What is "brainrot"? Understanding the slang term for the effects of too much Internet consumption

The term "brainrot" has recently gained attention, primarily referring to the negative effects of spending too much time online, often associated with consuming low-value internet content. It is often used to mock someone who frequently uses internet slang or references. This slang term parallels a recognition of a psychological disorder characterized by Boston Children's Hospital researchers as Problematic Interactive Media Use. Experts say individuals with this disorder lean on the internet and phone as a coping mechanism for underlying disorders, using screens to numb themselves. With growing awareness of this condition, treatment centers like Newport Institute are beginning to recruit for screen-related conditions. However, others, like Dr. Michael Rich of Boston Children's Hospital's Digital Wellness Lab, seek to understand and promote healthful online habits without outright villainizing screens.

Understanding the term "brainrot" requires putting it in context: it is primarily used to mock someone for excessively using internet slang or referencing something in a way that only someone who spends too much time online would. This parallels a psychological condition recently identified by Boston Children's Hospital researchers,Problematic Interactive Media Use, which is "a way of describing what happens when you spend a lot of your time online, and you have shifted your awareness over to the online space as opposed to IRL, and are filtering everything through the lens of what has been posted and what can be posted" (Dr. Michael Rich, Paediatrician and founder of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children's Hospital).

Dr. Rich went on to elaborate on the concept of brainrot, saying that while many of his patients admit to having brainrot, they don't see it as a bad thing. They view it as a badge of honour and even compete for who can have the most screen time, similar to competing for high scores in video games. This is partly due to the fact that many of his patients are teenagers or young adults who have grown up with technology and cannot imagine life without it.

Brainrot, Rich explains, is not necessarily an addiction to the internet, but rather a coping mechanism for people with underlying disorders. For example, someone with ADHD might use the internet as a way to feel more focused and in control. Similarly, someone with social anxiety might use it as a way to connect with people without having to leave their house. In this way, people "are filtering everything through the lens of what has been posted and what can be posted" (Rich).

This can be a problem when people start to rely on the internet and their phones as a way to numb themselves. As Leena Mathai, a senior in high school and student adviser at the Digital Wellness Lab, says, "we use our phones to numb ourselves." This can lead to people spending too much time online and not engaging with the real world. This can lead to real consequences, such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Interestingly, while the Digital Wellness Lab seeks to understand and promote healthful online habits, groups like Newport Institute are taking a more punitive approach, recruiting people suffering from "brainrot" for treatment of screen-related conditions.

Overall, the term "brainrot" is a humorous yet concerning way to describe the effects of too much internet consumption. While it may be a joke to some, for others it is a serious issue that can have negative impacts on their lives.

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