Skip to main content

Fetishizing the offline in the digital age

Fetishizing the offline in the digital age


Nathan Jurgenson explores how the proliferation of digital devices has lead to a fetishization of the analog.

Share this story

The constant flow of information around us, aided and abetted by the proliferation of always-connected digital devices, has an addictive pull that can be difficult to break away from. How often is it okay to check Twitter at the dinner table? Some would have you believe that the online and offline are concepts diametrically opposed, and that the former shouldn't intrude on the latter — no-one is more familiar with this than our own Paul Miller, currently offline — but Nathan Jurgenson at the New Inquiry takes a different view.

"It is wrong to say 'IRL' to mean offline: Facebook is real life."

What he calls the "IRL fetish," espoused by many who boast of their Facebook infrequency or penchant for long walks on the beach with their phones switched off, has arisen because "we have been taught to mistakenly view online as meaning not offline." Jurgenson goes on to argue that offline interactions are precisely what drives the churn of information on networks like Facebook, and that the internet actually allows us to appreciate the real world in a way we would have taken for granted before. The next time you're hiking up a mountain, relieved to be free from the constant chiming of email notifications? You couldn't get that feeling without an email account.