National Catholic Register


Is the online world part of the "real" world?

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 10/24/12 at 12:51 PM


I often here people talk about the online world vs. the "real world" as if they are exclusive or contradictory things. And that's understandable in an age where we're all trying to figure out just how all this new technology is supposed to fit into our lives in a healthy way.

But just because something is online or digital doesn't mean it's not real. As people of faith, we of all people should know that just because something can't be physically touched doesn't mean it's not real. Lots of "real" things are happening online. Real people are making real connections there, sharing real truth with real feelings that are every bit a part of reality as anything else in your life.

Sure, a lot of fake stuff also occurs online. But I know plenty of people who live in their own fake realities and do so just fine without the internet. The internet just happens to make it easier for a lot of fake stuff to occur. But it makes it easier for a lot of real stuff to occur, too.

Additionally, the online world is not some entirely other dimension to our lives. As humans, we have both a physical dimension and a spiritual dimension. And it's tempting to want to add a new and separate "digital dimension" as a way to express our presence online. But I think this gets it wrong. 

First, being online is actually very physical, it just doesn't engage all five of our senses. Touch, taste and smell are replaced with the touch of a keyboard and the smell of your laptop battery getting hot (for now). But the visual and audible experience is very much alive and a powerful, physical way to make real connections and share real things.

Second, one's spirituality, of course, is not bound by the limits of technology nor replaced by its advancements. Our spiritual dimension is both significantly formed (or mal-formed) and shared with others via the internet. In fact, because of the physical limitations of the internet, it can actually (if approached properly) make us more in tune with our spiritual dimension.

So the digital world is not some third dimension of my humanity. It's just a way to extend the experience of the same old humanity I've always had — both physically and spiritually. And all very real.

Does interacting online have many of its own challenges and pit falls? Of course. Should it ever replace all of the offline interactions of our real relationships? No way. But it can create, build up and nurture those relationships in very real ways. And - in as much as it is real - it is certainly part of the "real world."