Why We Need to Stop Saying “In Real Life’

This idea formed part of my Bett presentation. I am going to say that the phrase In Real Life. Often used to distinguish between online activity and activity in our tangible immediate physical surroundings. Should be retired. Audio version below.

Please bear in mind whilst reading this that it is purely an idea. I feel it is important to realise that the interactions of our students with the online world differ from our own. Indeed their very definition, and identification of what parts of life to share online and offline is very different to our own.

It is clear that many of us have embraced the digital realm. We have created identities and an image online. However I think its fair to say that we had already created these identities in our jobs, education or general life before creating an online presence. Our growing up was done in a different time. J17 magazine, FHM, Loaded. Edd the Duck. Titanic and Schindler’s list, Blur vs Oasis. The Beatles. These were our (well anyone in their 30s) cultural references.

We became who we are today, and made our mistakes generally out of the public eye. Only our close acquaintances would be aware of what we had achieved or what our interests were.


For our students this growing up has happened in full view of classmates, friends of friends. And anyone else who cares to look them up. Their reality is different, their perception of what is real is different.

By saying “in real life’ in discussions with students we are actually being slightly condescending, we may well alienate them by refusing to value interactions that our young people believe are incredibly important to them. However much we may find this concept difficult to grasp the world of selfies, x-box live etc is real and here to stay.

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This is of particular importance for our students with special educational needs, anxiety disorders, ASD. They may have found a community they feel comfortable interacting with. The bonds and relationships with people online may well be as meaningful as those we have with our colleagues and friends.

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Whatever a person feels, whatever ideas they have are real to them, their thoughts are real life. Wherever this physically happens.



One comment

  1. I think this is true. It is real life. Sadly many things get posted on social media that should stay private. I’m pleased that most of the embarrassing things I did in my younger years are simply vague memories. I think children (and adults) need to be educated about the effects of posting unsuitable material as, unfortunately, these “memories” can never be erased.
    I had to laugh the other morning. A person being interviewed was doing a fundraiser, challenging people to go technology/social media-free for a couple of days. In one breath he said to put away phones and tablets etc. In the next he said to pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone! I’m not quite sure how one makes a phone call without looking at a phone. Surely telephone calls were one of the earliest forms of social media.
    Love your pics in this post.


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