how to stop being "terminally online"
- determine why you're "terminally online"
to accomplish the tasks detailed further in the list, you have to do some soul-searching. this starts with acknowledging and accepting that you're terminally online, and determining why this is. understanding yourself will help you come up with a plan of action that best suits your needs. here's some questions to start you off:
- what do you feel like you gain by scrolling through your feed?
- do you follow only your friends, or others as well? do you follow people you admire or celebrities? what do you feel like you gain by following them? is this a reflection of something you want? for example, do you follow an influencer with cool makeup and a nice wardrobe because you dream of a similar makeup/wardrobe for yourself?
- have you ever thought of how to format an in-person situation into a post of some sort, or approached an in-person situation with the intention of taking pictures/videos for a post? have you ever used/applied "internet slang" (cringe, based, cuck, chad) in/to real-life situations? how often do you do this? why do you do this?
- what is your life philosophy? what do you believe in? do the communities you browse online reflect this in some way? did you learn about these from people online?
- do you keep up with arguments/"discourse" 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? how/why?
- has something being present on social media (a frequently talked about movie, author, or political viewpoint, for example) ever made you come to the conclusion that it is just as present in "real life"? is this actually true?
- do you feel like you use the internet to better the world in some way? what affects does this way have that are not only on the internet?
- have you ever responded to serious statements - both in person and online - with contradictory irony? why did you do this? was this influenced by behavior you've seen online in any way?
- have you ever accused anyone else of being 'terminally online', or seen these behaviors in someone else? do you share any similarities to them?
don't be ashamed if you can identify with some of the problems posed in these questions. nowadays, and especially since the pandemic, most of us are "terminally online" in some form unless we live alone on a mountain with no reception. your recognizing this already puts you ahead of most other people - a willingness to be honest with yourself shows a strength of character which will make improvement all the more feasible.
- examine your biases
it's hard to find someone who's "terminally online" who doesn't have a strong political or social bias of some sort. i'm not here to knock on you for having views, but know that the stronger you feel about something, the more susceptible to misinformation you are. everyone is aware of the existence of "fake news" on the internet, but when we see something that touches our sensibilities and appears to confirm our biases, we're more likely to react to it immediately than to examine it. misinformation online covers a much broader scope than many misinformation awareness campaigns make it seem it encompasses.
- rationalize your FOMO
fear of missing out only exists if you're aware that there's something you're missing out on. with the internet being a series of splintered subgroups, concepts of "cool" and "cringe" are averages of what many people are exposed to, meaning that everyone has their own subjective interpretation of them. these are all perpetuated through irony-fueled elitism. this does not bar you from doing your own thing as long as you don't allow yourself to be defined by a fear of being "cringe".
trends and memes only serve to signal online "in-groups", and anyone can join these with enough browsing. (streamer jerma985 enjoys "zoomer humor" despite being far out of its expected age bracket.) if you're afraid of "missing out", know that the pressure of not missing out is worse - there will always be something you are amiss about, and chasing these trends will not improve your life other than giving you boosted confidence for as long as that thing you didn't miss out on is trendy. when the consistent recycling of trends accelerates the ecological collapse of the planet, condemns workers to poor conditions like never before, and results in blatant mis/disinformation and rudeness, is your FOMO really worth it? why bother slaving over knowing what thing is trendy right now when it'll stop being trendy two months later? the only thing you're risking is the scorn of some person you don't know.
instead of focusing on not missing out, 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.
- accept yourself as you are
the internet is good at mixing, remixing, and melding interest - mostly politics with hobbies. while all aspects of life can be political in some way, too much focus on "serious stuff" can exhaust you, especially when done in an environment with word limits. 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. having a little fun won't turn you into a simpleton, i promise - every esteemed thinker has publicly spoken at some length about their favorite painting or movie.
as someone who is seeking to become less "terminally online", you have to make peace with the fact that you will not know everything, least of all from a quick wikipedia skim and two threads. and that's okay. moreover, the "serious and learned intellectual with a correct take on everything" is just a myth, as are the imagined lives of every social media user who looks like they're having a better life than you. it's better to be honest with yourself where you're at than put up an illusion of something you're not for clout. if you'd really like to know about something, nowhere better to start than by reading a book about it. try to give yourself breaks where you're due and remember that everyone starts somewhere. we're all individuals and we can't be perfect images stuffed into recognizable, representative boxes, no matter how great the pressure or appeal may seem.
- stop being so ironic
irony, post-irony, meta-irony, and whatever-irony are the lingua franca of the terminally online. it can be useful in satire and pointing out contradiction, but when you have post limits, word limits, tl;drs, and accusations of cringiness to contend with, irony can turn into a shrugging off of worthwhile conversation and attempts to learn more. nowadays, "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 angry raves are only accusations of befuddled attackers.
chances are, if you're "terminally online", you've used irony defensively in some way. ask yourself - why do you do this? is it that you...
- feel the need to cloak your true thoughts because you're afraid of what others may say about them? is this something you're embarrassed about saying in earnest?
- can't fully elaborate on the topic at hand?
- find the person you're talking to to not be worthy of your full attention? why is this?
- want to fit in with others who you've seen exhibit similar behavior?
