I’ve lost count of the number of discussions I’ve now had online about the reality of social media. (Anyone else see the irony of that statement?  Yes, me too). I’ve also now had a fair few requests for more posts on the subject.

Funnily enough this was all perfect timing, given I’d just written a few posts on the subject. I’m also working on an e-book on the subject, which hopefully will be published toward the end of the year.

Social media is going to become one of the ongoing discussions on this site, and I hope to be blogging on it a bit more from now on.

I want to discuss issues around this subject as wide-ranging as like today – the reality of this realm – to how we can live without it, and cannot replace physical interaction.

So let’s begin with the absolute basics. The difference between digital and virtual.

On one level it would seem simple enough to discuss the reality our interactions on social media and the honesty or otherwise of the comments we post in those domains.

The problem is the same one that you often find in a lot of big discussions.

It misses the point.

The reality or otherwise of social media is one of the most significant debates of our generation. It’s a topic well worthy of deeper discussion.

The problem is to merely debate and discuss social media is to miss the real issue.

The issue at the heart of this discussion, is the difference between our social self and our true self. The difference between our ideal reality and our lived reality, the ideal self and the lived self.

We must begin with the discussion of what we mean by the terms fantasy world (or virtual world) and real world. These are key phrases which people use off the cuff to describe the digital realm and so we must clarify what we mean by them before we continue.

Many people use the term ‘virtual world’ to describe the online space. It’s a phrase commonly used to describe the digital realm by many. It comes from an assumption that what happens there isn’t real, didn’t really happen and is only imaginary, that because it doesn’t involve physical interaction therefore it’s not real.

Really?

Is that what we mean by virtual?

So by this definition the relationship Paul had with the people he wrote letters to from prison was virtual. This definition would therefore mean that any relationship which has any dimension other than physical isn’t really real.

Before the internet was invented, after all, we had letters and the telephone – neither of which involve physical interaction. Now how many stories have we heard about people who fell in love through interaction via letter, or who spent hours talking via telephone but rarely met to begin with?

Indeed, how much do we interact with people now via text, social media and e-mail? Yet with the people we know, we have physically met, we don’t call those interactions virtual.

However, if it’s someone we haven’t met yet, then somehow they don’t exist.

Strange logic.

Especially strange given about 30% of couples now get together through internet dating sites. The logic of the ‘virtual = not real’ assumes that all the interactions they had before they met weren’t real and meant nothing, and they met as strangers.

Which, of course, is simply not true.

Then you have all the discussions between people that go on through blogs and social media – I guess they didn’t happen and the people who were involved with them weren’t real either, and it had no consequences for anyone?

No?

I’m sure the victims of cyber-crime would be delighted if someone went up to them and told them their crime didn’t really happen as it was in the so-called virtual realm, wouldn’t they?

That the way they were hurt and abused wasn’t really real, so it didn’t happen?

No. Of course not.

Because, simply put, the digital realm is real and has real implications for real people.

Both positive and negative.

It’s only when abuse happens that we can get lost in a world that isn’t real.

Which can happen just as much outside the digital space as within it.

The virtual realm is something that exists not in some digital space we imagine. It’s far bigger than that.

It exists in our mind. Our imagination.

You can talk about creating your own world in the online space – but you can do that in the physical realm, just as much as in the the digital realm. As Peter Rollins once put it, your Facebook profile is not an outward expression of your social self, your social self is an outward expression of you.

You see, the social self we let people see is just as ‘fake’, just as partial a reflection of our true self, as our Facebook profiles.

Both reflect a dimension of our true self, both have implications for our lives, so both are real.

But the truth of who we are goes far deeper. As does the truth about the virtual realm. You see, there is a virtual realm which we have control of and create for ourself – but it doesn’t merely exist in the online space.

It exists in our mind.

That’s the home of the unreal, the fantasy world, the virtual world.

Not online. That’s just one of it’s outlets.

Many of us would rather exist in a world in our imagination – which can exist in the physical as well as digital realm – than actually engage with our issues, be honest about our struggles and fully interact with the communities and world we’re part of.

That can happen anywhere.

To anyone.

In fact, most of us have probably done this to one degree or the other. I’m certain I have at times in the past. Occasionally online, sometimes overeating, maybe watching too many DVD’s at times.

It’s not as alien to us as we’d like to think.

In an addiction of any kind, abuse of anything, the internet. Sadly, it can even happen in church or a community of any kind as well, if we don’t look outwards, stay insular.

So let’s not get deluded that the internet is the ‘virtual space’, a fantasy world which isn’t real.

The fantasy realm is far bigger – and potentially far more dangerous.

The real question you need to ask yourselves today then is simple.

Which world are you living in? Really?

 

Do you agree that the virtual realm exists in our imagination, not simply online?

What things do you use to escape?

How can we avoid getting lost in our imaginations?

How can we be fully engaged with the issues going on in our lives and the community around us?

 

 

Related posts:

Twitter-God? Reflections on social media & church

Digitally exposed?

The digital balance

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James Prescott

Hi, I’m James. I live near London. I’m a fan of good food, comic-book movies, & books. I love to write, and I coach other writers & creative people. Thank you for being part of my community. read more...