Doomscrolling

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Do you know what makes us laugh? When someone insists that doomscrolling involves picking up your phone every two hours to see what’s new and terrible in the world.

As if we’d go two whole hours without picking up our phone.

In case the word is new to you, doomscrolling (also called doomsurfing) is the act of constantly consuming negative online content (or content that makes you feel bad), to the detriment of your mental health. It goes back to at least 2018, but this year really elevated it to an art.

And we hate to break it to you, but not much is going to change on January 1st.

Thanks, 2020

If you’re reading this and it’s 2020, you know that no one is having fun (at least not those of us living responsibly). And as a result of COVID-19 quarantines and social distancing, we’ve turned to our phones, tablets, and laptops for comfort and entertainment.

Also, the skyrocketing unemployment rate hasn’t made things better for those who once had a job to go to.

The problem is there just aren’t enough cute cat videos to fill our days with laughter.

Gloom, however, is available all day, every day. We never run out of the stuff.

Staying informed

Some of this Internet attachment comes from our desire to be informed as deeply important events shape our world.

Take the murder of George Floyd, for example. The more we read, the worse we felt. But many of us were also making up for lost time and educating ourselves on issues of racism and police violence that we had been ignorant about in the past.

It’s important work, but it takes a toll – especially if you spend 10 hours a day reading about it or sharing your experiences and trying to educate people via Twitter!

Of course, the fact that there seems to be some gruesome COVID-related story every two seconds doesn’t help either. But you have to read that too, right? How else are you going to know when it’s safe to go out to eat again or re-book that trip?

Or maybe you lost your job and have a lot more time to scroll through Instagram only to see your friends somehow still affording nice things and having fun.

Then there was that whole presidential election in the U.S. THAT was interesting.

Don’t forget all those idiots on social media (however you define them). You almost have to click on their accounts and marvel that people can be so awful.

And whatever happened to those murder hornets?

How are you supposed to sleep after all that? How do you muster the energy to be kind when everything is so…awful?

The good news

If it helps, you might want to remember that the world has always been pretty awful. It’s just that we didn’t spend 14 hours a day scrolling through the evidence. (You’re welcome!)

OK, maybe that’s not a relief. But at the very least, it should be heartening to know that the power to take a break and improve your mental health is in your hands. Or maybe that only makes you feel worse as you chastise yourself for your lack of self-control while you continue to doomspiral.

Yes, the Internet is addictive. All of your friends are on it. You want to use electronics to keep in touch. You don’t want to miss anything important. In fact, the thought of a “digital detox” gives you anxiety.

All those “self-help” articles on “How to stop doomscrolling?” They’re a lot like the ones that give you advice on completing other difficult tasks, like writing a term paper or cleaning out your attic. Spoiler alert: the trick is to just do the thing you need to do. (And if we could, we would, right?!)

How did we let it get so bad? Do we only have ourselves to blame? Is social media itself part of the problem and do companies like Facebook (which owns Instagram) and Twitter have any responsibility to address it?

If we’re truly suffering from anxiety and depression, do we have a personal responsibility to do something about our behavior? Or should we be addressing the larger questions about social media addiction? After all, companies purposely pull us in.

Or do we have an ethical obligation to read the bad news, especially if it helps us do something about it?

Further reading:

Angela Watercutter, “Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health” (Wired, 2020)

Rebecca Jennings, “Doomscrolling, Explained” (Vox, 2020)

Brian X. Chen, “You’re Doomscrolling Again. Here’s How to Snap Out of It” (New York Times, 2020)

Katherine Schwab, “‘Doomscrolling’ Can Break Your Brain. It Can Also Be A Force For Good” (Fast Company, 2020)

Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Your ‘Doomscrolling’ Breeds Anxiety. Here’s How To Stop The Cycle” (NPR, 2020)

Hilary Andersson, “Social Media Apps Are ‘Deliberately’ Addictive To Users” (BBC News, 2018)