Why Isn’t the Online World the “Real” World?

We often talk about a distinction between the online world and the “real” world? We say text or email conversations aren’t real conversations. We say we want to meet people IRL—’in real life’. What does this distinction mean? And is there such a distinction?

In this episode, Dylan and Zach attempt to answer these questions. Zach puts forward two claims:

  1. We don’t really know what we mean when we draw the distinction. But it vaguely suggests that there are levels of reality, where some worlds are more real than others.
  2. The distinction is mistaken! Instead, there is only one world, and some of it involves the internet.

Dylan and Zach also track through some of the moral implications of all this and propose a better way to talk about the internet.

They talk about ontology. Roughly, ontology is theorizing about what exists. Get up to speed on the term.

Read the article

2:00- The Prolegomenon (intro to the episode)
4:04- Why should we care about this topic?
9:10- The main thesis- we take the online world to have a secondary ontological status
9:50- What is ontology?
14:10- Is there an ontological hierarchy with the “real” world having more reality than the online world?
19:00- Mark Zuckerberg as an example of the hierarchy in action
26:30- The different meanings of the word ‘real’ (genuine, existing, non-fiction, being physical)
40:05- Why there is no distinction between the online world and the real world
42:35- An example: is a text conversation a “real” conversation?
51:40- Is the online world real only to the extent that it has effects on the real?
54:20- What are the practical implications of all this?
57:20- Is Zach just an apologist for social media use?
1:00:17- What if maintaining the distinction between the online and real world is useful?
1:02:57- What would Zach say if he were convinced that there is a genuine distinction?
1:06:00- Is Dylan convinced?
1:10:38- the supererogatory a posteriori deductions!

Reach out to us with your thoughts, critiques, arguments at thevim@protonmail.com


“Why Isn’t Something ‘Real” Until it is Posted Online?”

An epilogue to the episode titled, “Why Isn’t the Internet the ‘Real’ World?” Dylan and Zach consider a phenomena that might be in tension with Zach’s idea that we, in some vague and unarticulated way, take the internet to occupy a lower level of reality. It isn’t the “real world.” The episode is about the sentiment behind the phrase, “pics or it didn’t happen.” What should we make of the idea that, in some cases (like with relationships, vacations, or jobs), we say that something isn’t real until it is posted online?

Dylan and Zach provide a recap and some corrections to the previous episode. Then they dig into the role that the internet has in documentation. (Then there is a digression into the role of social media in the world.) They finish by addressing the crucial issue: does ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ show that Zach is wrong? No spoilers!


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