The big bad internet is making chronically online gen Zers lose all sense of reality

By Bianca Borissova

Published Mar 21, 2023 at 01:09 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Have you ever scrolled through TikTok or Twitter, and have come across an argument that sounded so unbelievably ridiculous to you that you were taken aback? The type of argument you just can’t imagine being an actual problem in someone’s life? Congratulations, you may have been exposed to something described as being “chronically online.” But what does it actually mean?

Chronically online (also known as “terminally online”) is a term used predominantly by gen Zers to describe somebody who spends a hefty and unhealthy amount of their time on the internet, to the point that their sense of reality, or critical thinking abilities get hindered.

This kind of behaviour typically manifests through a whole variety of different symptoms: starting debates that achieve nothing outside of the web, engulfment and obsession with cancel culture, passing strong moral judgements on other people’s lives with little-to-no context, holding some generally questionable and self-righteous views and opinions—the list goes on.

At this moment in time, there are a lot of things on the internet that are described as chronically online. You might have seen this tweet from October 2022, in which a woman named Daisey simply shared that she enjoys having coffee with her husband.

“My husband and I wake up every morning and bring our coffee out to our garden and sit and talk for hours. Every morning. It never gets old & we never run out of things to talk to. Love him so much,” the user wrote. Seems like a pretty innocent thing to say, right?

Well, the internet didn’t think so. The author who posted the tweet suddenly got hit with an uproar of negative responses. One Twitter user replied: “For hours? But what if we weren’t inherently wealthy and had to work and stuff?”

“You haven’t been married long, have you?” wrote another one, while a third person added: “Your partner is most likely embarrassed by the tweet, or at least should be.”

“I wake up at 6 am, shower, and go to work for a shift that is a minimum of 10 hours long. This is an unattainable goal for most people,” wrote yet another user.

Here’s the thing, sure, the original message from within the highly wholesome yet slightly sickly sweet tweet may not be attainable for a lot of people, for a variety of reasons. But since when did we start sharing this collective responsibility to always be relatable and only have experiences that are representative of every single person on earth?

Daisey’s tweet did not represent an overt display of wealth, malice, or anything of that nature. Yet somehow, it invited hundreds of people to self-righteously make assumptions about her life, her finances, and her employment status.

Naturally, this initial trigger then spurred on a wider conversation about how much time we all spend online, and what Twitter’s collective anger towards this particular user says about being chronically online in this day and age.

A TikTok trend which explores this very subject recently went viral. In the clips, people share some of the most chronically online takes that they have seen. These can range from opinions like “encouraging pregnant people not to smoke or drink is ableist” and “suggesting that others wait until they are financially stable before having children is a direct participation in eugenics,” to the supposed hot take that “bleaching your hair is blondphobic.”

One TikTok user who participated in the trend shared that they were accused of classism because they have a disability and had to have their groceries delivered to them. Honestly, you can not make this up.

@crutches_and_spice

#stitch with @sorrel.hartley yup that’s just how people see you when you’re #disabled #FerragamoLetsDance #disability #chronicallyonline #fyp #fy

♬ original sound - Crutches&Spice ♿️ :

And it doesn’t stop there, you don’t just have to actively judge others to qualify for the chronically online masterclass. One particular video led to a lot of divisive discourse recently. It depicted two individuals talking about how they’d just been “hate crimed.” However, instead of focusing on the issue with that, the pair went on to say that they were “excited” about it because the hate had been based on their physical disabilities rather than their gender, size or sexuality.

As expected, the internet had a lot of thoughts about this excitement and the video’s comments section was instantly filled to the brim with users critiquing the choice of words used by the two creators to describe their feelings about the incident. One user who stitched the video noted: “The amount of joy is honestly uncomfortable.”

@babiethebunnie

#stitch with @loony.living the amount of joy is honestly uncomfortable. #bipoc #nativeamerican #nativetiktok #diné

♬ original sound - Babie

It goes without saying that hate crimes are not sought-out, thrilling incidents and so to label them as exciting is wrong, regardless of intent. This person’s particular description isn’t just privileged and delusional, rather, it shows just how out of touch the internet is making so many of us. We’re losing our sense of reality, and blurring the lines between what is okay to say online and what isn’t.

Urban Dictionary defines chronically online as: “Most people who’re described as chronically online almost definitely don’t apply this attitude when they’re not sitting behind a screen. They’re also infamous for not educating someone on what they’re doing wrong and just jumping to the conclusion of cancelling them. They overlook actual important issues and nitpick at things they are personally offended by.” And that is the problem—a lot of these chronically online arguments are highly unlikely to ever be brought up in real life.

Of course, it’s important to note that people need to be listened to, and accusations of problematic behaviour such as classicism, racism, homophobia, or sexism should never become automatically dismissed as chronically online exploits. But at the same time, we need to be able to identify the difference between actual problems with consequences to them, and problems that only exist within the realm of the internet.

From what we can see so far, we’re not doing a great job of that right now.

Gen Zers are now spending more time on social media than ever before. Within the last year, the average amount of time spent on social platforms increased by 2.5 hours per day. Moreover, according to a report by Adobe, millennials tend to spend around 8.5 hours a day on creating and consuming content through their devices, while the figures for gen Z jump up to 10.6 hours.

On top of all this, it is estimated that the average TikTok user, regardless of their age, spends about 48 hours per month on the video-sharing platform. It may not sound like a lot, but that adds up to 24 days a year—just spent staring and scrolling.

It’s understandable that if we as young people continue to spend so much of our time consuming all this different content online, we’ll ultimately all end up desensitised and immune to information. A lot of us have already begun to let our internet selves take over, and in doing so we’ve lost sight of what really matters.

So, what’s the solution? One possible option is to become more mindful of the type of content we’re consuming. We need to keep reminding ourselves that this is the big bad internet, and while it holds immense value, it also allows for the dramatisation and fabrication of news all in the name of engagement and numbers. Oftentimes, those expressing views deemed as chronically online may not even believe in what they are saying. The point is, it’s up to you to decide what you consider too much.

So, are you chronically online? You tell me.

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