The World Online: Real or Not?

My hand typing on my keyboard alongside the other things on my desk

Why is what I put online less real than this?

Is your online life “real”?

It’s an important question.  For many people, the “life” they experience online is detached somehow from the life they have in the “real” world.  Some people eschew the use of social media because they believe that it prevents them from connecting with people in the “real” world.

I hate that phrase: “the real world.”

When we interact with others online–whether in the context of social media, online gaming, email, voice-chat, or IRC–we are interacting with real people.  We are using our real bodies to interact.  What we do online is as real as anything else we do in our lives.

Yes, it is possible to construct an online persona that is different in some quantifiable or qualitative way from the persona that you project to people you meet away from your computer screen.  I think we are all guilty of using personae to protect ourselves both in our online interactions and offline.  We do that to protect ourselves.  Being completely honest about who you are is a very vulnerable place to be.  And, really, how many of us ever know who we truly are?  I think most of us spend our lifetimes constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing our identities.  Our online interactions are just one part of that.  Although aspects of the personality you present online might be different than the personality you use offline, I believe that, except in the case of deliberate dishonesty, we are experimenting with identity in both cases.

Some people will suggest that too much screen time leads to disengaging from social interaction in the “real world.”  For some people, like myself, interacting with people online provides more social interaction than we are likely to get offline.  If I was to cut myself off from the internet, would it drive me to socialize more with people offline?  Maybe, but it might also drive me deeper into social isolation and make me a lonelier and more depressed person.

Are friendships made with people we may never meet offline less real than those we make offline?  I don’t think so.  I am often more honest, open, and vulnerable with people online than offline.  Offline, I am constrained by social rules and shyness, which inhibits me from sharing openly or seeking out interaction with others.  Online, I share more freely, uninhibited by my attempts to read other people’s facial expressions or to provoke certain positive responses from them in conversation.  Offline, my fear of conflict and rejection can prevent me from being all of who I am.

Interaction online still requires the use of my physical body.  No one has yet invented a port that connects our minds directly with the internet, and even if they had, we would still need our physical brains to form the thoughts that are in our minds. (At least until they figure out if it is possible to “upload” our minds, and even then, we would simply be trading a body of flesh for a body of electrical…*ahem* I read a lot of sci-fi.)

So, I believe that our online life is just as real as our offline life.  In fact, I think if we integrate them both, it will help us to find a fuller understanding of “who we are” and, instead of being a barrier to relationship and communication, it can be a path to greater and deeper connection.


Why I Call Myself a Feminist

For a lot of people, the word “feminist” conjures up a host of scary stereotypes: hairy-legged, short-haired women with scowls on their faces, women shouting and burning bras, women who forswore the company of men, and so on.  Sometimes, then, it is hard to take the name “feminist” and wear it with pride, knowing what people might be thinking about you.

I do take the name, but I take it humbly, recognizing that I only have the right to take that name because so many women took it in the past—women who were brave enough to fight the status quo and demand that our humanity be recognized.  Like many of those feminists, I don’t want to make a new matriarchy to replace the patriarchy.  I don’t want to see men “put in their place” the way women were forced into “their place” for so many millennia.

I am a feminist because I believe women are human beings and that we should be treated as such.

It’s hard to make the argument that women aren’t being treated as human beings, as people.  Some believe that calling a woman a “person” (i.e. under the law, as Canada did 83 years ago) is enough.  Giving women the vote is enough.  Fighting for women’s right in the workplace was enough (though of course that could be considered an ongoing battle).  Giving women a measure of reproductive freedom was, apparently, more than enough, if political currents in the United States at the moment are any indication.

But, in 2012, as sexual slavery and trafficking are on the rise, as eating disorders of every kind crumble the minds and bodies of women and children, as pornography continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry, and as rape and domestic violence against women are still serious problems, it seems to me that calling women “persons” was not enough.  It was not enough because, apparently, some people didn’t believe it.

I am a feminist because I believe that women are persons, human beings, made in the image of God, worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, and deserving of the freedom to choose their own path.  To be clear: I believe that all these things—dignity, respect, freedom, recognition—should be accorded to all human beings, all persons.  But until women are being treated respectfully, with dignity, given freedom, and recognized as full persons not simply by the letter of the law, then I will remain a feminist, and I will continue to fight for the rights of women everywhere.

Our society needs feminists to keep repeating “women are persons, women are human beings, women are persons, women are human beings” until society gets it.  I think we’ll know it has happened when there are no more questions about pay equity, access to safe and effective birth control, safety and freedom from violence, the freedom to dress or adorn our bodies as we wish without fear of objectification, and so on.  It will be clear that women are persons when our bodies are no longer used as props to sell products.  It will be clear that women are persons when no one feels they have the right to threaten, coerce, or victimize someone simply because they are female.

Until then, I will be a feminist.  Again, to be clear, I will also fight to have these rights maintained for men.  I don’t think we can fix the problem of objectification, for example, by “equalizing” things through the objectification of men.  Men do not deserve to be turned into sexual props for marketing either!  Men deserve safety, freedom, respect, and dignity (something they sadly lose in many commercials, I might add) just as much as women do.

So that’s a small part of why I call myself a feminist.  Other feminists may have different reasons, and that is their right and privilege, but I wanted to share some of what motivates me to continue to call myself, unapologetically, a feminist.

On wings like eagles?

Last week I found myself on one of Vancouver’s Sky Trains, waiting for a delay in service to pass, watching some birds through the window.  Not for the first time, I wondered what it would be like to be a bird.  What does it feel like to ascend the sky like a mountain, powerfully pushing through the air as the great birds, the raptors, do?  When a little bird tumbles over thermals and through puffs of wind, when she drops suddenly towards the ground, does her tiny heart leap into her throat?  Are the birds having fun, I have to wonder?

All my life—or at least for as long as I can remember—I have wanted to be a bird.  I have wanted to break the chains of gravity and climb out of the everyday world of houses and trees and streets.  That thought, therefore, occurred to me again as I sat watching two tiny sparrows play in the wind, bouncing through the air, seemingly out of control.  I thought then, also not for the first time, that maybe in the world-to-come—the renewed world that God will complete, fulfill, and in which God will dwell amongst us—maybe in that world we will have the opportunity to share the joys of the birds.

But then, I thought, perhaps it is wrong of me to think so.  Perhaps it is only a sign of the brokenness of my nature (and the nature of others who have shared this dream) to long to have wings, to take flight, as the birds do.  Birds are made for flight and human beings are not, so surely we shouldn’t dream of doing what is not in our nature, but rather we should accept our lot and reach only as high as our hands can stretch.

Wright Brothers’ First Flight

A warmth of feeling crept over me then: no, I thought, that’s wrong.  We were made to dream of flight.  We were meant to look at the birds and wonder, “What if?”  For thousands of years, human beings imagined what it would be like to take to the skies, and on one frosty morning in December of 1903, we did, and now not even the sky is the limit.

Our ability to imagine things otherwise—to look at what is and imagine what is not—is a part of our God-given creativity.  God gave us minds to puzzle out the mysteries of the universe, imaginations to look beyond what is immediately obvious to our senses, emotions such as joy, and almost limitless curiosity.  It could be argued that our God-given curiosity is what got us into trouble in the first place!  But the One who makes all things new, who renews all things, who redeems all things, works also in our imaginations, our creativity, our science.

So I will not be ashamed to imagine what it is like to be a bird, and I will thank God that our world is so full of wonder and diversity, the signs of the very Creativity of which my own is only a pale shadow.