Someone asked me this question the other day, and I keep thinking about what the answer is. It reminds me a bit of the well known philosophical question
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
The idea of the tree conundrum is that it raises more questions in our minds regarding observation and reality. Because technically, if the tree falls, it makes a sound – or at least you would presume it had done. But if noone hears it, has it made actually made a sound (especially if you look at the definition of ‘sound’ which is “vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach a person’s or animal’s ear“….)?
Technically of course, in the eyes of your family, friends, colleagues, the person serving you at the corner shop, yes, you can be alive without being online. But if you a running a business, or trying to build a personal profile, then doing that without being online and mastering online becomes harder every day.
I remember when I set up my very first website in 2007, on this very domain in fact. I was a freelance journalist then and it was a simple website which featured my portfolio. It was actually seen as quite ‘out there’ to have a website on a domain featuring your own name and I was the only person I knew who had such a thing. I remember thinking that it would make life easier (as I’d no longer have to trawl around magazine offices carrying my editor) and also that it seemed like the right thing to do given this ‘internet thing’ was increasingly a ‘thing’, yet at the same time I felt quite embarrassed by putting myself ‘out there’.
Now, if you are a person with a profile, or you have any sort of business, whether that’s a real world business or an online business, it seems stranger to not have a website than it does to have one. And then there’s social media too. Because a website by itself is fine and necessary but just one part of the armoury you need! (Click here if you’re confused about the interaction between social media and your website)
Still, there are plenty of people and businesses that continue to run without any online presence because other people just know them and use them. But what about when people move on and you wake up one morning and realise that actually, less and less people know you? What about when your competitors get online and do such a good job you kind of get forgotten about?
Last year, a survey by the Hinge Institute in America found that just over 1/3 of searches for service providers and professional experts started with a Google search (see the survey here) and that is a percentage that will increase each year as the whole world moves more and more online and mobile.
So back to the tree. If you google this question, you get pages and pages of lengthy philosophical analysis that seem to draw no clear conclusions on whether the tree made a sound or not. But perhaps more pertinently, if a tree falls and noone hears it, then who actually cares? Who is affected, bothered or moves themselves out of the way? No-one. Does it matter if the tree fell or not? No it doesn’t…..
And that is perhaps a better framework within which to answer the question of whether you are alive if you are not online. Yes you are alive. But to increasing masses using the internet to find what they are looking for, you cannot be seen and they do not know you are there.