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IRL by Chris Stedman


Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives

by Chris Stedman

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2020
Publisher: Broadleaf Books

With the pandemic having moved so many of our "real life" activities online, here’s a relevant investigation into what it means to be "real" in virtual space.

Can online platforms help us find true connection? Stedman is a natural guide to the complex world of digital tools that can help us map out our lives and teach us how to be human. Born in 1987, the author never knew life without the internet. His background as a queer “humanist community organizer” and atheist representative in interfaith groups shapes his worldview, which is inclusive and always questioning. Stedman challenges the conventional notion that a life lived primarily on social media is necessarily superficial or less "authentic" than so-called "real life." Chronicling his experiences with gamers and “furries” (“people who create and sometimes play out animal alter egos”), among other specific social communities, the author explores how technology can help marginalized and/or geographically remote people connect. His personal history confirms this idea: As a closeted gay teenager, Stedman found crucial support online. While it’s true that privileged people can colonize digital landscapes by co-opting memes and slang from people of color and other marginalized communities, at their best, social networks can enable disempowered people to document their lives and grow movements such as Black Lives Matter. Social media, though often overrun with "cries for help or attention, and the parade of personal successes," can also function as an avenue for personal growth. Digital life gives us a space to reimagine ourselves and play with our identities. Stedman is vigilant about citing scholarly texts to support his arguments, but he ties academic theories to experiences by relating stories from his personal life—even if "social media has shown me more clearly the importance of keeping some things private." In fact, "if we want to feel real in the digital age, we need to make a habit of disconnecting” periodically for “perspective taking.”

A handy user's manual for leading an online life full of meaning and connection.