Does the Distinction Between Online and Offline Still Matter?

I’m old enough to remember when being at home meant that you were off work. There was no logging in from home to check your mail. (If you wanted your mail, you had to drive into the office to pick it up.) Computers were big boxes that sat under your desk, not something you carried back and forth between home and the office with ease. Occasionally, you might bring home paperwork or something that you needed to read, but the constant connection to work was rare. Being online was something that I associated more with work than recreation, and it required conscious thought and effort.

Now, my phone has more processing power than my first work computer, and I am always connected. This connection isn’t just for work, or even for productivity. I rely on being connected for many routine personal tasks: dictionary, looking up random facts, amusement, recipes, etc. I jump back and forth seamlessly and no longer really think of it as being online or offline. I take it for granted that I can always be connected on a moment’s notice.

Gartner’s Nick Jones agrees that the distinction between online and offline has almost completely disappeared:

Labeling time as “online” vs. “offline” is so last decade. For many of us that distinction already vanished. Many of the things we do at home and work mean we dip into web services continually throughout the day. We post updates to social networks, stream media, check information, stream feeds and tweet (not the latter in my case as I’m a twitter refuser). And behind the scenes loads of gadgets in our home and pocket silently and continuously communicate to access web services, updates, information…There is no “online” vs. “offline” any more, there’s only online.

I spent the last couple of days taking a long weekend off work to just relax at home. I finished reading “Accelerando” by Charles Stross, which I had started reading a month ago; I started and finished Cory Doctorow’s “Makers,” a fantastic book; and I started reading Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash.” I stubbornly refused to do any work, but I noticed how often I kept looking things up on my phone or laptop:

Because I live in a place where Internet access is everywhere, I have stopped thinking about any distinction between “online” and “offline” in favor of an always-connected lifestyle.

What do you think about the distinction between online and offline, and is it still a meaningful distinction in your life?

Photo by Flickr user eschipul used under Creative Commons.


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