What’s the Right Name for Non-Cyberspace?

March 31, 2008


I hear two terms consistently for non-cyberspace: ‘real life’ and ‘meatspace’.

The first (often abbreviated as IRL or ‘in real life’) elevates the non-cybersphere. I’m not sure that’s the right way to think of it. All we’re talking about here is electronic communication, whether by text, voice, video or animated avatar. No one would say “I talked to my sister in Houston the other day but that was on the phone, not in real life.” Stephen Hawking has no communication that doesn’t go through a computer, but he’s had a huge impact on real life.

Two friends advocated for IRL the other day. They’re both in the technology industry but neither of them interact much online with people they don’t know offline. To be fair, the conversation was started by news about a mutual acquaintance whose marriage broke up over a sordid Second Life tryst. But Twitter/blogging/Web 2.0 are nothing like Second Life and don’t seem to involve nearly as much misrepresentation (other than the blogstar delusion). I know the people involved and gently suggest that they get a first life.

I think ‘meatspace’ is a reaction to the elevation of the offline sphere implied by IRL. I find it a bit funny. Enough people find it offensive that I’ll stop using it. Interestingly, the friends with whom I was talking with interpreted it as ‘meetspace’, as in ‘the space where you meet the people you’ve been flirting with online’.

Both spaces have much to recommend them. So what should we call this place where we interact meaningfully in bodies of flesh and blood? And what should we call this other place where we interact meaningfully unbounded by geography?

Thanks to http://www.futureofthebook.org for the cartoon


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