Without despair we would all have to despair
October 13, 2020 4:13 PM   Subscribe

LibrarianShipwreck presents Theses on Doomscrolling, including “1. To doomscroll is to hear the scream of the fire alarm,” “3. One can only doomscroll from a position of, relative, safety,” and “9. The platforms on which doomscrolling occurs are complicit in giving rise to the world situation in which doomscrolling occurs.” posted by adrianhon (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Doomscrolling
Deserves a quiet night
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:15 PM on October 13 [40 favorites]


Metafilter: a place I come to specifically because I can satisfy my need to stay connected to the world around me (and find out what other people are saying about those same things) and NOT doomscroll.

[And I just threw some bucks into the MF kitty. Thanks, everyone!]
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:06 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


years ago I read a poem by Richard Brautigan called Voluntary Quicksand. It was short and concerned with what he was feeling the moment he heard the news that four students had been killed by the National Guard at Kent State, May, 1970. Like stepping into voluntary quicksand (or words to that effect).

That's what doomscrollling sounds like to me. No one's forcing you. You know it's not going to get you anywhere good, but you do it anyway because ... ?
posted by philip-random at 5:17 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


Some of this relates to the accusation (though rarely expressed in these terms) of apocalyptic romanticism, wherein the real problem with “doomers” is often thought to be not that they warn of doom but that they seem to be wanting for it to happen...
Absolutely, guilty pleasure is exactly what I associate with the practice. It's millenarian. It's an inversion of the conspiratorial mindset (which assembles nefarious explanations for why things are so bad, out of lots of bits of otherwise ordinary events). The doomscroller assembles a more perfect, more beautiful apocalypse from lots of bits of ordinarily shitty aspects of life, and it's a romantic yearning for things to make sense; or the guilty sense that our society is unjust and must be punished. One of my own guilty pleasures on this sensation is John Dolan in the (very problematic) Exile:
You know you feel the pull of it already. How much of our alleged “fear” of nuclear war is longing — lust for Nirvana, disguising itself as pious horror? In Berkeley, avid hobbyists went around spraypainting the sidewalks in a circle a half-mile around the Campanile, showing the range of “total destruction” from a nuclear blast over the campus. I remember seeing one of them at work — a skinny hippie who would’ve looked good in a pilgrim hat and black coat — laboring over his stencil, biting his lip in what I then took for concentration but now seems more like…pleasure.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:26 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I doomscroll because I feel like at any second some other horrible emergency might come up that I need to know about before I do something stupid, like leave my house. Or the murder hornets come. Or the house is on fire. Or whatever. If you take a few hours off, god only knows what is gonna happen or if you need to run for your life, shelter in place, try not to breathe the air, whatever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:11 PM on October 13 [13 favorites]


Metafilter: a place I come to specifically because I can satisfy my need to stay connected to the world around me (and find out what other people are saying about those same things) and NOT doomscroll.

You can find the doomscrolling here. Just need to look at any of the threads on ecology, technology, scientific discoveries, the future...the posters here can take an innocuous article about the discovery of a deep sea bacteria, and turn it into a load of panic-mongering.

Metafilter may not be one of the major culprits, but it is culpable.
posted by happyroach at 6:59 PM on October 13 [16 favorites]


Maybe I need to reread thee piece, but I feel like it pays short shrift to the twin simple truths that:
:contemporary technology just feeds our naturally evolved needs to be keenly aware of our environment, generally, and threats & opportunities, specifically. Sticks for a stick-obsessed primate
-we really do have a bunch of elevated threats happening simultaneously
posted by pt68 at 7:02 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


I doomscroll because I feel like at any second some other horrible emergency might come up that I need to know about before I do something stupid, like leave my house

How often are we all leaving our houses?

But seriously, I don't spend much time on Twitter because the overwhelming negativity of my feed isn't helping any. Most of it is reactions to things I can read in the news - it's not keeping me much more informed. The likelihood that I'm going to learn about a catastrophic event through Twitter, that it will be an event I can do something about, and that I can only do any good if I act immediately instead of when I next read the news... well, it's pretty low.

All it does is make me feel angry and anxious. And it's a distraction, too - I don't know about other people, but reading and talking about politics gives me a false sense of being politically involved.

When my union was on strike and using Twitter to communicate, then it was a lot more positive - it was centered around doing something. But doomscrolling is not for me. I've even started to avoid reading a lot of MeFi comment threads because of all of the catastrophizing I know will be happening in those comments.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:28 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah, like, whaaaat? Everything is doomscrolling these days. There are no other options. FFS.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:35 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


You can find the doomscrolling here.

