internet culture

We’re All Chronically Online Now

It's just the latest step in our slow crawl into various forms of "online."
Chronically onl
Scrolling in the dark (photo via Artur Debat)

Scroll down your social media feed of choice and you’ll usually stumble across a grating piece of dialogue discussing the state of the world. Sometimes it’s poignant, other times categorically wrong, often-times unhinged. 

One trend that has regularly snaked its way across my TikTok – whether it be because of my tailor-made algorithm, or because we’re all slowly descending into the absurdity of the online world – is people asking others to “stitch this with the most chronically online take you’ve heard on this app”. 


The examples range anywhere from “women drinking milk is inherently anti-feminist” to “wanting to have a stable income before having a baby is classist”. There’s even a woman who says  “it’s only right to ask your predominantly ethnic friends if they feel comfortable for you to bring your one white friend to a group hang.” 

The consensus? That a lot of this is for attention: “Ya’ll only do this on the fucking internet, you don’t do this in real life, because it gets you attention, views and clicks,” says one commenter.

And the takes come in all shapes and sizes. Whether or not they’re ethically right or wrong, it’s the people behind them that are labelled as “chronically online”: a term that has grown out of the searing millennial cry of “terminally online”. 

It’s the name we give to those whose lives have obsessively revolved around the social connection found in cyber-space: those who can’t go a day without their phone, or who are constantly posting pictures of their face on the feed. In the Everything Is A Hot Take economy, being chronically online is lucrative.

How did we get here?

Our slow descent into being “online” began in the 2010s with the term “extremely online”. The Daily dot pointed to an ambiguous Twitter post popularising the term in 2014. Back then, as journalist Jay Hathaway wrote, “it means to be familiar, even obsessed, with the things everyone is talking about.” It was kinda fun, kinda innocent. It was jokes.

Then, in the mid 2010s, “terminally online” was born, probably (and not coincidentally) in-line with the Western world’s internet ecosystems becoming less trustworthy, darker, and more vindictive. 


While not the only counterpoint in how we interacted with the world online, a new wave of internet insecurity was pushed forward by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. People suddenly became obsessed with stolen data and their own internet use, and Mark Zuckerberg became enemy number one. 

Then, obviously, there was the rise of President Donald Trump, who scurried into cyberspace in 2016/17 with his infamous Twitter presence and apparent abandonment of presidential professionalism. This was unlike anything ever seen before in regards to a man in a powerful position having an outspoken media presence, and for right-wing pundits, he became a voice of honesty, reason and internet transparency. It spurred a wave of desertion, all of it away from the phony and shiny internet etiquette that had originally been created to depict our best selves online. Instead, it became a place where opinions wouldn’t fall on deaf ears.

And it’s with every new platform that more opportunities to be online, in deeper and stranger ways, are born. Now, “Chronically Online” fills the comment sections of social media sources – a term internet savvy Gen Z’s have adopted to document our changing relationship with the online world. Instead of enjoying ourselves, or even being wary, we now just chronicle a world falling deeper into the internet wormhole, unable to escape, and unsure of how it got here.

Today, chronically online refers to the notion that too much exposure to the online world makes people’s ideas slightly twisted, usually manifesting in ways like “drinking milk is inherently anti-feminist”.


Take the Fitzroy Garage Party, a video that documented a slightly cringey party in Fitzroy. It went so viral on TikTok that the boys involved were accused of being the root cause of gentrification. The reality? This was just a group of individuals that happened to be in Fitzroy. They weren’t even from there – and had flown in for the weekend from multiple different states.

We all have our opinions, and the internet connects us to billions of them. We see things and read things that decades ago wouldn’t have been possible. But with that our understanding of the world has gotten more confused and segregated. The internet – its algorithms thriving on controversy to push engagement – goes the other way.

The chronically online” debates that exist on our platforms, most times, never realistically occur in real life – but now they’re becoming part of our real world discourse. It’s a further detachment from reality, as our internet world slowly takes over.

Extremely online; Terminally online; Chronically online. It will be interesting to see where we go in the future, as people’s lives become more intertwined in cyberspace. Maybe next we’ll be “defunct online”, or “permanently online”? We’ll just have to wait and see.

 Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

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