IRL | Chris Stedman

Summary of: IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives
By: Chris Stedman

Introduction

IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives, by Chris Stedman, delves into the challenges people face in presenting authentic selves online and creating genuine connections despite the limitations of social media. The book explores the sense of community and belonging people seek in the digital age, with real-life examples of social movements and the positive impact online groups can have on those who feel isolated. At the same time, it warns of the dangers of hiding behind online masks, which hinder true self-expression, prevent meaningful connections, and foster egocentric behavior.

Honest Community in the Digital Age

Chris Stedman’s book explores the gap between our online and offline lives and the philosophical, emotional, and moral aspects of our digital presence. While social media can create distance by allowing people to disguise their true selves, internet communities can spur social movements. Stedman suggests practical ways to develop improved online habits to find honest community and create meaningful connections that transcend the virtual world. Our online postings, like virtual tattoos, stay permanently etched in digital history, but by cultivating honest virtual relationships, we can bridge the gap between our digital and physical lives.

Searching for Authenticity

In the quest for personal authenticity, people have traditionally sought community in religious congregations. In the digital age, they’re turning to online groups and social media. While the internet offers ways to find connections, the personal state or status people present may not be genuine. It is a challenge to find authenticity online, but joining groups can provide support and belonging to those with obscure interests and social isolation. Trying new things can help people discover their true selves and what is important to them.

The Art of Being Real Online

In an attempt to portray themselves positively, people try to control their appearance both in face-to-face interactions and online. However, the level of control on digital platforms is limited. Social media users aim to maintain a perfect image and may hide their emotions. To have genuine connections online, individuals should embrace their imperfections and share both their highs and lows. Authenticity can help merge an individual’s online self with their offline life and bring a sense of belonging in the digital realm.

Belonging in a Digital Age

As fewer Americans identify with religion, they’re looking for new ways to belong, and the internet offers endless possibilities for participation. However, whether digital communities can fulfill the human need for purpose and belonging depends on how people project themselves online. The risk of punishment for honesty increases loneliness, so individuals must strive to find connection without sacrificing authenticity. Instead of simply posting selfies and joining groups, people can use the internet as a vehicle to tell their story and connect with others. Ultimately, technology hasn’t changed our need for intimacy and connection, but it has given us new ways to explore and fulfill these needs.

Mapping Our World Online

The internet has revolutionized the way we create and view maps of our world, from curated snippets on social media to the distorted realities they can create. Mapmakers must choose what to show, and the internet’s limitations include algorithms that determine our online experiences and the way social media can distort our self-perceptions or push us to post incessantly. While the internet has democratized access to information, it has also introduced hazards like the sway of the loudest voices and missed opportunities for new discoveries.

The Paradox of Online Connections

The internet creates both closeness and distance between people. Social media encourages comparisons, leading to distorted online personas that intimidate authentic sharing. However, online connections enable people to maintain weaker ties easily, expanding their social circles and providing a sense of belonging. Digital tools can help us feel seen and heard, or make us disappear. Therefore, people need to strike a balance between online and offline interactions to reap the benefits of technology without sacrificing authentic connections.

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