Real life

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Real life is a phrase used originally in literature to distinguish between the real world and fictional, virtual or idealized worlds, and in acting to distinguish between actors and the characters they portray. It has become a popular term on the Internet to describe events, people, activities, and interactions occurring offline; or otherwise not primarily through the medium of the Internet. It is also used as a metaphor to distinguish life in a vocational setting as opposed to an academic one, or adulthood and the adult world as opposed to childhood or adolescence.[citation needed]

As distinct from fiction[edit]

Illustration by William Blake for Wollstonecraft's Original Stories (1791)

When used to distinguish from fictional worlds or universes against the consensus reality of the reader, the term has a long history:

Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself.

— Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (1868–69)[1]

In her 1788 work, Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness, author Mary Wollstonecraft employs the term in her title, representing the work's focus on a middle-class ethos which she viewed as superior to the court culture represented by fairy tales and the values of chance and luck found in chapbook stories for the poor.[2] As phrased by Gary Kelly, writing about the work, "The phrase 'real life' strengthens 'original', excluding both the artificial and the fictional or imaginary."[3]

As distinct from the Internet[edit]

On the Internet, "real life" refers to life offline. Online, the acronym "IRL" stands for "in real life", with the meaning "not on the Internet".[4] For example, while Internet users may speak of having "met" someone that they have contacted via online chat or in an online gaming context, to say that they met someone "in real life" is to say that they encountered them at a physical location. Some, arguing that the Internet is part of real life, prefer to use "away from the keyboard" (AFK), e.g. the documentary TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard.

Some sociologists engaged in the study of the Internet have predicted that someday, a distinction between online and offline worlds may seem "quaint", noting that certain types of online activity, such as sexual intrigues, have already made a full transition to complete legitimacy and "reality".[5]

Related terminology[edit]

The initialism "RL" stands for "real life" and "IRL" for "in real life." For example, one can speak of "meeting IRL" an online acquaintance, such as in "LMIRL" ("let's meet in real life"). It may also be used to express an inability to use the Internet for a time due to "RL problems". Some internet users use the idioms "face time", "meatspace", or "meat world", which contrast with the term "cyberspace".[6][7] "Meatspace" has appeared in the Financial Times[8] and in science fiction literature.[9] Some early uses of the term include a post to the Usenet newsgroup austin.public-net in 1993[10] and an article in The Seattle Times about John Perry Barlow in 1995.[11] The term entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2000.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Idiot: Part IV: Chapter I". The Free Online Library. Retrieved 6 May 2006.
  2. ^ Wollstonecraft, Mary. Original Stories from Real Life. London: Printed for Joseph Johnson, 1788. Available from Eighteenth Century Collections Online. (by subscription only) Retrieved on 13 October 2007.
  3. ^ Kelly, Gary. Revolutionary Feminism: The Mind and Career of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Macmillan, 1992. ISBN 0-312-12904-1.
  4. ^ "IRL". AcronymFinder. Archived from the original on 26 November 2022.
  5. ^ Slater, Don (2002). "Social Relationships and Identity On-line and Off-line". In Leah Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone (ed.). Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs. Sage Publications Inc. pp. 533–543. ISBN 0-7619-6510-6.
  6. ^ "meatspace (MEET.spays) n." Word Spy. Paul McFedries and Logophilia Limited. 14 November 1996. Retrieved 11 August 2008.
  7. ^ Dodero, Camille (17 July 2006). "Does your life suck?". The Phoenix. Retrieved 23 July 2007. Beyond this world, in real life – a/k/a what Second Lifers refer to as "meatspace," where your body is made of flesh, not bytes…
  8. ^ Rigby, Rhymer (23 August 2006). "Warning: interruption overload". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 13 August 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  9. ^ For example:
  10. ^ Barnes, Douglas (21 February 1993). "Austin CyberSpace Journal #1". Retrieved 13 March 2008. Meatspace update (quick rundown on where/how to interact with net.folks in meatspace, i.e., regular events, social gatherings, restaurant hangouts, etc.)
  11. ^ Andrews, Paul (30 October 1995). "He's Trying To Build A Community On-Line – Grateful Dead Lyricist Ventures into Cyberspace". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2008. John Perry Barlow is multitasking between cyberspace, meatspace and parentspace about as well as a mere mortal can do.
  12. ^ Oxford University Press (2011). "'Lookist' Britain: the way we look inspires the new English". PR Newswire. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 13 March 2008.

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