In real life

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IRL abbreviates the term In real life. Used to refer to life offline, the acronym alludes to our interactions away from screens, disconnected from the internet. It seeks to outline what is digital space and what isn’t, with the defining metric being immediate physical proximity to other people. From the co-worker sitting across from your desk to nights spent sprawled out with friends across a living room floor--- by this rationale, if you are close enough to touch you are IRL.

Lately we’re finding that these understandings as to what constitutes “real life” are being altered by having to translate most, if not all, of our interactions with others to remote formats. Even with these necessary barriers set in place I’m still forging meaningful, poignant connections with other people. To various degrees, I think we all are.

But i’ve actually always thought that there is immense importance when it comes to online platforms as a mediator of joy, pain, and human emotion as a whole-- pandemic or not. The internet has held my own soul so deeply and so often throughout my life:

- Staying connected with relatives in the Philippines has always helped me feel closer to them in the years apart. Communicating digitally is more widespread these days, yes, but for diasporic communities this is not new. To be in contact with family enough to see them holding up alright throughout the years is relieving; but I can't help but notice the screen both collapsing and elongating time. I see them age so slowly yet so fast; they must witness how time is changing me too.

- As many physical spaces feel unwelcoming or unsafe for queer people, online methods of creating and maintaining intimate bonds with other queer people have always been crucial to my own becoming, both for safety and solace. The internet has been a resource for seeing my own experiences reflected back at me through the similar stories of others. The first boy I ever fell in love with I met online. At the time, neither of us had come out to our families, but sharing those experiences only (figuratively) drew us closer together.

I think that there’s an artificiality to what we deem as not IRL and a certain realness to what we think is IRL. Call it incorrect phrasing, but there’s a difference between being in person and being in real life. Right now, the dichotomy between the IRL and online is meaning less and less to the world as the pandemic irrevocably continues to reshape it.

But I’d argue that it was never relevant in the first place.

Written by Philip Leonard Ocampo