Tuesday, August 2, 2016


It’s well past time for us to stop saying “irl” when we talk about the part of the world that our bodies occupy. Same for “in person”.

A few days ago, I was at a cafe, when the fifty-something stranger sitting beside me said, "Oh, you've got one of them fancy phones! ‘Smart phone’, right? I've been thinking about getting one, but I duuno if I'd be able to use it." I was a little startled to encounter someone who was unfamiliar with smart phones, but I didn’t think much of it.

Shortly thereafter, I had lunch with my brother and his girlfriend (both of whom are in their 20s). We were all visiting my hometown. She also had one of them fancy phones, and she was showing us how her followers had responded to the photos she’d posted of her visit.

I thought of the older man then, and the comparison filled me with warmth and transcendence. I became aware that there’s something wrong with the way I’ve been thinking of on-line interactions all this time.

“Birthform is not true shape. I am not some hairless ape,” as the saying goes. I’m information that happens to be encoded, for now, mostly in a squishy ape brain. But it’s the information that counts.

So this is me talking to you right now. Even though it's across time as well as space. Me. In real life. In person. Our togetherness is not somehow fake just because I'm not looking at you with my eyeballs and vibrating my vocal chords. I am with you more certainly than if our bodies silently shared space on the same bench while our minds moved elsewhere.

There are many people who see my body on a regular basis, but are far less familiar with the patterns of my mind than is someone who’s read a single Agenty Duck blog post. If you read my thoughts, then you know me, regardless of whether you’ve encountered my body in bodyspace, because I am those patterns.

And I can go so many places, and be together with so many people, while my body chills in an otherwise empty room. My keyboard is as much a part of my body as is my larynx, and Agenty Duck is as much a part of my home as is my kitchen.

When my friend took out her phone and showed us her Instagram photos, especially the one of the winery right by my mom’s house, I felt the presence of her followers in my little town. I felt the expansiveness of her augmented mind, how tremendously powerful she is compared to the man who dunno if he can use one of them fancy phones. She is something different. Something new.

So no more “irl”. No more “in person”.

We are bigger now, and our world is deeper. Let’s talk about “bodyspace”, denying neither the analog sensorium nor the digital realm. Let’s not slip into oppressive patterns of speech and thought that mask the extent of our reality.


Corw|n said...

I call it "meatspace" :)

Gleb Tsipursky said...

Powerful post - I am updating ��

Rory O'Kane said...

I have seen multiple people online use the word “meatspace” for this, the way Corw|n uses it.

Anyway, there is something this post misses about meatspace: meatspace communication is two-way, whereas most online communication is one-way. So yes, since I read some of your thoughts on your blog, I know more about you than someone who sees you on the street. But you know nothing about me (or you would know nothing if I hadn’t written this comment). So no matter how much I read your writings, I won’t feel like I really met you “in person”.

If you instead met me in meatspace and expounded on the subjects of your blog posts there, our personal connection would likely be stronger. At the very least, you could see from my body language and my noises like “uh-huh” that I am listening, and I could tell from your body language and tone of voice what you meant better and how you feel about talking to me. There would also be the possibility of a discussion – as you explain things to me, I could ask questions, or suggest different approaches that could change the whole subject of the conversation.

However, you only post to your blog after you feel like you have a complete idea. When I can’t interject while you’re talking, only afterwards, there is much more friction to communication. It’s much harder for me to make contact.

Augmenting meatspace relationships with online communication can deepen them, but I think it is a rare online relationship that reaches the depth of a meatspace one. It would require a long history of instant messaging, or many emails sent back and forth. It’s just a different in bandwidth, but at some point the quantitative difference becomes qualitative. Since most online communication is not as detailed as that, I think the terms “IRL” and “in-person” really are still relevant.

Vamair said...

I've always thought that the "irl" phrase was silly, as if network communication is akin to dreaming, but I've still used it. No more!

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