Online or offline – Which is more real?

The difference between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ used to be a clear one. There was a time when ‘going online’ meant using a modem to dial a telephone number and waiting the call to connect. Today just thinking about that makes one feel old. Everything is online all the time: computers, phones, cars, refrigerators, toasters… but most importantly, our identities.

Online and offline are the same line

So many aspects of our lives today consist only from ones and zeros. And so many of it is taken for granted. Just as an exercise, try to imagine if all the ones and zeros would one day just vanish. Not electricity (I’m not the one to paint any doomsday scenarios), just all the data. What would be left?

Case 1: Money

Avoiding to go too philosophical here, but if you check the balance in your bank account, do you feel the money is real? Yes you can go to an ATM and withdraw your money, so an argument could be made that it is real. But if everyone would do the same, there would not be enough real money to give out. So if ‘real’ is represented by a physical object, all the money in our bank accounts just can not be real.

Case 2: Friends

There are some of us, who only accept friend requests on Facebook from people we’ve met face-to-face. But there are plenty of those who have friends who they’ve never met or never even spoken to. So are those friends real? You’d assume so for sure, but can you really know? What if one of those ‘friends’ is a fake profile, or an AI? And even further, if Facebook would suddenly disappear, would you have the same amount of friends you had before or would you have less? If less, then were they real in the first place?

But enough philosophy. Online and offline really have no difference anymore. Today a fake Facebook profile is as real friend as a physical human being. An empty bank account is as real as having no money under your mattress. And words written online are as real as words said aloud.

Things that happen online are real!

There seems to be an understanding, that because something is written online, it has less meaning or weight, than saying it aloud. And that thought is extremely important to get rid of. Let’s consider two different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Your friend makes a post in Facebook saying “I’m having some personal issues, but it’ll be fine.”. The post is private and is visible only to their friends. They have 200 friends. You know 50 of them. Would you rather

  • post a comment “Whatever it is, I’m there for you.<3" and possibly later send a private message asking if they want any help?
  • post a comment “What’s wrong??” and pressure them to share their personal issues, while making yourself appear inconsiderate, in front of 200 people?

What's wrong?? - Whatever it is, I'm there for you.<3

Scenario 2: You’re attending a get-together hosted by your friend. There are all of their 200 friends present in the same room. You know 50 of them. Your friend makes a toast saying “Despite all my personal issues right now, I’m glad you all came.”. Would you rather

  • raise you glass and wish them well and later when an opportunity presents itself, quietly ask them if there is anything you can help with?
  • yell as loudly as you can “What’s wrong??”, in front of 150 strangers?

It is so easy to act online like it’s some kind of personal space, but really it couldn’t be more public! Next time when you comment something, when you share something, when you post something on Twitter or when you write a blog, just stop. Picture a scenario where all the people who are about to see your words would be right there next to you. Would you still act the same?

Words written online are not just as real as words said offline, they are even more real.