- are afraid that an appearance of being "too serious" about something will brand you as 'cringe' or - ironically - 'terminally online'? if you're aware that what you're talking about isn't that serious, why are you talking about it?
there are many more reasons why someone may use irony like this that i haven't listed. examine what irony does for you, how it affects your mental state, and whether it impedes you in any way. work to rectify this by either saying what you really mean or not saying anything at all. open and honest communication will get you what you want in this world, rather than hiding behind secret languages and phrases. don't feel shame for being honest with yourself - even if it goes against what's "based".
- take it slow
now that we've gotten all the introspection out of the way, time to get to the action.
if you find it hard to ditch tiktok, instagram, twitter, or some other similar site, going "cold turkey" will be even harder. try to gradually reduce your usage - go on a specific amount of times per day, for a specific amount of hours/minutes per day, or only for specific purposes. gradually reduce them until you're down to your desired amount. don't give yourself allowances or "cheat days" - this isn't a diet.
- find other ways to contact people
if you use social media primarily to talk to people, email, messaging app, text, or another, less intrusive social sites may be alternatives for keeping in contact with people you'd otherwise miss. message your social media friends and ask if you can contact them on your mode of choice. if you enjoy the feeling of talking to others in general and don't have any particular friends in mind, joining some sort of in-person group (meetup.com is a good start) may help. if you're looking for something more online, see point 9 - joining new sites can introduce you to more people.
- expand your definition of the internet
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. chances are, there's three alternatives to every one of your favorite sites. try looking up some link directories to start - this one, this one, this one, and this one are some good places to start. this is a good listing of some more privacy-aware alternatives to popular sites. (not all of them are good/i don't endorse all of them though - brave is horrible, for one.)
- find a site that isn't pushing arguments
online communities with large userbases and widespread reputations can foster pernicious behaviors and attitudes within their userbases. 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. this is what gets people stuck in the online fishbowl of meaningless arguments.
if you still want some form of social media, bearblog is a good start. spacehey, neocities, fediverse sites, and insanejournal are some others. even though they're proprietary, pinterest and tumblr can also be good alternatives. if you're used to imageboards, sushigirl.us is a nice one. forums in general are great. check to see if the sites or a group on the sites has a message group you can join. there's plenty more to choose from, i'll put a link of lists here if i can find one.
- find other news sites
if you use social media to find out what's going on in the world, well...there's always sites specifically made to give news. trust me, filter bubbles don't give you as wide a breadth of perspectives as you may think. i promise that the mainstream news sites aren't the only ones, either. do some digging and you'll find one that's geared to your interests.
at that, remember that constantly chasing news in ways similar to how it's presented through social media can take a toll on you.
- use an rss feed
an rss - really simple syndication - feed is a tool that allows you to stay up to date with your favorite sites and accounts without having to remember the urls of all the sites you wanna visit or scroll endlessly through things you don't wanna see. here's a guide on how to use rss. a free and sturdy rss service/app that i recommend is fraidyc.at. be warned that some sites like twitter and instagram don't support rss, but fraidyc.at will do its best to grab them for you.
- find ways to help
if you use social media to be a part of the change you want to see in the world, chances are that you can't do much through the internet that isn't related to donation, which may not be an option for you. "slacktivism" too has been getting a lot of (deserved) flack, and the general mood of those who speak of politics online seems to either be resignation or focus on online-only issues, both of which provide a bleak picture of current events.
instead, try finding ways to help in your local community! do some research, find an organization that's aligned with your interests, join, and help out. you'll be doing a lot more for the world than anyone's posts ever will. the internet can be an important tool in organizing, but popular sites often couple "politics" with "content", meaning that they can become a passtime that someone feels fully satisfied in through browsing alone. browsing alone doesn't accomplish goals - real-life action does.
- find a hobby
i don't mean this derisively, i promise. if you use social media to kill time, try putting that time into something else - maybe something you've always wanted to do. always wanted to cook? look up a recipe and start. how about drawing? look up some tutorials (i recommend drawabox and ctrl+paint if you're an absolute beginner) and get a pen. program? there's more than enough free tutorials and trials for you to begin with. have a certain book that's been on your to-read list forever? get it from the library and start reading. we all start somewhere, and wanting to be less "terminally online" is as good a reason as any to begin.
- limit to career usage
this one's for artists and other people who need to have some sort of presence on social media for career purposes specifically - try not to get suckered into some "artist community" or other on your site. while the prospect of a "community" may be appealing, a community that's based in places where honest, open, and lengthy communication is limited is no real community at all. not to mention that followers add elitism and pressure, and algorithms are unlikely to pick you up unless your art is "palatable" and "marketable". if you're an artist and really want a social media community, you have plenty of other options - try something like inkblot. you can even try making your own portfolio site, use neocities and look up css and html tutorials :)
- have faith
the general consensus lot of these popular sites these days seems to be acknowledge things like tracking and content aggregation while wanting to not pay it any mind. continued users of these sites put on a face of pseudo self-awareness at their continued use of a site they claim to hate while flinging unintentionally self-deprecating accusations to those concluded to be engaging in overly serious use. at the end of the day, this mindset is one of begrudging acceptance of the circumstances. "this website is so bad, but we're still on it, because this is where everything is, and there's nothing we can really do about it."
but this attitude, as widespread as it may seem, is merely self-imposed. other options exist, but people on there are unaware of them as they are unaware of the fact that the sites they call home are keeping them on to show more ads and make more money. why resign yourself to hopelessness? if you believe that you can change and that people aren't as horrible as social media makes them out to be, your life will improve in strides.