Technology pervades our lives. But while many writers argue that such a phenomenon should see us rebel and take time away from our gadgets to experience “real life”, Nathan Jurgenson has other ideas. Instead, as he sees it, there is no offline any more.
In a fascinating essay for The New Inquiry, Jurgenson suggests that those of us who feel we can escape the thrum of the digital world are living a lie:
“[W]e have been taught to mistakenly view online as meaning not offline. The notion of the offline as real and authentic is a recent invention, corresponding with the rise of the online. If we can fix this false separation and view the digital and physical as enmeshed, we will understand that what we do while connected is inseparable from what we do when disconnected. That is, disconnection from the smartphone and social media isn’t really disconnection at all: The logic of social media follows us long after we log out. There was and is no offline; it is a lusted-after fetish object that some claim special ability to attain, and it has always been a phantom.”
In fact, Jurgenson goes on to point out, the internet allows us to appreciate the physical world in ways we would have taken for granted in the past. When you leave your phone at home and go for a long walk, it’s nice to not be constantly checking your email — but that positive feeling wouldn’t be possible if you’d never had an email account. More than that, experiences we have when offline are framed in our mind in terms of the online:
“The clear distinction between the on and offline, between human and technology, is queered beyond tenability. It’s not real unless it’s on Google; pics or it didn’t happen. We aren’t friends until we are Facebook friends. We have come to understand more and more of our lives through the logic of digital connection. Social media is more than something we log into; it is something we carry within us. We can’t log off.”