It's easy and reflexive to view our online presence as fake, to see the internet as a space we enter when we aren't living our real, offline lives. Yet so much of who we are and what we do now happens online, making it hard to know which parts of our lives are real.
IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives, Chris Stedman's personal and searing exploration of authenticity in the digital age, shines a light on how age-old notions of realness—who we are and where we fit in the world—can be freshly understood in our increasingly online lives. Stedman offers a different way of seeing the supposed split between our online and offline selves: the internet and social media are new tools for understanding and expressing ourselves, and the not-always-graceful ways we use these tools can reveal new insights into far older human behaviors and desires.
IRL invites us to consider how we use the internet to fulfill the essential human need to feel real—a need many of us once met in institutions, but now seek to do on our own, online—as well as the ways we edit or curate ourselves for digital audiences. The digital search for meaning and belonging presents challenges, Stedman suggests, but also myriad opportunities to become more fully human. In the end, he makes a bold case for embracing realness in all of its uncertainty, online and off, even when it feels risky.