Let’s Nix the Phrase “In Real Life”—and Take Online Relationships Seriously

Paris, FRANCE: A virtual applicant appears on the screen of recruiters working a virtual job fair on Second Life

Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images

At a TEDx event in Victoria, Canada, a social media researcher calls for everyone to take the “virtual” world seriously and stop apologizing for it. Too often, says Alexandra Samuel, we consider online speech, shopping, and other experiences as “something else that is less than reality.

Samuel is not saying, however, that everything online is “real.” To bring parity to the online and physical worlds, she urges us to stop thinking of “online friends” as just numbers of followers, fans, or Facebook friends. “Every day, one of us clicks that button that says ‘confirm’ on a Facebook friend request with someone we don’t know, don’t like, or don’t remember. … You can have real friends online, but you need to stop seeing them as connections or a score card.”

On the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen concurs: “I have real conversations with friends, real emotions while looking at old pictures, and real laughs from funny videos or sites. What about this isn’t real?”