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What is 'brain rot'? TikTokers are using the term to describe the impact of being 'chronically online.'

Credit: @joel_cave / @joshlunchbox / @heidsbecker via TikTok

People who spend a lot of time on social media have noticed that the online world is increasingly creeping into the physical world. They’re attributing the phenomenon to “brain rot.”

The term comes from the idea that the internet is “rotting” the brains of frequent users who are “extremely online” or “chronically online,” leading them to reference memes and slang terms that aren’t typically used offline — and they're doing it a lot.

“One of the easiest ways to tell if someone’s brain has been destroyed by social media is to notice how often they reference internet jargon,” TikTok creator Joel Cave says in a post.

He added that someone in his college class had trouble speaking without referencing viral TikTok audios.

Another TikToker went viral for saying he thought he had developed brain rot when he saw a meme on a book cover in the library. Technically, he was right, though that’s not what the cover image is most famous for. The famous illustration is known as the “Thousand Yard Stare.” It depicts a soldier fatigued by the horrors of war. As a meme, it’s used to show a reaction to lesser horrors, for instance, “when that one song you love more than yourself reaches TikTok.”

One commenter on the post from @joshlunchbox wrote that they struggled to explain the Greek myth of Sisyphus without using a meme. Another said their first experience with brain rot was trying to swipe a physical page like it was a screen.

TikToker Heidi Baker has parodied brain rot in several posts. Reciting sentences packed with internet terminology is, when done with comedic intent, known as “slang overload.” Brain rot is what happens when it’s no longer a joke.

“Don’t you dare gatekeep you pick me, I do a GRWM for my OOTD, but I don’t have the proper ring light,” she said in one video. “They tell me I need the TikTok shop pickle sweatshirt Stanley Cup body con jumpsuit that keeps popping up.”

Other users responded with comments like “I want to show pilgrims this” and “this video could kill a Victorian child.” Both are references to a viral thought experiment about the internet-related sensory overload that might physically harm someone not used to processing fast-moving online memes. Of course, those comments themselves might be considered brain rot because they’re references to internet in-jokes.

Some concepts are considered to be symptoms of brain rot more than others because of their difficulty for the average person to comprehend, like Fanum tax (a creator’s joke about taking food from his friends) and Skibidi toilet (a creepy YouTube series about a toilet).

Some people fear that brain rot is impeding people’s ability to communicate. A TikToker named Alexia made a video about a “brain rot friend” struggling to support someone without making online references. But as it stands, brain rot isn’t a medical concern — just a trend that’s symptomatic of the internet-overloaded times.