online/offline” dichotomy

There’s no denying that technology has become an extremely prevalent part in our everyday lives; from phones to computers, social media to GPS devices, we can’t go a half hour without utilizing the technology deeply woven into society. Technology has become so prevalent that we face a new question: can we ever be offline? Have the roots of technology become so deep that we no longer have the ability to be offline? The answer depends on who you talk to. Sherri Turkle has spent many years studying the impact technology, particularly cellphones, have on our society. She believes that our new dependence on our handheld devices is destroying our ability to connect with one another in the “real world”. She advises us to allow ourselves to truly be alone, experience life first hand instead of through the glow of a cellphone. She believes that there is a clear divide between online and offline and we need to make the conscious effort to disconnect and experience real life offline. Nathan Jurgenson feels differently. He believes the concept of online vs. offline no longer exists.
Technology and social media has changed the way we function in society. Everywhere one goes someone is taking a picture, scrolling through Twitter, texting and its freaking people out. We now have moved on from obsessing over technology to obsessing from abstaining from it which Jurgenson refers to this as the “IRL fetish”. When we don’t have our phones we’re patting ourselves on the back for living in the “real world”. But even if one is glued to their phones, isn’t that still real life? If Tammy leaves her phone at home and makes a comment Patricia about sending a snapchat, is Tammy really offline? In his essay The IRL Fetish he writes: “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.”
Although I respect and applaud the work of Turkle, I think Jurgenson comes through with the W on this one, social media and technology have become so enmeshed in our lives that offline doesn’t really exist anymore. Social media has become a part of our identities. Up until the 1960’s our identities weren’t something we had much control over. Social structures such as race, gender, religion, and occupation defined who you were. Now the death grips of those social structures have loosened and social media give us a platform to present ourselves as we see fit. In Vincant Miller’s chapter on digital identity he writes “This freedom from the traditional narratives and the plethora of lifestyles places the burden of identity construction on the individual in the form of the reflexive project of the self.” (Miller pg.177) Identity is no longer set in stone, but an ongoing project that we reserve the right to change and edit as we see fit which is liberating but can also present issues. Because our identity is constantly changing and adapting we face the potential to become lost in what we think other people think we should be. Measuring one’s value through attention on social media is very tempting and obviously problematic.
The prevalence of technology in our lives has most definitely produced a change in society. So much so, that the concept of online and offline doesn’t really exist anymore. Social media has altered our way of thinking. Our identities are no longer constructed solely of social structures and we have the ability to revise and re-write our identities through social media. The Facebook page, for better or for worse) has become an extension of the self, and a part of our identity.

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