Oh, agreed. Which is why I don't read threads on the presidential debates (for example) and appreciate 'trigger warning' tags. But there's more than enough things that leave me enlivened entertained, and occasionally enlightened. And I can pretty much always read the comments w/o worrying I'll regret it. (One of the best MF features, I might add!)
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 7:49 PM on October 13


I end up doomscrolling because I was what someone else calls "hopetrawling" -- looking for some good news, or, failing that, something sweet and distracting, like just the right dog tweet, or, failing that, some cultural or internet kerfuffle that will not affect me but will give me a whole lot of tea.

None of this is particularly helpful.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:53 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]


Hopetrawling - what a great term, and exactly my motivation in going through more and more bad news trying to find reassurance before going off to bed.
posted by blue shadows at 11:32 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


I don't have the patience for Doomscrollers that I used to. I used to doomscroll a lot but it was remarkably easy to stop. I agree that doomscrolling is a leisure activity. It took a bit of Marie Kondo magic and starting a new habbit, but I'm much better off now.

- I heavily curated my twitter experience (I follow only people I know irl or people with interesting things to say. Less than 50 in total.) and only use it via realtwitter.com . Using realtwitter.com turns off all their retweets, and shows the tweets in chronological order.
- I unsubbed to every subreddit that didn't bring me joy.
- I deleted Facebook from my phone.

After a few weeks of that it became self sustaining. I'm horrified by the pointless outrage on these sites as my partner uses them. I can see how upset it makes her without there being a suitable matching action to help the situation.
posted by Braeburn at 12:08 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but ignoring clearly impending catastrophe is not helping anything.

Our personal comfort must come from cultivating inner resilience, maintaining a spiritual peace of mind in the face of holocaust prison camp realities.

Seeking a carefree actually comfortable reality by avoiding awareness is irresponsible.

Even if we see no clearly practical solution, raising awareness of the truth is contributing to the critical mass of public demand that will (may) lead to one, one day.
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 4:03 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


Mrs. Hopkins (looking at the evening paper): ... I see the President of Romania's mother's died. There's always trouble for somebody.
-- Alan Bennett, "Me, I'm Afraid Of Virginia Woolf" (1978)
posted by Cardinal Fang at 4:21 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but ignoring clearly impending catastrophe is not helping anything.

Our personal comfort must come from cultivating inner resilience, maintaining a spiritual peace of mind in the face of holocaust prison camp realities.

Seeking a carefree actually comfortable reality by avoiding awareness is irresponsible.

Even if we see no clearly practical solution, raising awareness of the truth is contributing to the critical mass of public demand that will (may) lead to one, one day.


Doomscrolling also isn't helping anything.

Raising awareness is for morons, you might as well watch reality television since it's basically the same. Act.

Far better to cultivate a starkly bimodal frame of mind. Participate intensely where you actually can, whether that is purely local politics, national electoral politics as a canvasser, using whatever power you may have if any in a workplace context (for many people this is none of course, but not all), joining a union, voting. These things are all worth doing because they have an effect on the outside world. If something is not action then don't waste your time and energy on it. Already convinced of the necessity of dealing with climate change? Then why spend additional time "raising your awareness"? If you knew from the beginning that Donald Trump was a corrupt, incompetent monster, why fry your brain reading the turgid legalese of a bunch of Feds telling you what you already knew?

Doomscrollers are ignoring a clearly impending catastrophe except to the extent that they take action and if they take action, why doomscroll?

They are seeking a carefree comfortable reality. What is uncomfortable about scrolling through twitter?
posted by atrazine at 4:31 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but ignoring clearly impending catastrophe is not helping anything.

The fallacy here is believing that our choices are either doomscrolling OR ignoring everything. There is a wide gray area in between of moderation in news consumption. (For my response here, I'm talking only about the pandemic, but believe me I was emotionally over-attached to every news story about every giant issue for months)

Because of doomscrolling, I cried every night for 24 days straight in March/April. I moved through my days feeling like my chest was going to cave in from pressure that would not subside. My husband's mental health began to suffer from having to hear every night (from me!) that we were all going to die. One day he had to teach multiple classes of high school kids while as I cried in the other room after reading an expertly-written Twitter thread on intubation. My family noticed my disappearance from group texting and Facetime calls. A scant few of my coworkers who were savvy enough to notice my panicked eyes on Zoom calls felt obligated to take time out of their equally stressful lives to help buoy me through projects and meetings.

