A recent post by Alexandra Samuel on The Conversation, 10 Reasons to Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life, contends that IRL is a lie and sign that we are in denial about reality (and life) in the 21st century. While I agree with many of the points Samuel made, it got me thinking about people who, pardon the term, IRL are polar opposite to who you meet when the relationship moves offline.
We’ve all been there. Hit it off on Twitter and decided to meet for coffee. Been twit-matched by another tweep because we seem like a perfect virtual match, but sat in an awkward silence face-to-face. Wondered if we had the right Twitter handle show up to make our IRL acquaintance. On the flip side, we’ve all gotten what we thought we were getting when taking a relationship from virtual to face-to-face terms. (Although, I’m sure one could contend that Skype gives us a virtual face-to-face relationship, but, alas, I digress.) The question is: how and why does it happen?
While online judgment is undeniable, it can be blocked in a matter of seconds. Blocking in real life, while possible, is a bit more challenging. People feel more freedom to express themselves in their web-based lives.
Flying Under the Radar
Unless you are pumping out hundreds of tweets per day and have tens of thousands of followers, you can fly under the radar without even trying. This is a bit trickier IRL, if not impossible in many scenarios.
Few Can Call You Out
While your IRL friends who are also your social pals will note a discrepancy in personalities, people who only know your online persona won’t know that you aren’t providing an accurate portrayal of your IRL self.
Who You Want to Be
Let’s face it. It is human nature to want what you don’t have. So, if you are a wallflower and want to be a social butterfly, why not create that persona online while keeping one foot in your IRL comfort zone?
All of the above considered, the question is: why do we continue thinking IRL is different from virtual? We have all seen the power of virtual relationships and learned that even without a face-to-face meeting the relationships can be equally strong. You can find people with the same interests at a networking group, through a Twitter search or through a social (media) matchmaker.
So why do we still differentiate between the two. Is it a matter of timing? That we need more case studies showing the power of online relationships to believe they are the same as IRL? Does the ability to create an online persona prevent an IRL equivalent of trust? Or is it that the nuances that differentiate these two types of relationships are so significant that IRL and virtual will never be the same?