“Internet: absolute communication, absolute isolation.” (Paul Carvel)

People are multi-layered. At the core everyone has a solid base, but they rearrange themselves on the outside to fulfill their many roles in life. Obviously, you cannot put on your family-time-face to go to work, neither is it healthy to carry your professional workplace attitude back at home. Similarly, when people translate their blood-and-flesh personalities into Internet form, there is a certain extent to which their digital version differs from their everyday selves. In order to illustrate this phenomenon in today’s youth, several Internet users have painted the picture by describing three ways, in which their online and offline selves are different.

Aisha Raees, anime fan and O Levels student

  1. My offline self has different facades when meeting people. But my facades vanish on the Internet, and I pour out my worries to my net pals.
  2. One may not find friends with similar interests in real life, but the Internet is full of people of every kind! One can easily share opinions, views, etc., with them.
  3. Then there is the thing of advice. You can easily find people on the Internet who may be complete strangers, but they can help you out! Whereas in reality there are many times one has nobody to turn to!

Faizan Zafar, 20, doing SSE at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences)

My online self probably looks more impressive than my real self because:

  1. When online, we tend to use emoticons [smiley faces, etc.] too often. I now try to avoid using them, unless I honestly mean and feel them.
  2. Also because I get time to think and ponder over things and thus write out my answers in a proper and formal method.
  3. I’m trying to reduce the differences. I feel more confident on the Internet, no doubt, but I try to keep it restrained and chat with people only if I feel I would have chatted with them anyway, had they been standing nearby.

Arsh Azim, student of Bachelors

Online self

  1. I make fewer friends.
  2. I don’t share my secrets with them.
  3. I confuse people but also let them enjoy my presence.

Offline self

  1. I make many friends.
  2. I am open.
  3. I am possessive about my real friends.

Ammar Shafique, student at PAC (Professional Academy of Commerce)

On the Internet

  1. You talk to people you haven’t met since 1874.
  2. You don’t really show emotions online.
  3. You can act fake; you can lie.

Sundus Iftikhar, A’Level student at UCL (University College Lahore)

  1. Through the Internet, I know what is going on in my acquaintances’ lives. That provides material for online conversation, so I am friendlier with them and talk more confidently.
  2. Offline, I trust people, so I confide in them more easily and am a blabbermouth. If someone asks me something, I can’t hide my emotions or lie. On the Internet, I can’t tell what the other person is feeling; also, I have time to think before I speak, so I am more careful and share less.
  3. I have much more fun talking with friends in person instead of ’chatting’ with them via an online instant messaging service. Chatting is a words-only thing, so I feel limited. In direct interaction, I can express all those things, which are beyond the world of words.

Poll Questions

Fifty youths, ranging in age from mid-teens to early twenties, were polled regarding the online/offline divide.

  1. Do you think people’s online behaviour differs from their offline one?
  2. a) Yes – 82%
  3. b) No – 18%
  4. Do you get more out of an online or an offline conversation?
  5. a) Online – 52%
  6. b) Offline – 48%
  7. Where do you express yourself better?
  8. a) Online – 48%
  9. b) Offline – 52%
  10. In which life are you more open and expressive? (i.e., which life shows more of you to others?)
  11. a) Online – 46%
  12. b) Offline – 54%
  13. A greater number of which of the following know the real you?
  14. a) Online contacts – 10%
  15. b) People you have met face-to-face – 90%

Let us end with this consideration: when is the online-offline divide the greatest? It happens when the Internet becomes an emotional lifeline, and people find online substitutes for things that are much more fulfilling in their offline forms, like friends and confidantes. Having a physically present shoulder to cry on is better than confiding in someone online, but what if you cannot find such a shoulder among your parents, siblings or friends? Are you – as a parent, child, sibling or friend – communicating properly with people in your life, or are you contributing to the online-offline divide? The Prophet (sa) said: “If any one of you loves his brother, then he should inform him.” (At-Tirmidhi)