Doomscrolling is that thing where you keep flicking your phone, reading scary news, and you can’t seem to stop, even if you’re already in bed and tired and you know you’d be better off sleeping.
One of my heuristics is to ask myself what the opposite of something is. It can often be pretty funny. For instance, if my natural reaction to something is to think “I hate it here!” I can pause and ask, what would be the opposite of hating this right now? One day, the answer might be to get a burrito, while another day, the answer might be to talk to my brother.
Obviously when I think of doomscrolling, I’m going to have to ask myself, what is its opposite?
Assuming we don’t want to simply engage in another activity, what if there were another kind of ‘scrolling’ that was not full of doom and gloom and dread?
This is part of what led me to doing my tech newsletter.
There isn’t a name for it yet, although don’t worry, I may come up with one before this is done, but I guess what I’m doing is more like optimism-scrolling.
I think that for some weird reason, we have collectively decided to ignore all the fabulous things that have been happening in favor of all the crud. As an historian, this is confusing and strange. I know too much about the past and the daily lives of early people to have any interest in reverting to any of that. This is what drives my interest in futurism.
What I see is that we have vast amounts of knowledge, resources, and talent that could easily be put to work replacing our most pressing problems with amazing things -
Quick example: turn unemployed people into a (well-compensated) labor source for massive infrastructure upgrades, something I thought we would have been several years into by now -
And that doing this work would quickly return positive reinforcement, adding momentum as we start to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to sit and watch as the world falls apart, witnesses to systemic collapse. There are things that we could be doing.
Guess what? Of course it turns out that there are plenty of people doing constructive things while the rest of us are scrolling our way through the dark of night.
I get just as wound around the axle about politics and current events as anyone else. Perhaps more so, since I have that degree in history and all... I only share my bleakest projections with my nearest and dearest, because nothing says ‘I love you’ like ‘gather nigh while I proclaim my grim forecasts.’
The best way I have found to deal with this is to gradually crowd out the current events with what I think of as Future Events.
In other words, innovation.
For instance, there is an entire sub-thread about engineers donating their time to make custom prosthetics and special mobility devices for disabled children. This is beautiful stuff.
It turns out that most people will bend over absolutely backwards to do something altruistic for someone, if they know how. This is even more true if the recipient is a total stranger to them. This is another sub-thread that I follow, call it Acts of Heroism, and there is news in this category every day. A few days ago I watched a video of a man pulling an unconscious man out of a burning car on the freeway while his son watched. Everyone emerged unscathed and now the two men are entering a mentoring relationship.
Are they getting a reality TV show? No? Why not?
Passively absorbing the doom and gloom is unavoidable, sure. I mean, it’s hard to do anything constructive to help if you have no idea what the problems are that need solving. But again, letting your morale be crushed and destroyed by things you feel that you have no control over? How is that constructive in any way?
I often think of stories from my reading in Acts of Heroism when I need a boost. I think, if that man was brave enough to risk his life rescuing someone from a fire, why am I not brave enough to at least make this phone call/send this email/tell someone how I feel? It’s aspirational. I hope that if the moment ever comes, I’ll do more than stand around flapping my hands and screaming. Moral rehearsal.
Doomscrolling is an intervening opportunity. If you’re like me, you have this device with you almost every minute, and sometimes you open it and don’t even remember why, or you set out to do one thing and forgot and started doing something else. Probably you made no conscious decision to start doomscrolling. Probably it was not your intention. Yet it seems to keep happening??
We rarely set as many clear intentions as we could.
Once upon a time, I used to spend hours a day on Facebook. This was before I read the research that about 30% of people’s “friends” are people they follow because they enjoy being annoyed by them. I would post all sorts of articles that interested me, maybe 5% of my total reading, and I would then get pushback from people who would have been better off unfollowing me. I never would have known. Come on, though. Isn’t it more fun to upbraid, chastise, and admonish people who irritate you than to just focus on the people you like?
I took all that energy and put it toward something else. I had this deep desire to connect with people over all the exciting things I was reading, and quite honestly, I wasn’t going to find them anywhere on Facebook. Instead, I started putting together what became my tech newsletter, and that got me my new job, and now a bunch of people with PhDs read it and discuss it with me. For money.
Doing the opposite of whatever can be a fun thought exercise. It can also change your life.
There are an infinite number of things you can do with your time besides doomscrolling - sleep is just one of them - and if you write up a list, it may remind you that you used to do all sorts of great stuff with your time. If you do like reading on your phone for hours, though, try to target your reading time more toward your personal interests and less toward disaster, doom, and gloom. Who knows what you may find?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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