Online and Offline, Seen Differently

I want to use this post to say something that's more of an addendum to a previous post I wrote on the online/offline "divide" (or lack thereof) than a full thought. Basically, I'm taking a stab at illustrating the same principles from that post. But I mean that literally, because now I'm using drawings. Also, they were created very quickly in Illustrator, which both adds to the pun and means that I realize I have no excuse for their bare-bones appearance. Do forgive.

To start, let me point out that we live in a networked world, and our lives unfold across that world both online (though mobile and personal computing devices that we use to connect to an Internet through which we, among other things, interact with others) and offline (through the device that is our physical bodies, which also allow us to, among other things, interact with others).

Often when people talk about that fact, they describe it in terms of one or the other. For instance, they'll describe the offline world as "real life", or insist on how "fake" personas on Facebook and Twitter are. They'll wonder if social media is causing us to lose our ability to connect in the "real world".

All those worries, and more, treat the world as if it looks like this:

In that world, offline and online are two distinct and discrete modes, and we just jump between the two.

But that isn't the case. As my current project is exploring, these modes are profoundly connected, and constantly influencing each other. Neither is any more or less "real" than the other. What's more, they seamlessly overlap.

So it's probably a bit more appropriate to render them like this:

In this figure, online status is something that is layered on top of offline status, and the missing X-axis lable is "time." This graph shows that when a child is first born, they may not be online (yet!), but that state eventually is one that exists in addition to the pre-existing offline state. After all, so long as we're living, we're in the offline, physical world. But of course, we also have the ability to also be online. Those moments when the lines overlap represent moments when one is taking advantage of that ability. Like me, for instance, as I post this on my site, or you, as you read it, or the woman on the bus who is emailing her employees at the red light, or the cyclist who is taking a moment to look up Google Maps directions for his route home. Being in the online world does not mean that you step out of the offline.

And that chart could be changed or modified as needed. The following might be what a more personalized version would look for someone who was much older, and who lived most of his/her life in a time before the Internet became the major force it is:

You could also wonder if this isn't a little more accurate, as there's a case to be made for the fact that though we all must leave the offline world, it's much harder for our digital selves to be erased from the online world:

That last one is debatable for a few different reasons, but on any account, it's all very interesting. I'm hoping that those images help make clear the online/offline fluidity that I talk and write about so often. Let me know your thoughts if you have any: @thistimeitsmimi.