There’s No Such Thing as Online? - Idea Channel
What an outdated question this has become! Of course you’re online, unless you’re an off-the-grid survivalist or a remote tribesmen!! From Facebook to bank accounts, you always have some sort of online presence, whether you’re actively engaging in front of a screen or not. Yet this is still a word we use to describe our engagement with the Internet. So we have to ask, is this online/offline distinction even worth making? Because we may need to re-evaluate the very word “ONLINE”…
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Idea Channel - (E43) There’s No Such Thing As Offline?!? [transcript]
Here’s an idea: there’s no such thing as offline!
Okay, before you get all riled up, we’re not going to talk about how the Internet doesn’t exist because… here it is [makes gestures] in your face. We are going to talk about our relationship to it though and how that relationship is confusing. Sort of like the relationship between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb. Are they work associates, cousins, lovers?
Our relationship to the Internet is confusing because we use all of these action verbs and location words. You visit websites, you surf and you bookmark things. We talk about the Deep Web like it has a size and we talk about the Dark Web like it has shadowy bits. In fact, this is how we talk about computers in general. We have mice, which are not actually small animals, and desktops, which are actually not really the top of a desk, … and all of these other things that are so second nature [sic.] their metaphoric base has totally eroded.
The ways that we talk about our computers and the Internet have this residue of the past. Like when the technology which would eventually become the Internet was first strung together in the 1950’s, it was a closed network of machines working together. Computers connected to the network were said to be on-line. They were part of the process. But as the Internet grew to a nearly ungrokkable spaghetti mountain of worldwide connections, anything and everything connected, connectable, accessible and verifiable through the Internet [?].
Its ubiquit and complexity invites the question is someone or something ever not online? I don’t mean to suggest that we’re always using the Internet - there are plenty of situations where that would be inappropriate or downright dangerous - but more like: do you have to be using the Internet to be online? And: if you are in the middle of the woods, are you offline?
If you’re looking at Twitter on your phone or playing Halo multiplayer, then of course you’re online. But are you online if you’re sending a text message? Or what if you’re being forced to watch this video in a classroom? [whispers: “sorry”] What if you have a Tumblr with an autoposting queue or a Wikipedia entry? What if, while away from your computer, you think to yourself “that would make a great animated GIF”? Are you online if you keep your money in a bank or have a driver’s license? I would say “yes” to all of these, but especially the animated-GIF-one. I think that all the time. Even media which are not online are online in so far as you can arrange access to them online. I mean: if you can get Frank Stallone in ‘The Terror in Beverly Hills’ online, you can get anything online! FACT!
But really, the way that we talk about the online-offline distinction is sort of like the keep paradox. When adding grains of sand to a pile, when does the “pile” officially become a “heap”? At what point - while providing connectivity to a person or a piece of media - is online officially achieved? It is impossible to say! And maybe unhelpful to do. In social relationships and identity online and offline, sociologist Don Slater says that “it is the making of the online-offline distinction that needs studying, rather than assuming that it exists and then studying its consequences”. Any boundary drawn between online-offline will always be contingent, variable and unstable.
How and why make this distinction is like the weather and Taylor Swift’s love life. It is always changing and always in your face. Which might leave you to wonder: does this limit us in some way - drawing an imaginary line between online and offline in the sand, maybe even claiming that one is more real that the other? And when the time comes to embrace the distinction we might not see it for what it is, because - influence by the language we use to describe it - we’ll hold on to it because it’s the only way we know how to think about it. And what if… now hold on to your unusual hats… the time to erase the distinctino between online and offline is right now? I mean, our proximity to the network is only shrinking, what with phones constantly at hand, Internet in our watches and lamps you can text message. We might, in some sense, never be not using the Internet but let alone offline.
Maybe it’s time to resurrect ye olde “Away From Keyboard” or AFK, because it’s more appropriate to describe our method of interaction with the Internet as opposed to some unclear on- or offness. Cyberspace and meatspace sort of just converge. Kind of like the dimensional gateway from ‘Event Horizon’. Look at Google Glass and the Fuel Band and the Pebble Watch and the Internet Fridge. I mean, go and google Wearable Technology and just be amazed. Some people [coughs: “Sherry Turkle”] might say that this is “uh-uhn, no good, slow your roll technology and take a chill-pill”. They might say that the online-offline distinction is something that we need to maintain our relationships, to communicate with one another, to stay human. But after rolling my eyes so hard they almost got stuck in the top of my head, I wonder if you’re not a monk, survivalist or a pile of rocks if you could ever actually be … offline. And if this idea that we behave or connect differently online from off is just an effective linguistically insipired line in the sand where in reality there is just … sand. Smooth, smooth sand.
What do you guys think? Is there an online and offline? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re not stuck in the Deep Web, please subscribe.