Doomscrolling: Why We Just Can’t Look Away
By Nicole Nguyen
I fixated on the glow in my hand, lighting up an otherwise dark bedroom. In the past few months, after-hours screen time had become a ritual. Last night—and the night before, and the night before that—I stayed up thumbing through tweets, grainy phone-captured videos, posts that gave me hope and posts that made me enraged. I felt like I needed to see it. All of it.
I was "doomscrolling." Also known as "doomsurfing," this means spending inordinate amounts of time on devices poring over grim news—and I can't seem to stop. My timeline used to be a healthy mix of TikTok memes and breaking-news alerts. Now the entire conversation is focused on two topics: the pandemic and the protests...
As you use the platforms, the recommendation engines get better at predicting what captivates you, and serve you content that's similar to what you have already interacted with. What's concerning about personalized, algorithmic feeds is that they confuse relevance to you with importance to the world at large. It's just what some software thought you might click on. "Not everyone realizes that's how their information is being packaged to them," says Coye Cheshire, professor of sociology at UC Berkeley's School of Information.
Another mechanism built to transfix us: the infinite scroll. Apps such as Twitter and Facebook have no end, leaving us feeling like we might be missing out on something relevant if we don't keep reading. An unlimited amount of content continuously loads in the background. "It leaves people feeling psychologically like they can never catch up on all the information. They never reach the satisfaction of being able to say, 'Ah, now I understand the problem,' " says Prof. Cheshire...
Coye Cheshire is a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information. He studies social psychology and group processes, with a focus in social exchange, cooperation, and trust in technology-mediated environments.