In the olden days, “going online” was a treat. It was an experience. It was something you did after you finished your homework, or when you came back from class. You had to dial-up, or login.
But those days are long gone. Now, so much of our world is “online”—even more so because of the pandemic and how it has limited our use of physical common spaces—that it’s hard to differentiate. We’re pretty much always connected, unless we’re “off the grid” or the rare occasions when the internet goes out, which was the inspiration for this week’s writing prompt.
We asked our writers to coin a new, more accurate term for “online,” now that our connectivity is permanent. Here’s what they said.
The internet, as we experience it, is largely wireless. There is no “line” to get on. (People used to ask “Are you online?” as a general “Do you use the internet?” question. That feels wild to me in 2020.)
We are on wifi or a cell network. So, instead of saying “I’m going online” we should say “I’m going onwi.” The near rhyme with ennui encapsulates the despair of doomscrolling through Twitter, reading anything on BuzzFeed and getting mad at both yourself and the authors, or closing an app—only to have your muscle memory guide your thumb to reopen that same app, leaving you to wonder “What the hell was I about to look at?”
Yes, nothing beats getting onwi.
Let’s call it “screened.” Face it, “online” is not a binary of on or off. It’s constant. And without a line to get on, it just is. But being active on the internet is when you are screened. “Screened” is used to describe someone who is absorbed by their screen, the blue glow gulping their eyeballs like the souls of a Dementor’s victim. Yes, this word will be temporary, like online, existing only as long as a screen serves as the medium between IRL and the data-verse, before the connection gets fused with our consciousness seconds before the singularity.
First there was e-mail. Then came e-commerce. Now, we have e-xisting. Because if you’re not using data or wifi, are you really happening?
Back in the cyberpunk days, William Gibson called it “jacking in,” and we were all promised a noir, possibly criminal experience full of ninjas, as we bought and sold mindware that would create sensations so intense that they’d make taking MDMA before driving seem like a good idea. Instead, we got your Mom on Facebook—who thinks the things she writes on your wall are private emails—and tracking cookies. Let’s just call it what it is… a scam.
Almost every one of us has a computer within reach for a majority of our day. Whereas we once needed to clear everyone off the phone to get online, now to be offline, we need to actively try to escape it. If you have a charge, you have a signal (so coastal elite, I know!). If work or family or friends need you, odds are incredibly strong that you are reachable. Therefore, what used to be called being online should now be called “onReach.”
What would YOU call “being online” in 2020? Tweet us @thepromptmag to get in on the conversation!