What does it mean to be “real” in the digital age? As more people leave the institutions that once helped many of us find meaning and belonging—opting out of religious communities and civic organizations—and move their search for realness to the internet instead, it’s easy to worry. After all, we hear over and over that our digital lives are “fake,” even though so much of who we are and what we do for work and play now happens online. Alternately, others say that technology will make us fuller, better versions of ourselves, if we just put our faith in it. But perhaps neither group gets it exactly right. Perhaps the internet is a new tool for understanding and expressing ourselves, and that the not always-graceful ways we use this tool can reveal new insights into far older human behaviors and desires. In this talk, author and activist Chris Stedman will invite us to consider the ways we use the internet to fulfill the essential human need to feel real. The digital search for meaning and belonging presents challenges, he will argue, but also myriad opportunities to become more human.

Chris Stedman is the author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious (2012) and the forthcoming IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives (2020) and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pitchfork, BuzzFeed, VICE, and The Washington Post. Formerly the founding executive director of the Yale Humanist Community, he also served as a humanist chaplain at Harvard University and is currently a fellow at Augsburg University. Learn more at chrisstedmanwriter.com.