old thing we’ve been doing since we started rubbing charred sticks on cave walls – sharing, spreading the word, learning and so much more.
    One final note: has anyone besides me ever had an extremely superficial meaningless face to face in person encounter?

    Liked by 7 people

  8. I love the drop into deep philosophy in the middle, but as you said so far as we are experiencing this world as real we have to deal with it in that way. The thing that I love about the internet is that it not only opens us up to a whole new world, it literally opens us up as people to new ideas and experiences that we would have never let in had we experienced it in person. We discount so many people merely because of their appearance not realizing the great individual that lies within. On the internet we are not so quick to judge, or at least we are judging off of different factors such as the creativity that the person is bringing to the table. We have friends of all ages, colors, religions, hair styles, whereas in person we tend to hang out with people that are just like us. The internet is freakin awesome.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. In some cases, what happens online is more real than what happens in allegedly real life, for in allegedly real life, I meet humans with whom I want to have no interaction and I fake a smile and speak politely though it drains what little energy I have. On the internet, I can find a community of people I trust because we interact by telling each other what moves us to write, what affects us deeply, what angers us beyond belief. Self-selecting online communities can often help each other through painful times while the humans with whom we’re physically able to connect remain emotionally disconnected because we can’t share this same honest, emotional discourse.
    In short, I don’t tell the people at work or the parents at my kids’ schools how upset I am about an event, but I tell the lovely people who read my blog. And they talk me down. Or up, as the case may be.

    [You know what also happens on the internet? I follow blogs and then check for them frequently on my reader, happily digesting their brilliance. But then they stop posting and I’m disappointed that they haven’t blogged for days, then weeks, then months; then I storm over to their site to see if they need an intervention and find out that I’ve been unfollowed, either by the author who likely disdains me for both interminable comments and willingness to wait months for an intervention; or by my own wild flailing and random clicking while reading. That shit’s real, too.]

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Yes! I was trying to explain to my husband a few years ago(*) why I felt so depressed about people in our guild whom I thought were my friends suddenly didn’t want to spend time with me or talk to me – they started avoiding me and I was lonely. I felt so rejected. “It’s just a game,” he says. Yes, it’s just a game, that’s true – but the social interaction is real.

    Real-life friendships with these people survived, mainly because my husband maintained the connections, but from my end they won’t ever be the same. I’ve seen who they really are and how they think “the internet” and “it’s just a game” is an excuse to treat people shamefully.

    (*) A husband whom, incidentally, I met on the internet. We were in the same World of Warcraft guild.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I couldn’t agree more with you king Of States. The Internet on the other hand has made people and destroyed likewise. I guess everything in life does come with some advantages and disadvantages.
    My advise is, knowing how to manage its usage, especially for those who are not making money from it. Cultivate the habit of engaging in safe activities only and never put yourself in a position to be a victim of Internet fraud and crimes. Enjoy a great piece read from the King Of States.

    Liked by 6 people

  12. The difference between “in-person in real life” and “on the Internet real life” are two words: impression/perception management. It is far easier to manage that which we wish to convey to others when they can not see us in person every day.

    Here’s an “in real life” example: pretty (but mean) girl all throughout younger years, popular, became even more beautiful into adulthood. On Facebook, life with her very handsome husband, their four chikdren, and many material things (new cars for teenagers, big homes, a “running with the bulls” vacation in Pamplona) “looked” like she had the happiest, most fulfilling life, one to be envied.

    I noticed her on Facebook through a mutual friend’s post, and her Facebook pages sucked me into a never-ending “in real life” photo album.

    In real life, six weeks after that moment, her husband committed suicide by hanging.

    Online, we can manage our impression upon others, and to some extent, their perception of us through that same impression management.

    Yes, people are real, these are real lives, and very positive and very negative, sometimes tragic, events unfold due to the existence of the Internet. While it has its virtues, it’s also a seedy (under)ground that is accepted out in the open.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Thx for this assertion, Michelle. I wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in the Internet, since there are still many people worldwide who aren’t on the Internet.

    But if it weren’t for people participating on the Internet by adding content, responding to content and people sometimes in real time, then the Internet is just a pile of equipment: computers, fibre optic cables, satellites.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I’ve ordered pizza, taken classes, promoted my work and met other artists through the internet. Yet, I still fell into the group of folks that dismissed the internet as not “real life.” Thanks for giving me something to think about. My brother-in-law and his beautiful wife met through the internet. They now have a beautiful baby. He once told me that he and his wife, when they fell for each other, asked each other: “where have you been my entire life.”

    That’s a great example of beautiful things that happen online.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Here here! *cheers*, I work on the Internet, am looking into distance learning for courses that I can’t get at the local University on the Internet, shop on the internet, made amazing friends on the Internet and have been sexually harassed on the internet. If that’s not all real, well then a bloody large majority of my life seems to be a figment of my imagination. The world has changed. Online is pretty much where we live now. It has gone from being a minimal past-time to become interwoven into the most basic functions of our every day lives. To minimize the integrations that take place in that environment is a very dangerous ignorance that, depending on the circumstance, could very easily ruin people lives. Like you said, cyber bullying and rape or death threats cannot simply be shoved aside and ignored due to the medium in which they were received.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. I don’t think that it is so much a question of experiences on the internet not being real, as the sentiment refers to entertainment in general.
    Would you object as fiercely if someone said, “Hey, this was great guys, but I need to get back to the office – can’t play paint ball all day!” or, “Hey, I REALLY loved this week in the bush with all of my best friends, but have to get back to Real Life now”? (Not made-up examples!)
    The expression rather denotes that one would much rather be occupied with something fun (like blogging) as opposed to work or even (don’t shoot me) the more frustrating / mundane aspects of parenting.

