weakty

The other day I asked someone if they had heard the phrase "terminally online." I mentioned that I had seen the phrase thrown around in what seemed like a derogatory way. Maybe something like you're so online, it's going to kill you.

I checked wikipedia and realized I'm both a) falling behind on the slang b) somewhat off with my guess at the definition.

Let's take a look at what Wikipedia says:

Extremely online (often capitalized), also known as terminally online or chronically online, is a phrase referring to someone closely engaged with Internet culture. People said to be extremely online often believe that online posts are very important. Events and phenomena can themselves be extremely online; while often used as a descriptive term, the phenomenon of extreme online usage has been described as "both a reformation of the delivery of ideas – shared through words and videos and memes and GIFs and copypasta – and the ideas themselves". Here "online" is used to describe "a way of doing things, not [simply] the place they are done. While the term was in use as early as 2014, it gained use over the latter half of the 2010s in conjunction with the increasing prevalence and notability of Internet phenomena in all areas of life.".

Just for the fun of it, I also asked ChatGPT "What does 'terminally online' mean?" and got back this:

“Terminally online” is a colloquial term used to describe someone who is excessively and constantly connected to the internet and digital devices, to the point where it has become a significant part of their identity or lifestyle. This person is often immersed in online culture, social media, and internet activities to an extreme degree, sometimes to the detriment of their offline life or mental well-being. It’s often used to highlight the idea that someone is always online and consumed by digital media.

At least I was on the right track that Terminally online has a negative connotation. Anyway, I'm thinking about the term in regards to screen addiction. As I'm currently on vacation, thoughts like how much time am I wasting on my phone et al? are prone to be picked up rather than be lost to the smudge of days and weeks gone by in the blink of an instant.

So, while browsing Libby for another audiobook to potentially fall asleep to, I downloaded Overcoming Internet Addiction for Dummies. [1] In the first chapter this personal assessment checklist comes up (yes, I am just going to wholesale copy and paste it):

Following is a general list of things to look out for to determine whether you may be suffering from an addiction to the Internet. Sometimes just developing an awareness of what you're doing can increase your self-consciousness enough to cause you to change your habits and patterns. This is a good place to start. Generally, small changes can be valuable, but you can make those changes only if you are really aware of what you're doing.

  1. Do you spend more time online on your screen devices (computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or smart TV) than you realize?
  2. Do you mindlessly pass time on a regular basis by staring at your smartphone, tablet, computer, or smart TV, even when you know there might be better or more productive things to do?
  3. Do you seem to lose track of time when on any of your screen devices?
  4. Are you spending more time with "virtual friends" as opposed to real people nearby? (Obviously, during the COVID pandemic this is a difficult question.)
  5. Has the amount of time you spend on your smartphone or the Internet been increasing?
  6. Do you secretly wish you could be a little less wired or connected to your screen devices?
  7. Do you regularly sleep with your smartphone under your pillow or next to your bed?
  8. Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets, snaps, posts, comments, likes, IMs, DMs, and emails at all hours of the day and night even when it means interrupting other things you are doing?
  9. Do you text, email, tweet, snap, IM, DM, post, comment, or surf while driving or doing other similar activities that require your focused attention and concentration?
  10. Do you at times feel your use of technology decreases your productivity?
  11. Do you feel uncomfortable when you accidentally leave your phone or other Internet screen device in your car or at home, if you have no service, or if it is broken?
  12. Do you feel reluctant to be without your smartphone or other screen device, even for a short time?
  13. When you leave the house, do you typically have your smartphone or other screen device with you?
  14. When you eat meals, is your smartphone always part of the table setting?
  15. Do you find yourself distracted by your smartphone or other screen devices?

If you answer yes to 50 percent (7 or 8) or more of these questions, then you may want to examine your Internet and screen use.

I'm not trying to make you, the reader, feel bad, but this made me feel a bit bad. Or rather, I felt ashamed and disgusted at how accurate these are, especially 7, 8, 12, and 14. The book does a good job after presenting this questionnaire to combat some of the shame, I think, (after all, the book is about overcoming addiction) [2]

What's maybe more disturbing to me in all this, is that, at least in my circles, most of these things are ubiquitous (just going off anecdotes shared with me and my own experiences, though).

So?

Who cares? Why do I care so much? Why are you even writing about this?

Wanting human connection

There are certainly personal and vulnerable reasons behind me writing and criticizing a world that makes it so easy to be addicted to screens. I think mostly, it comes from my personal need to feel and have authentic human connection. I think being overly hooked into my phone/other screens takes me away from seeking out personal connection, and that I'm less able to easily bring other people into my life to fulfill that need if I can't provide the same easy access to the dopamine that I'm (we’re) intravenously, terminally, hooked up to.

Even at my best, though, when I leave my phone at home to go to community-oriented events, others will lapse back into looking at their phone when conversation lulls, or simply in the middle of a discussion. [3]

Wasting time

More brutally existential, aimless scrolling and dopamine hunting mostly feels like I'm wasting the time I have on this planet. I have rarely looked back on a chunk of time doomscrolling where I thought I'm glad I spent my time doing this.

A competitive advantage

I don't like to think about this sort of stuff through the lens of "getting ahead", but from time to time I think what would happen if I put all that cumulated time wasted toward drawing, or reading. How many book would I have completed, how much more refined would my technical proficiencies be?

Doing nothing

In contrast to the above, I think I would also benefit immensely from even pursuing non-action and thoughtlessness — doing nothing, in the Taoist sense, rather than scroll for dopamine.

Addicted?

I'm not so sure I'm an addict ( I guess I'll have to listen to this book some more); I still live what feels like a fairly balanced life[4]. But sitting down to write this out, after hearing that list of 15 items is making me question some of the ways I've been doing things. Frankly, I'm disturbed.

What now?

Well, I guess new years resolutions have arrived a few months early.


  1. Generally, I am not a fan of the Dummies brand, but I thought I should check it out anyway. ↩︎

  2. I'll just include it here, since I think it's worth reading, and I also don't want this entire post to be quotes:

    > REMEMBER The main thing to look out for is an overall lack of awareness of how much time you are spending on your screens. The more time, the more likely your life will be out of balance. The content or app is not the most important thing here; rather, it is the amount of time you are diverting from balanced real-time living. The power of the Internet, in part, comes from its ability to dissociate you from real life and to become a digital drug by impacting dopamine. ↩︎

  3. I do this too; I'm more trying to point out that even if you leave your device at home, it doesn't mean you will get the same level of phone-less connection with others. ↩︎

  4. During the pandemic not so much, but 2023 been so much better in terms of going out, meeting people, and getting offline. ↩︎