The Conscious Ape

Diagnosed with “Terminally Online”

The what and the why:

What does it mean to be terminally online? One of the definitions is:

“A term used to describe a person who cannot engage in carefree fun or interact normally anymore because their views and behaviors have been warped from spending too much time in niche social and political bubbles online. Their entire bodies are tightly clenched all day and they are never really relaxed – they must keep vigil for anyone who fails their purity test so they can sound the alarms and give in to their repressed feral tendencies to burn you at the stake.” (source: Urban Dictionary)

To put it more succinctly, a person whose life is inhibited by the perpetual or extreme usage of the internet. Most of us are not aware of our terminal condition, at least on the surface level, we only feel it in the pith of our persona, in that grinding – teeth clenching grip of daily anxiety. We fail in noticing this blind spot of ours due to the fact that our “internet usage problem” is just a symptom of a larger underlying problem. We are curing our boredom and mending the fact that our lives are not interesting or adventurous as much as we would want them to be. To understand this better, one should ask themselves some of the following questions:

  • How do you feel after scrolling through your feed for hours on end?

  • Do you follow your friends, or others as well? Do you follow people you respect or maybe hate, like celebrities or outrageous personalities? Is this a reflection of something you want or who you are in the pith of your essence? For example, do you follow an influencer with cool makeup and a fancy wardrobe because you wish for a similar makeup/wardrobe for yourself, or maybe a sport/inspirational “icon” because you also want to get into shape and have that chiseled greek god physique.

  • Do you perpetually think of ways to format an in-person situation into a post or approach an in-person situation with the intention of taking pictures/videos for a post?

  • Do you keep up with arguments/”fights” on social media? What do you feel like you accomplish when you keep up with them? Do these accomplishments affect anyone/anything other than yourself?

  • Has something been present on social media (a frequently talked about movie, author, or political viewpoint, for example) ever made you conclude that it is just as present in “real life”?

  • Have you ever responded to serious statements – both in person and online – with contradictory irony or deriding sarcasm, to the point of blurring the line of being online and offline and forgetting that being an asshole in public can result in an ass whooping?

To make one point crystally clear from the get-go, one should not feel ashamed if one recognizes themselves in the above-listed points. Nowadays especially, since the pandemic outbreak, most of us are “terminally online” unless we live alone on a mountain with no reception.

Biases, fallacies, FOMO, and highlights:

One should examine their biases and logical fallacies around their internet usage and behavior on the preferred platforms. To not know your blindspots is to walk into every situation open for manipulation and outrage. It is an arduous task to find someone who’s “terminally online” and who doesn’t have a strong political or social bias. The stronger you feel about something, the more susceptible to misinformation you are. Everyone is aware of the existence of the phrase “fake news” on the internet, but when we see something that presses our sensibilities and appears to confirm our biases, we’re more likely to react to it immediately than to examine it. Put on top of that all the logical fallacies that impede us from making reasonable decisions and prevent us from engaging in truthful arguments, and you are cooking up a perfect recipe for a catastrophe.

Rationalization of FOMO is a persistent problem of those who like to peruse and galavant on the internet. Trends, memes, music, gossip, fashion, etc., – there will always be something that you are missing out on, and chasing these trends will not improve your life other than getting a boost in your confidence based on the sole fact that you have participated in the same act and possess the same knowledge as do the other “members of the tribe”, this rite of passage is so deeply baked into us as a species.

When the constant recycling of trends accelerates the ecological collapse of the planet, condemns workers to poor conditions, and results in obstreperous mis/disinformation and general impertinence, is FOMO worth it? Why bother fussing over knowing what is trendy right now when it’ll stop being trendy two weeks later? The only thing you’re risking is the scorn of some person you don’t know. Instead of focusing on not missing out, maybe focus on you. Replace the hypothetical audience in your head with an audience of yourself. What do you like? What are you interested in? What are your goals? These questions can’t be figured out in a day, but you won’t figure them out any faster by trying to adhere to someone else’s standards.

The internet is good at melding, blending, and molding our interests – politics, hobbies, and other points of interest on which we build our personas. While all aspects of life can be political in some way, too much focus on “egregious content” will drain you, especially when done in an environment with word limits and a toxic community. Modern social media especially is good at instilling the impression that everyone has to know everything and have an opinion on everything constantly while looking good at that. In seeking to become less “terminally online”, you have to make peace with the fact that you will not know everything. Furthermore, the “cerebral and erudite intellectual with a correct take on everything” is a mythical creature of the basement-dwelling variety, as are the imagined lives of every social media user who looks like they’re having a better life than you. The highlight reel is exactly that, highlights omitting the mundane tasks and daily drudgery that every single one of us goes through. It’s better to be honest with yourself about where you’re at in life than to put up an illusion of something you’re not for clout. If you’d like to know about something, nowhere better to start than by reading a book about it (* though books can also be a perfect vessel for misinformation and idiotic content). Try to give yourself pause and remember to stop and take a deep breath, for minutes at a time trying to be mindful of your surroundings. We’re all individuals and we can’t be perfect images arranged into recognizable, representative squares.

