Background/Context: Distinctions, real and conceptual, in being “online” or “offline” have featured heavily in the ways educational researchers have understood and approached research into the lives and practices of young people. Even as we argued that bridges must be built between “on” and “off,” our research has reflected a set of deeply entrenched metaphors about the Internet.
Focus of Study: This article takes a qualitative approach, using semistructured interviews and object ethnographies within a postphenomenological theoretical frame to explore how contemporary young people understand and experience “the Internet” and “online–offline” alongside their engagement with ubiquitous smartphones. Here, the article positions itself in the emerging new materialism studies alongside speculative realism and posthumanism, but with a particular focus on where the philosophy of technology known as postphenomenology can lead us in our thinking.
Research Design: The interviews described here were conducted in English and form part of a larger ongoing research project focused on understanding the impacts of mobile digital technologies on young people, including tracking shifts in the metaphors used to explain their everyday lives with digital media. To date, the project includes 41 surveys and a dozen semistructured interviews conducted in person in the United Kingdom and Europe, or, where necessary, via Skype and/or email. The interviews described here were conducted in person in 2015 in England. Analysis was conducted via critical discourse analysis and metaphor analysis.
Conclusions: The article demonstrates that our dated metaphors of online/offline are no longer fit for purpose when speaking about the activities, practices, beliefs, and priorities of these young women. The views of these young women are illuminating and challenging, and they pave the way for how we might usefully theorize the practices with text and technologies that they carry across different presences.