Chronically online—a virtual disease – The Strand

A dive into the overstimulating and excessive consumption of social media

Chronic online: a term the Internet has coined to describe users who consume media content so excessively that they lose touch with reality. Such individuals often struggle to make genuine real-life connections and, due to a significant lack of worldly experience, have difficulty engaging in healthy conversations about politics and social justice.

I would therefore like to open this piece with two actual tweets that I came across:

“Being disgusted by another person’s energy and mentality is such a real thing” (@multiversum333)

“do irl [in real life] College mutuals, y’all, that shit is crazy…” (@marma2ade)

Above are prime examples of “chronic” being online that show a complete distortion of reality stemming from overuse of social media. They have the very basic and normal experiences of not liking people and making friends retranslated into ‘being disgusted with energy and mentality’ and ‘doing IRL mutuals’. We are so desensitized to the human experience that the real world is becoming alien to chronically online individuals, just as the virtual space may seem alien to our parents.

First, I find that our excessive consumption of content from people’s daily lives reduces the human experience to aesthetics. To clarify my point of view, I refer to a tick tock I came across one content creator who highlighted her “clean aesthetic routine.” It basically consisted of exfoliation, brushing your teeth, combing your hair and a skin care routine. Cleanliness has shifted from a basic habit to an aesthetic that a certain group of people must adhere to. Many people have become so absorbed by social media that they have reframed their lives to fit a romanticized lens that social media recognizes as “aesthetic.” Reading books on the subway, taking class notes, preparing meals, and many such regular experiences have been plastered as “aesthetics” on social media, demonstrating a growing detachment from the real world.

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As a further note, I would like to address our overexposure to “conventionally attractive” or “social media presenting” faces and experiences on such platforms and how this overexposure can affect our response to people we meet in real life. Social media is so saturated with traditionally “presentable” people and livelihoods (often inaccessible to most people because they are lived by upper-class individuals) that it can become frightening and often despairing for content consumers who live a vastly different reality. We often hear people wondering why certain experiences they are exposed to online don’t happen to them. While this isn’t the first time the upside comparison issue has been highlighted, it has definitely gotten a lot worse over the past few years. The content we consume is fed through an algorithmic positive feedback loop, so this constant exposure to the realities we choose to live in can feel very belittling and hopeless. Additionally, people often jokingly admit that they can only find people attractive online, unaware that this is a symptom of a much deeper problem related to how numbing the virtual world can be. Our new standard for relationships (be it romantic or platonic) is set by snippets of “perfection” we see online, and it often creates a gap between people that makes them feel unable to connect with people that don’t match the people you see online.

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Finally, the lack of accountability and freedom of expression on social media has left us unable to have healthy conversations about politics and social justice. The transience of the content we post online, as well as the ability to remain anonymous in virtual space, has made it incredibly easy for users to post their thoughts and ideas – however inflammatory, underdeveloped, or uninformed – without intention, participate in an active discourse about it. They can often dish it out and not absorb it, and this trend has created an extremely hostile space where people cannot come together and listen to one another. Social media platforms have become so polarizing that active communication and healthy political debate are often replaced by hostility and hostility. When YouTubers encounter disagreements, it’s so easy for them to ignore the situation by simply deleting their videos and starting over. Social media makes it so easy to walk away from an awkward situation and not take responsibility that when such exchanges are moved to real life, the lack of experience with healthy conversations leads to an inability to debate and be open , to listen and to educate yourself . It’s overwhelming and desensitizing, and while social media is typically a great vehicle for raising awareness of social justice issues and highlighting important societal issues, it has also created a space where hostility and a lack of accountability prevent healthy discourse.

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My point is that we need to be aware of how we perceive and process the content we consume on social media and effectively recognize the difference between real life and online spaces. The term “chronically online” is increasingly being used to describe those who are unable to, but it’s more than just that — it’s an indication of a growing distance from the real world because our thought processes are so easily distracted by what we consume online are influenced. It has also been researched that overuse of social media is one of the leading causes of mental health problems worldwide, including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and others. This crisis needs to be addressed urgently.

Ultimately, my call to action is not to boycott social media — I recognize the critical role it plays in our connection to and understanding of the world. All I encourage is that we reevaluate and reflect on our relationship with him and work to find the balance between his virtue and his poison.

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