The importance of IRL (in real life) community

I remember it like it was yesterday– turning 16, learning to drive and getting my first car. I was thrilled with the new freedoms and possibilities but perhaps what I was even more thrilled with was the fact that I now, officially, had a reason to own a cell phone. My parents hesitated but eventually approved so long as I paid for the service myself. It was a barebones Nokia (you know Generation Y’ers know the one) and texting wasn’t yet a thing but I was still beyond excited with this little blue piece of technology. It meant I could call people– mainly my friends and boyfriend– from anywhere. Amazing.

At the same time that I was celebrating my newfound coolness, I was also getting a first taste of social media. Of course, we didn’t call it that, we didn’t even realize that’s what it was but… it was. ICQ and AIM (@jenEbean) became a way to connect with my friends (and boyfriend @joeEbear) after school, so long as we had enough minutes left on our dial-up internet plan. So weird, I know. I also wrote a good bit of emails from my razzberry mail account. I was #killingit.

But life didn’t stop there. Many a weekends were still spent at high school football games and late night runs to Wendy’s for French fries and Frosties… all while we remained happily disconnected, technologically-speaking. Life was much simpler then, and not just because I was a teenager, but because most of our daily interaction with people took place In Real Life.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, we interact with one another so much more– with likes and thumbs ups and filter-laden selfies–yet majority of us are lonely, anxious and searching (read: scrolling). We spend evenings catching up on our friends’ IG feeds instead of picking up the phone to ask them how their life is going. We answer with emojis because our friends can’t see our expressions or know our hearts behind the keyboard. And somehow we think winks, thumbs ups and hearts are a suitable replacement for IRL smiles, hugs and tear-soaked shoulders.

I’m here to tell you that they are not. Yes, they can be a temporary, quick solution when life circumstances truly prevent IRL relations but they will never stand as an equivalent replacement for real human touch and laughter and quality time.

I enjoy social media, email, blogs, YouTube, text messages, video chat as much as the next person. And maybe even more so because I fell in love with my then-boyfriend-now-husband Joe over ICQ after he wooed me by sending me a flower (which, young people, was literally realized by the words, “joeEbear has sent you a flower” coming up in the chat box). However, today, more than ever, this world has a community-problem. We isolate ourselves like never before. And in the moments that we can be engaged in IRL community, we’re interrupted by dings and rings and other, often-unimportant notifications.

I believe that the first step toward change is to recognize there is a problem. Check. The second step? Do something about it. So here I am, trying to fight the overbearing pull from those temporal, pseudo-communities that can eat up all of my free time and swallow it whole. I am, instead, trying to exchange my time for IRL relationships that so desperately need pouring into.

I’ve also been thinking about what this looks like for the next generation. I’m working on writing a post “how to raise the next generation so they are not social media addicts” (or something to that effect). Look for it up soon.

In closing, I feel the need to say THANK YOU for being part of my online network of friends, I appreciate you and I enjoy your company… just don’t let me or any other internet-based community steal all of your time or replace your IRL relationships. Your community needs you!

Inspired to action,


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