From URL to IRL to ERL

In a December 1994 memo, the term Universal Reference Locator was explained, defined, and codified. Back in the days when Cyber was a word, and going online meant going to the world wide web, URLs changed our planet. So much so, that eventually a new term sprung up, a term used by people to separate themselves from the digital world that was being created around them — IRL (In Real Life).

This binary distinction, the choice of being on or off, or being digital or analog, of being virtual or real, defined how we thought about our worlds — two giant, but separate, playgrounds, never the two shall meet.

When phones were big and data plans were small, this was a logical conclusion. But innovation, development, and economies of scale have changed all that. Today,only 7% of Americans remain disconnected, and about 1 out of 3 people say they are connected all the time. Perhaps no greater evidence of the futility of the separation of Earth from the Internet is the recent contest dubbed the digital detox challenge that is willing to pay $2,400 for a person to stay completely disconnected from the internet for only 24 hours.

This persistent level of connectivity has not been without consequence. We remain connected at an all-time high, yet loneliness is becoming a major health crisis. And this was true before Covid. The stay-at-home pandemic only made it worse. It doesn’t, however, have to stay the course.

I propose a new term, one that respects the integration of the internet with the desire to remain present. ERL = Engaged at a Real Location. We need to shed our binary thinking and start building, designing, and using technology that integrates with the way we want to live, work, and play. We will redefine our relationship with our screens so they facilitate and guide; the screens are not the destination. We will create harmony between our online and offline worlds. This will open up entirely new possibilities for connection and commerce. It will help us to connect better with one another.

Let tech help you find somewhere great. Then put your phone down to smell the flowers and take in the sights. When you’re ready, your tech will guide you to the next spot. It will be there to connect you with a friend to share the experience and create a new memory. ERL is the use of technology that respects our intentions and doesn’t try to interfere with or dominate our senses. It is technology for connecting with our beautiful world.
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Ethan Mayers, CEO www.chalknotes.com

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