From TFA:

Whereas for Lucretius the occasion of watching the peril of a ship at sea, from the safety of the shore, was an opportunity to reflect on the sweetness of being spared from such dangers, the doomscroller obsessively scans through updates about the dangerous forces violently tossing the frail ship about while increasingly suspecting that they are not watching from the safety of the shore but from a damp cabin in the belly of the imperiled ship.

This was me. Because I attached my whole heart to every first-person account and third-person doomtweet, I believed I was in the ship too, instead of realizing that I'm in a position to help those who are in the ship, or who have loved ones on the ship. My doomscrolling hurt me, hurt my family, and made others' lives worse. So I stopped. I only read a few news stories a day, and follow actual medical and public health experts for my COVID news, not blue-checked creative writers, political wonks, or random office workers like me.

And while someday I may be unlucky enough to be able to write my own first-person account of having to say goodbye to a loved one through Facetime, that's not my life on this day. Today, I am not in the belly of the imperiled ship.

This is an amazing piece, adrianhon. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by kimberussell at 5:51 AM on October 14 [12 favorites]


You can find the doomscrolling here. Just need to look at any of the threads on ecology, technology, scientific discoveries, the future...the posters here can take an innocuous article about the discovery of a deep sea bacteria, and turn it into a load of panic-mongering.

There are quite a few posts and discussions here that I avoid, because I feel bad enough already and don't need the additional anxiety and stress of reading hundreds or thousands of words about "we are all doomed!"

I still check news sites more often than I should (what, is it going to change something if I learn about the latest outrage an hour sooner?) and that is something I am trying to dial down as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on October 14


How often are we all leaving our houses?


Every day?
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:58 AM on October 14


Absolutely. Since I stopped doomscrolling I was able to start volunteering for a local charity. Before doomscrolling took up too much time and emotional energy to be able to do that. I don't think me knowing about awful things is going to change them.

I'm sure some people might need to feel hot and angry to be able to take action and contribute to the world. That's not me. When I'm angry I need to hide in bed. It doesn't help anyone.

adrianhon I've noticed you posting a lot to the blue recently- thank-you for your contributions!
posted by Braeburn at 7:11 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but ignoring clearly impending catastrophe is not helping anything.

The fallacy here is believing that our choices are either doomscrolling OR ignoring everything.


I've been reconciled to the apocalyptic annihilation of everything and everyone forever since at least 1972 (the year I turned thirteen). And yet here we all still are (most of us anyway). At some point, I had to accept that reality exists outside of my ability to filter and comprehend the information it it was delivering.

If you're convinced that catastrophe is inevitable, you're doing it wrong.

If you're convinced that nothing catastrophic is going down, you're doing it wrong.

We're all of us caught in a drama that, try as we might, we can't really see outside of it. So it really, really helps to not be certain of anything ... except perhaps the drama itself. But even that might be a comedy in disguise.

If you're convinced of anything, you're doing it wrong.

I am anyway.
posted by philip-random at 8:23 AM on October 14


philip-random, is this it?

Voluntary Quicksand

I read the Chronicle this morning
as if I were stepping into voluntary
quicksand
and watched the news go over my shoes
with forty-four more days of spring.

Kent State
America
May 7, 1970
posted by doctornemo at 9:59 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


yes, and thank you.

It isn't so much that the poem somehow predicts doomscrolling as those two words -- voluntary quicksand -- have come to define for me that uneasy feeling of deliberately, purposefully stepping into a quagmire.

Why do I do it?
posted by philip-random at 10:12 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


adrianhon, thank you for linking to the piece.

I'm not sure what I think about it, so let me try on a few ideas for size.

A) In the US doomscrolling does a fine job of describing a great deal of tv news, especially on the national level. The parade of horrors is not only extensive, but finely honed. Studios hew to the old "if it bleeds, it leads" religiously, and give as a steady Gothic feed. It's broken up by other stuff, but the theme is clearly sounded, telling us we live in a mean world.

I mention this not to go bothsideist, but because we often downplay just how bad US tv news is. When we discuss digital ecosystems, we often set aside the role of tv. Yet it plays an active role in many ways, from people sharing MSNBC/Fox/etc clips on Twitter to journalists working tv and digital*. And there are a lot of older folks for whom tv news is the go-to.

