Watercooler: Doom(scrolling) And Gloom

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Believe it or not, there’s a word to describe the act of mindlessly scrolling through social media looking at depressing news, and it’s called “doomscrolling.” Something that’s not platform-specific, doomscrolling is what many of us do when something negative, worrisome or downright upsetting happens in the world. Turning to our preferred platforms, we search and search for information, which often snowballs into a social media binge of photos, video, content, commentary and live updates about whatever it is we’re interested in, until suddenly it’s the witching hour and we’re still wide awake. And it’s something that’s unmistakably become more apparent with the coronavirus pandemic—so much so that in April, doomscrolling, along with its cousin (and synonym) “doomsurfing,” were mentioned in the Words We’re Watching section of Merriam-Webster’s blog. The blog defines both terms as “new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing.” 

Even though we know that doomscrolling can bring down our spirits, many of us still do it, and that’s because it begins with the desire for more information. But unlike reading a news article, social media tends to provide snippets of information spread out over time, often without enough context, writes Fast Company , and while you’re scrolling, the search for information becomes fragmented as you’re met with kitten memes, photos of friends’ children or news about other things. So, we’re actually making it harder for ourselves to form a cohesive understanding of what we’re reading (and scrolling) about. 

Another factor that contributes to doomscrolling is fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” a concept that mainly refers to participating in social situations. With social media constantly being updated, there’s always the chance to miss the latest updates. And of course, we can’t forget that recently many people were spending most of their time at home, adhering to stay-at-home orders. With more time on our hands and the world entering a time of major uncertainty, more people turned to their phones to learn more about what was happening. 

Aside from keeping you updated with the latest in bad news, doomscrolling can have detrimental effects on mental health. 22News, a TV news station serving the Springfield, Massachusetts area, reported that doomscrolling can lead to anxiety and depression. Sharry L. Woods, a licensed clinical social worker for the State of Connecticut, suggested to 22News that people who are prone to doomscrolling, or social media addiction in general, can prevent the adverse effects by monitoring and limiting time spent on social media each day. A simple way to do so, Woods said, is to set limitations on when it’s okay to use social media and when it’s time to put the phone down.  

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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