    Before I moved and subsequently got engaged, I lived five hours’ drive away from my (now) husband, whom I dated for several years before. Obviously, we communicated during this time – mostly via chat app.
    Three other couples in our circle of very close friends also had long distance relationships before they all ended up engaged (waiting for the weddings!) They also made use of one or more chat apps, as some of them lived as many as 16 hours’ drive apart (it’s a large country).

    All my work is done on a computer, if not ALWAYS on the internet. If the power is off (rolling black-outs and all that) or if the 3G is down, I can’t work. It’s real work. If I do it, I get paid for it, if I don’t, I don’t.

    And let’s not even debate the rape threats. A threat is a threat, regardless of the medium it is made on.

    I just don’t think that hyper-sensitivity, reading much more into comments than is actually intended, is likely to solve any of these (very real) problems.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. So, political correctness is going to prevent rape now? That’s great news, in the “rape capital of the world”. Yes, that is sarcasm 🙂

        Let me rephrase:
        And let’s not even debate the rape threats. A threat is a threat, regardless of the medium it is made on.
        I just don’t think that hyper-sensitivity, reading much more into innocuous, non-malicious comments like “got to get back to real life” is likely to solve any of these (very real) problems.

        An actual change in intent is required. Not a change in superficial behaviour.


  17. It’s scary how ‘real’ the Internet is. The Internet doesn’t end when we switch off our laptops or cellphones. It continues to exist irrespective of our presence online. Our online persona is something that we think about all the time. So of course, it’s VERY REAL!!

    Liked by 5 people

  18. I think the distinction between the internet and “real life” has more to do with physical presence than anything else. We just aren’t being precise with our words. I agree completely that if you can get canned or dumped on the internet, then denying the tangible consequences of these things is absurd.

    Liked by 5 people

  19. Internet and technology, which is closely connected to it, can have both positive and negative effects on us. I’m sad when I observe people in public transport how they become hypnotized by their devices, constantly connecting themselves to share their somehow meaningless existence. But on the other hand, we are able to develop beyond our frontiers. To program is to create magic, Aaron Schwartz used to say. And he was right. I love all kinds of immersions it brings to my work.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. it’s why the internet should be turned in a series of lanes, you dont have it all going one way, not everyone is adult enough to understand it and parents dont have the time to manage it, new thinking required….

    Liked by 3 people

  21. My thoughts exactly. I am going through CANCER at a young age, and the Internet has helped me express myself therapeutically, connect with others who have survived what I am going through, and provided me with a wealth of information. Without my blog, I think id feel as if I was alone in this journey, but being able to share it with the Internet community has made me feel as if I am making a difference, and allowing others to make a difference to me. It is pretty damned amazing. Great post ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  22. I really enjoyed your post. I love Amazon Prime and I do use the internet for many things. I am currently finishing my Bachelor’s degree online. The best part is I am on your blog as part of a class. It is about social identity and the internet in the 21st century. You make some great points that I would like to share with my class.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. I love the internet. Mainly because of the instant gratification component, the flitty nature of my mind and its 3 second attention span are very grateful for the opportunity to jump from here to there in a second with no repercussions (aside from adoption of a slight annoyance to the plodding/mundane sloth like mentality of the “real world”.) I also like how ads are aware of this and give themselves up for slaughter after 5 seconds (Facebook). The internet is a blessing that is relatively outside of the rule set that our real life society must adhere to. God bless the internet.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. I think this is accurate for TODAY’S internet, but originally (if i recall) very few people ever put their real name on the net. 15 yrs ago, it was considered stupid and dangerous to put your full name on the internet. Now it’s considered insulting to be anonymous…times change. Just a thought.

    Liked by 5 people

  25. 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

    This made me laugh out loud. And you’re right: What happens online is as real as what happens offline.

    No one would ever say that it’s okay to harass someone over the phone because “it’s just over the phone” so why do people make this excuse online? They shouldn’t.

    Do you mind if I share this article with my students?

    Liked by 6 people

  26. Great points and insights. I’ve always thought of the internet as a little less than real. I can’t pet cat photos they way I pet my cat or really experience the world through travel blogs and other websites the way I can in person. However, I agree 100% that the friendships, services, insults, and threats made on the internet are real. They originate with people and target people just like other forms of communication.

    Liked by 4 people

  27. When the Internet was just beginning, it really was separate from real life. There weren’t as many people, no unlimited access (unless you bled cash), and not a lot of webpages. It just wasn’t personal and being anonymous was just safer. To know someone’s real name was rare, and violating that trust was a big deal. I still am not comfortable in attaching my real name to my online work for this reason even though things are very different. The internet now is like a common room we are always invited too. People are now not usually anonymous. It’s always ben real, just now it is more real because of the sheer amount of ways and hours we can all be connected. Some people just have a power high when they are protected by screen or behind the wheel.

    Liked by 4 people

  28. Thank you, this was thoughtful and well written! Love the navel line! Several others also touched on this, but I do think when people hide behind facades or anonymity, it really compromises the “realness” of the interactions.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. I’m all for the reality of the Internet and all the yummy warm cookies it can provide — but I guess the question for me is what is lost when we do not need to leave our homes for human connection. Or for toothpaste….!

    Liked by 2 people

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