Real and virtual worlds — is a false dichotomy between the “real” world (the world of physical space and presence) and the virtual world, generated by the Internet. Usually used as a rhetorical technique to draw a distinction between real events and the imaginary worlds, and network interactions which, in their turn, are considered by the speaker to be less important or less “real”.

The term IRL (In Real Life) — means “in the real world”, i.e. not on the Internet. The division between the real and virtual worlds is a serious methodology mistake. When we try to invent such division, we face a number of invincible obstacles. How to put up with the fact that virtuality is often a sequential superstructure of the reality? In what world does the augmented reality have its home? To be continued.

The opposition which is conjured up in mind must ascend to the contrast “genuine — fictitious”, which was strongly influenced by the Marxism concept of false consciousness.

From a methodological point of view, it would be more correct to talk about the complexity of online and offline, and about the new digital experience for a person, rather than about two different worlds. Almost all spheres of human life are presented both online and offline: shopping, finances, network of friends, etc. From this point of view, the Internet is augmented reality, expansion, additional layer that is a full-fledged part of reality.

It can be assumed that on the mundane level the concept of division into two worlds has arisen in the users’ minds when the Internet was accessible only through a desktop computer, which, in fact, acted as a portal in virtuality. All the rest of the time person was in a kind of the physical real world.

Hence comes the term AFK (Away From Keyboard). It is an acronym, meaning that the person is not in front of a computer. The term faded into insignificance with the spread of mobile Internet. Now person is online actually anytime and anywhere.

There is no Internet

The presence of such opposition in the minds of users is far from harmless. Such a method to define the object domain breaks the link between politics, economics and technological sphere. Journalist Evgeny Morozov notes, that as soon as you come across the statements like “this device is a great thing because it represents a major breakthrough in technological progress”, it is a signal that you are forced to think in “tag categories” and seal the problem. The Internet in this form appears to be the reality out of reach, something which is taken as given, that we are unable to influence and regulate. It worth reminding yourself sometimes that there is no Internet. There are separate services and IT-companies, lobbying for their interests. Wires, servers, all of this are parts of the physical world, of our economy and politics. It’s definitely much easier not to rise to political discourse, and to narrow everything down to “the Internet” and “technological innovations”.

Freedom from the Net as the new luxury — in modern society the ability to disconnect from the Internet is perceived as one of the elements of luxury life.

For many people their work and communication are so closely connected to the Internet that they just can’t take the liberty to disconnect from the Net. If earlier participation in the Network used to be our opportunity, now it becomes our duty. Unplugging may bring about information poverty, which in turn will lead to the financial poverty. Life out of the Net is affordable only to the very rich people, or to the outcast and freaks living out of society.

The fact that disconnection is perceived as an article of luxury is underpinned by the semiotic analysis of luxury brands advertising. It is not a common practice to show people burying themselves in their phones in the commercials which emphasize the status, independence, elitism and exclusivity. Advertising heroes either enjoy high quality stuff, bright feelings, communication, world exploration, or practice introspection. And you won’t find any virtuality or techno addiction. And if one man with the phone in his hand seems to be just self-sufficient, the people in a group staring at their phones without blinking seem to keep aloof from each other. Virtual world will have enough room for everyone who lacks skills or money to savour physical reality.

The luxury attributes are freedom and independence. Technical devices may be perceived as a bandage, which is put on to bounce back the injured human, to recover their abilities. Like De Daumier-Smith’s in his Blue Period, when we personally face this bandage, it flashes on us that human has such an imperfect nature.

Jealousy and social networks — a painful reaction to the information found in social networks. This reaction pushes users to spy virtually on their partners and to worry about each “like” or comment made by the virtual friends on the page of their significant other.

Social network is full of rumors, gossips, peeking and jealousy. People are eager to be totally aware of their close person’s life: his or her works, contacts, behaviour. Users often visit the social network pages of their partners to monitor their behaviour. The points that a person scatters their attention over, are well- structured: here’s the photo, that’s the wall, here you have the message from other people. User wants to catch everything in a flash, but the essence of perception is such that human’s eye can’t embrace the whole picture. Person breaks into points-trotting adventure that creates the illusion of control, which deludes us into false feelings that we see the personality in its entirety.

Man may not like the fact that someone else is interacting with his partner. If someone has sent a song on his girlfriend’s wall, this can be interpreted as the fact that there are invisible points of contact with this person. She may feel the utmost pleasure there or go through such emotional experiences that she lacks with her partner. Often these speculations are just fantasies and illusions. Thinking in such a way can infuriate a person and drive him to a state of anxiety that he would have never fell into if had stayed cool-headed and hadn’t evincesd his morbid curiosity.

The only advice that can be given is to have a candid conversation and cut down on the page visits.

“Digital Vocabulary” is an extremely time-sensitive project. A few years ago, warnings regarding new technologies could be considered far-fetched. However, today we understand that the principle “I’ll turn it off if I please” no longer works: technology has been long now deciding when it is time to switch us on and off — by operating cycles, TV-program schedules, alarm clocks in smartphones, mobile apps, games and wearable devices. An important thing is that operational guidelines go hand-in-hand with theory. Thus, it allows not only to adapt to the prevailing conditions but also to suggest how the situation will develop further. And then, apparently, the next initiative by “Digital Vocabulary” authors will be required — new technologies and social changes are not long in coming.

Anton Gumenskiy
Media Researcher, Lecturer Theory of Communication Faculty of International Journalism at MGIMO