Real life

"Real life" is a phrase used originally in literature to distinguish between the real world and fictional or idealized worlds, and in acting to distinguish between performers and the characters they portray. More recently, 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.

As distinct from fiction

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.

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]

Similarly, the phrase can be used to distinguish an actor from a character, e.g. "In real life, he has a British accent" or "In real life, he lives in Los Angeles."

There is a related but slightly distinct usage among role-players and historical reenactors, to distinguish the fantasy or historical context from the actual world and the role-player or actor from the character, e.g. "What do you do in real life?" or "Where do you live in real life?"

As distinct from the Internet

On the Internet, "real life" refers to life offline. Online, the initialism "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 literally 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.

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]

The initialism "RL" stands for "real life" and "IRL" for "in real life." For example, one can speak of "meeting IRL" someone whom one has met online, 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]

As distinct from the academic world

The phrase is also used to distinguish academic life from work in other sectors, in a manner similar to the term "real world". A person with experience in "real life" or the "real world" has experience beyond book-learning. It may also be used, often pejoratively, to distinguish other insular subcultures, work environments, or lifestyles from more traditional social and professional activities. The terms "real life" and "the real world" may also be used to describe adulthood and the adult world as distinct from childhood and adolescence.

See also


  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. " search for IRL".
  5. Don Slater (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. Rhymer Rigby (23 August 2006). "Warning: interruption overload". Archived from the original on 13 August 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  9. For example:
    • Stephenson, Neal (2000). Cryptonomicon. HarperCollins. p. 529. ISBN 0-380-78862-4. Current meatspace coordinates, hot from the GPS receiver card in my laptop: ...
    • Stirling, S. M. (2003). T2: Rising Storm. T2 Series. HarperCollins. p. 53. ISBN 0-380-80817-X. On the Internet the gloves come off and people say things they'd never say in meat space.
  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. Retrieved 13 March 2008. John Perry Barlow is multitasking between cyberspace, meatspace and parentspace about as well as a mere mortal can do.
  12. "'Lookist' Britain: the way we look inspires the new English". Retrieved 13 March 2008.

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