BEING 'EXTREMELY ONLINE' AND HOW IT RELATES TO OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Defining what it means to be ‘extremely online’
The term is used to define individuals who spend so much time online that it skews their sense of reality and hinders their ability to effectively put themselves out in the offline world. These people are criticised for not having experienced basic human emotions through real-life interactions.
Others have defended younger people who are perceived as being out of touch by highlighting their age and arguing that they've spent the last two years online during the pandemic - just like pretty much everyone else, of course, but perhaps with fewer years of offline experience under their belts.
So far, the younger millennial population and members of Gen-Z have been using this term to poke fun at members of the online community who they think spend an excessive amount of their time online, and lack the social life in the offline world. And while the irony of someone coming across and commenting on extremely online behaviour likely spending a good chunk of their time online has been pointed out, the point they raise of real life social skills being affected as a direct result of too many online conversations is not one to brush under the carpet.
How Being Extremely Online can Potentially Harm Our Mental Health
During the past 10 years, the rapid development of social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on has caused several profound changes in the way people communicate and interact. Since social networks are a relatively new phenomenon, many questions regarding their potential impact on mental health remain unanswered. On the other hand, due to the popularity of these online services in the general population, any future confirmed connection between them and psychiatric diseases would pose a serious public health concern.
Although several studies have made the connection between computer-mediated communication and signs and symptoms of depression, it remains controversial in current research. In as early as 1998, Kraut et al. published one of the first studies to indicate that Internet use in general significantly affects social relationships and participation in community life.
Kross et al. (2013) conducted a study on the relationship between being extremely online and mental wellbeing of those who are. Similar to what the memes attached above indicated, they found that the main reason why excessive amounts of time spent online may be associated with depressive symptoms is the fact that computer mediated communication leads to altered - and often wrong - impressions of the physical world and the personality traits of others.
Being ‘Extremely Online’ and the Pathologization Normal Behaviour Online
Do you take too much time to reply when someone texts you? It’s because you are dissociated and forget that they have texted you (and obviously not because it is a natural result of a culture in which we are expected to be socially available at all times). Do you not remember a lot of your childhood? It’s because you had a traumatic childhood and your brain repressed your memories (and not because your temporal lobe that largely deals with preserving memories hasn’t developed yet). Extremely online people, especially, tend to be of the assumption that either the way they put themselves out in the world is unique only to them or that everything you do might be evidence of a troubling pathology.
Social media can undeniably be a great resource for people experiencing mental illness, alongside people who have ADHD, and people who fall somewhere along the autism spectrum. But as with many things online, there is a downside to a free, entirely unregulated flow of information.
Across Twitter and TikTok, there is a widespread phenomenon of people ascribing diagnoses to everyday behaviour. Having a few symptoms of a syndrome does not necessarily mean you have a disorder - something which can get lost in the extreme online-ness of “if you do (x), then you’re (y)” genre of posts.
The argument of the other side is that even identifying with few of the symptoms you see in a TikTok or Tweet suggests that something isn’t right, and that should be taken seriously. Why else would you be driven to categorise your behaviour if you did not have the nagging feeling that something is lacking, or that it might be possible to live your life in a way that is absent of mental roadblocks?
Does Clout Play a Role?
When a space is created on social media, a new market is simultaneously created. Social media offers a ‘passive income’. When it comes to mental health, this could mean anything from non-professionals creating journaling pages for people with ADHD to unqualified influencers offering therapy talk sessions. This culture depends on diagnosing strangers with mental disabilities. Clout and money might help to explain the motivations of the influencers and content producers, but why are users en masse so keen to participate?
It seems as though there is a real, widespread eagerness to interpret our own behaviour through a medical lens. Most of the Gen-Z’s community is online and the categorisation of mental disabilities opens up entry to more communities. And while it isn’t entirely a bad thing, these overly-pathologized views of mental health invite us to put the root cause of our disabilities firmly within ourselves, making it a fixed part of our identity.
To Sum up,
The culture of being ‘Extremely Online’ is an indictment of an environment that makes people miserable in the first place and lack of support available. So, being extremely online is admittedly rather negative. Being online now no longer refers to a place - i.e., the internet - rather about a certain way of doing things. Mental illness has been romanticised on the internet, and any slight deviance is concluded to be one. Mental health awareness has gone from stigmatised online to now sensationalised, but that doesn’t mean that choosing a specific label will help you to overcome psychological distress, or be beneficial at all. What will be beneficial is access to medical care, therapy, and child care; higher-paying and flexible work opportunities; community support; and a stronger social safety net. However, it is much easier to scroll on social media having electrifying realisations that perhaps every aspect of your identity could be explained by a single diagnosis. Either way, we’re sitting around, thinking about ourselves. And that, ultimately, is what it is to be a person — not someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
Content and Research Lead
Limelighting Life Collective