Doom-scrolling happens on SocialMedia where you can drink news from the firehose: there is more news than you can ever read, and it appeals to your monkey brain because it’s personal. Let’s pick this apart.
More news than you can ever read. The key is that there no actual new events need to occur – more news about the same event is just as relevant. Thus, when the planes crashed into those buildings in New York, we had two events, but the news about those events was being recycled in a million ways. The various perspectives of people. The various cameras. The various commentaries. This is why there is so much to digest, even though there is not as much that actually happened.
If the news is traumatizing, then the endless repetitions of similar but not exactly the same bits of hurt have a stronger impact. If the news were to be exactly the same, our brain could shut it off. But we can’t, because there are variations in the news that appeal to our monkey brain.
It appeals to your monkey brain. Anything that works like gossip appeals to us, apparently. A person telling their story. A face claiming things. A controversy, where two incompatible things are said. One of them must be right! We want to get involved! Humans are curious, they care about other humans, they care about what other people are talking about. If the news comes dressed like that, it’s hard to resist.
Media that relies on capturing our attention has picked ways to tell stories that glue us to the screen. Since we cannot exchange our monkey brains for lizard brains, the only way to prevent the gluing to the screen is to stop consuming this kind of media.
It's personal. When there’s blood and gore on the screen, many people look away. They know it’s not good for them. We need to have similar reactions to social media entrapment.
We need to:
Imagine, for example, reading a weekly newspaper, in print, reporting on the September 11 attacks. You read the piece, you get your information, and then it’s done. There’s a week of maybe talking to your friends about it, but that’s it.
In the modern media landscape, however, people can get endless videos on TV and online, commentaries, chat rooms, Twitter, all of the things listed above. It doesn’t change the facts, it doesn’t add more information, it doesn’t affect your political stance, all it does is aggravate the hurt. And yet you can’t stop.
This is doom scrolling.
Reading more when you’re emotionally overwhelmed doesn’t lead to slow thinking. It leads to endless war in Afghanistan, the erosion of civil rights, bureaucracy in conflict with international law on a societal level, and it leads to anxiety and depression on an individual level.
This is connected with a phenomenon I notice in fully immersive communities like TheFederationOfDamanhur or Tamera: The people are working on what’s around them, and “the news” doesn’t have nearly the affect on them that it has on the mainstream world. It’s not that people are uninformed – when something big happens in the outer world, word about it is shared. There are people who are actually tasked with reading about the outer world, and then relaying news of big events to the community. But for the most part, the people are focused on whatever they’re focused on, and the thing that occupies the conversations of the people is whatever aspect of human existence they are focused on studying, and news and information about how the people in the community are doing.
(USA centric, but: ) Now let’s wonder – How much time do we think the Amish spend worrying about the Democrats vs. the Republicans? I’d wager almost zero time.
How is it that the Damanhurians and the Tamerans are so productive, and have all the time to go into art, projects, and deep inquiries?
I wager because they waste little time in fretting and doom scrolling and lamenting what’s going on in the world.
This isn’t to say that they are uninvolved in the world – if anything, I think these communities are more involved in the world. When I went to Tamera, I participated in an art project on the beach that protested coastline oil drilling off the coast of Portugal, in collaboration with some 10 different environmental and political organizations. The Tamerans also exchanging members with people in the peace villages in Colombia, serving as human shields vs. the Colombian paramilitaries, and coordinating to find business opportunities for the same Colombians, and also hosting the Colombians in Tamera. This is a step beyond what most people I know in mainstream society are even capable of doing. “Where do they get all the time to do all of that?” Well, I think that one of the biggest thieves of time is immersion in and conformity to the BanalNationalism of “the news.”
Alex Schroeder: Yeah, I keep thinking about something I recently heard: the only news we should care to read in the morning is what makes us change our plans in the afternoon. Well, at the same time I don’t want a world of recluses or strict non-involvement. I believe that humans are political animals. So: being informed so that we can vote, protest, make informed shopping decisions. But then to stop.
An unrelated effect that I’ve noticed, perhaps because I’m watching and reading less, or perhaps because I’ve grown older: I’m moved to tears more easily, I can’t bear to see a lot of footage other people seem to take for granted, I can’t read reports of cruelties without the words haunting me for days. As if I’m resenticizing myself.
That sounds great to me, frankly.