Irony, sarcasm, and toxicity:

Irony, sarcasm, and toxicity are the bread and butter of the modern internet dweller, we revel in it like pigs in shit. David Foster Wallace has noted and written extensively on the problem of irony in our media, long before the rise of ubiquitous internet usage, he has written with great caution and awareness of the horrors of that kind of behavior, one can only imagine what he would have to say about the present day situation. Irony and sarcasm can be useful in satire and pointing out contradictions, but when you have post limits, word limits, tl;drs, and accusations of cringiness to wrestle with, irony can turn into a shrugging off of worthwhile conversation and attempts to glean more knowledge from a situation. Today, “irony” is often used defensively, backing up case-by-case assertions that extreme behaviors aren’t serious, angry shouting matches aren’t a huge problem, death threats are just a joke, cruel jokes are only the result of a society that doesn’t know better, and apoplectic effuse are only accusations of addlepated bushwhackers.

There are many cases where all of us use irony and sarcasm in our daily lives when we feel the need to shield ourselves, our honest opinions, and true thoughts because we are afraid of what others may say or think, or we were unable to fully express our selves so from fear of looking stupid we simply lashed out. Or maybe we wanted to fit in with others who we’ve seen exhibit similar behavior, or we were afraid that an appearance of being “too serious” about something will brand us as ‘cringe’.

There is a multitude of other reasons why someone may use irony or sarcasm like this that I haven’t listed. One should examine what irony does for him, how it affects your mental state – does it make you prone to outright cynicism and pessimism, and whether it impedes you in any way – small or big. Strive to debug this out of your life by either saying what you mean or not saying anything at all, open and honest communication is preferable to self-defensive irony, rather than hiding behind secret languages and phrases. One should not feel shame for being honest with yourself – even if it goes against what’s “based”.

Centralization of the Net:

Google isn’t the only search engine. Twitter isn’t the only microblogging site. Tiktok and youtube aren’t the only video-sharing platforms. The internet has gotten more “centralized” and corporate over the past ten years, but that doesn’t mean that the “old net” is dead. There are alternatives to every one of your favorite sites. This centralization of the internet is the direct cause of what is happening today online. Where in the past we had multiple splintered sources of information, media, and entertainment, today we have a single large hub of curated, proffered and analyzed information served to us by MAMAA (Meta, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google’s parent company Alphabet.)

These online communities with large user bases can foster pernicious behaviors and attitudes within their userbases. The tribal mentality winds up to 11. This is only further propelled when the sites harness content aggregation, pushing posts specifically to make you angry, guaranteeing that you will post more and stay on longer. The AI-driven business model propagates our worst behaviors and puts us into a precipitous situation of being treated like a monkey pulling a lever for treats in the shape of dopamine hits.

The internet should be split again, and decentralized, putting to higher stress fact-checking and proofreading, but unfortunately with Web3, this seems at this point quite impossible.

Breaking the loop:

A plethora of people would say that a solution or cure to being terminally online is to just find an offline hobby. Maybe something you’ve always wanted to do like cooking or reading. However, this seems to me like a counterintuitive solution. I believe that many people giving this advice, to find a hobby, are naive to the difference between free time with mental energy to burn and free time where you’ve already used all your mental energy for the day. You are just exchanging one behavior with another. To many, one of the reasons why they got so mired in the constant internet usage is the fact of mental fatigue brought upon by long work hours and the fast pace of modern life, and the low overhead when it comes to concentration (doom)scrolling, it is easy to scroll through Instagram unlike reading and that makes it so much appealing. In the past, once people came home from work, they would just “flip on the tube”, and would spend hours mindlessly sitting in front of the TV. On so many levels this is the same kind of behavior as scrolling, or to put it in a closer relationship, exchanging TV with Netflix.

In both cases, TV in the past – doom scrolling today, it’s not that you are addicted to a certain behavior, but rather that this behavior is one of the only pastimes available to you in your current environmental context that can be executed when fully cognitively fatigued, and yet not tired enough to sleep. Current environmental context is also an important part of the equation because living in certain places (e.g. most cities, and suburbs) limits your options. In more rural areas, you can just go out for a long walk in nature or spontaneously go fishing. In communities that are safe, walkable, and socially well-connected, you can go to a {cafe, park, mall, bar, community center, church, etc.} and run into friends rather than strangers, and just hang out shooting the breeze until you get tired. But many people alive today are in environments where they have none of those options. They have to come up with a braindead pastime that can be done both alone and indoors. We didn’t evolve to do well in this situation! Anything you pick is going to end up not being very good for you!

Before suggesting “do some reading” (of which I am the first to admit guilt on the account that I do that all the time) — you’re underestimating the level of cognitive fatigue many people reach. If you have enough mental energy at the end of the day to concentrate on reading a good book and getting the full effect of it — as opposed to having a good book just slide past you, or reading “junk food” for example blog posts xD — that’s great for you, but that amount of mental energy would also be sufficient to cook or practice an instrument. Reading — the kind that enriches your mind — is a hobby, not a pastime!

So what would be the way to break out of this hellish loop? Simply deleting social media and turning into a Luddite is not a working solution, because you are again mistaking symptoms for a disease. One should deeply and introspectively look into them and find out what is driving you into the same patterns of this behavior. I can not and will not preach to anyone to go out and make something of your life, every single one of us is an island of experiences that shaped us into the present persona, but I would say that it is a worthy endeavor to try and break the loop of being terminally online and to try and find something that gives you purpose and makes you content, I will refrain myself here from using the word happy, it seems to me that being content is far more important, because being happy and getting a dopamine hit from posting stuff online are too close to each other. Venture out and see if the offline world has more merit to offer than being online 24/7.