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Real life is a phrase used to distinguish actual events, people, and activities from fictional worlds or characters, from interactions on the Internet, or, pejoratively, from certain lifestyles or activities that the speaker deems less important, worthy, or otherwise "real".
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". 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 in a common physical location. Some, arguing that the Internet is part of real life, prefer to use AFK (such as the documentary TPB AFK).
Some sociologists engaged in the study of the Internet have predicted that someday, a distinction between online and real-life 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".
The abbreviation "RL" stands for "real life" and "IRL" for "in real life." For example, one can speak of "meeting IRL" (LMIRL) someone whom one has met online. 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". "Meatspace" has appeared in the Financial Times and in science fiction literature. Some early uses of the term include a post to the Usenet newsgroup austin.public-net in 1993 and an article in the Seattle Times about John Perry Barlow in 1995. The term entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2000.
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.
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 reenactor from the character, e.g. "What do you do in real life?" or "Where do you live in real life?"
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. It may also be used to describe adulthood and the adult world as distinct from childhood and adolescence
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