B) Personally, professionally, doomscrolling is a risk. As a futurist I conduct environmental scans, looking for signals of various futures. I try to keep my eyes open to the full range of possibilities, utopia to dystopia, but logistics and accident means a clump of one extreme can land on my head all at once. Yeah, I can get giddy with positive possibilities, too. But to TFA it's also possible to get drenched by horror, especially since so many people I track across various sites are emphasizing that tone.

There are also personal reasons which predispose me towards gloom, some of which I'll happily share (Russian ancestry, PhD in Gothic lit), and some I'd rather not. There's a mental discipline in avoiding this, which I don't always succeed at. Some of my audiences have quietly complained that my presentations can be too scary.

C) "'To doomscroll is to become accustomed to the scream of the fire alarm" - yup. You can find evidence for this before the internet in all kinds of places, in the human ways we deal with pileups of bad news conveyed through radio, print, or in conversation. Defoe's fascinating Journal of the Plague Year (1722) offers some apposite examples.

*Yes, tv has grown increasingly digital in its distribution and format. I'm referring to the program content and user expectations here, even though the distinction can be blurry.
posted by doctornemo at 10:41 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


The proliferation of stop-doomscrolling accounts, both human and bot, is equal parts encouraging, discouraging and ironic.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:29 AM on October 14


I'm sorry, but ignoring clearly impending catastrophe is not helping anything.

Since you're mirroring my wording, it sounds like this is directed at me.

Twitter is not the only way to stay informed. It's not necessary or even desirable to spend significant chunks of time scrolling through Twitter's reactions to the news. At least not for many people.

That sense of obligation - that sense that by reading Twitter to "stay informed," you're doing something you ought to do, and that if you're not, you're slacking? That's exactly the thing I was calling out as a lie. Doomscrolling is not the same thing as being informed and politically active.

If it gets you fired up to act, then by all means, keep going. But if all it's doing is making you sadder and more anxious, which is true for many people, then you doomscrolling is not helping anything. If all it's doing is giving you a false sense that you're a good political citizen because you're "staying informed" or "raising awareness," then you doomscrolling is not helping anything.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:19 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Seeking a carefree actually comfortable reality by avoiding awareness is irresponsible.

Maybe? I think this is actually the argument that people tend to use when they want you to get involved in or with a topic that you have already chosen not to get invloved in or with. So like... watching the debates in the US. Do I need to do that to be aware? Or is it the same old nonsense that I can read a summary of in the next day's news?

A lot of what people describe as aggressive online factionalism is not just them vs us, it's also people having very different appetites for the sheer firehose of terrible news that other people very very badly think is mission critical to your life.

And, it's challenging right? Because there are clearly things that I think it's important for people to know about, by my own mental calculus of what is important. And at the same time, just because of who I am, I am very very leery of treading near people's boundaries, and choices they've already made. So, as a personal example, I'm not reading any more books that are rapey if I can avoid it. Just won't do it. Same with books about Nazis. And if someone starts getting in my face about how I HAVE to read this very important book with just one or two rapes/Nazis, after I've expressed my preferences, that's not cool and verging on harassment.

And yet I can see that feeling really differently if I was telling them, for example they HAD to know the candidates running for election in their area. I am not a doomscroller. I may be ignoring an impending catastrophe. However I am also living through a catastrophe, as we all are, and need to keep some energy in reserve. I love the Librarian Shipwreck people, and I enjoyed reading this post.
posted by jessamyn at 5:27 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Seeking a carefree actually comfortable reality by avoiding awareness is irresponsible.

Maybe? I think this is actually the argument that people tend to use when they want you to get involved in or with a topic that you have already chosen not to get involved in or with.


A squazillion times this.

If J. Random Nazi (for example) ever comes up with anything new, we can guarantee that it will be reported in a reputable news medium. In the meantime, we remain 'aware' that J. Random Nazi exists, and has nothing to say that is worth listening to. The far-right, on the other hand, claim they have the right to push J. Random Nazi's views into your face every ten minutes whether you like it or not, and that if you refuse, you live in an 'echo chamber'. (They call this 'freedom of speech'.)

Similarly I don't have to take heroin, nor read 'Mein Kampf' from cover to cover, to be 'aware' that it isn't healthy. Plenty of other people have already done it for me.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:19 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]


It isn't so much that the poem somehow predicts doomscrolling as those two words -- voluntary quicksand -- have come to define for me that uneasy feeling of deliberately, purposefully stepping into a quagmire.

Why do I do it?
FOFO

Fear of Finding Out
posted by fullerine at 9:04 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]


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