I don’t feel like an old fart, but then I’m reminded of things like the fact that there are adults running around out there that have never lived in a world in which the bulk of human knowledge wasn’t more than a few mouse clicks or finger taps away. As remarkable as this is (that this could happen within a lifetime), it is nothing compared with the realization that for many people, what I call “a life” is only part of a life.
I use email. I know that’s old school, but it saves me a lot on postage. I recently started using Snapchat with some of my younger friends and family. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to them. For me, it is a way to communicate with them. For them, it is one of the online tools that they use to define their virtual lives.
I remember when my then 10 year old son started talking about his friend from Brazil at the dinner table. He had never been to Brazil and to my knowledge, he didn’t have any Brazilian friends from school. This particular friend was exclusively online. The concept of an online friend was new to me then. Anyone who is or knows some young peeps today has experienced the phenomenon of “in-room” texting. This is when two parties are communicating electronically despite being within earshot.
To the older generation, this simply makes no sense. However, relationships that grow and develop online live there. For certain, the lines are blurred. My other son recently took a vacation together with an online friend from the other side of the country who he had never met face-to-face (or IRL - in real life, as I prefer).
The point here is that people now have online lives that are as important as the IRL part of their lives. There are no rules about the proper balance between these two lives. Some live mostly online and other less. As the tools supporting our online lives become increasingly robust, the experiences we have in them start to feel more real to us than...uh...reality! What is real? The online relationships we have are real. Maybe reality is overrated.
New technology supporting haptics (touch) and olfactory (smell) input/output are making it possible to share full sensory experiences. Early research into brain controller interfaces (BCI) could circumvent the need for all other i/o devices by allowing people to share full sensory experiences brain-to-brain.
What’s clear is that people are growing more comfortable building intimate relationships that exist exclusively online. These relationships are no less real that IRL relationships -- just different. Our identity is shaped by our experiences and as more of them move online, a greater part of us lives there too. Would you escape to the online world if you could use all five senses there? Go anywhere? Be anyone?