(Artwork by Amina Sallam, and found here.)
Another fine autumn late afternoon here in California’s Central Valley and a good end to the weekend, weather-wise. In the sense of happy days, though, it’s all pretty much gone to shit. Although outside there are clear skies and sunshine, inside there’s an ominous, unhealthy tint to the glare this Sunday off media screens.
Our weekend news cycle right now is waiting for tomorrow when the work week returns, and the reactivation of news of the return of nasty shit, and more nasty shit hitting the news fan.
Enter the screed of “doomscrolling,” which is supposedly the seeking out of bad news, but what if all the fucking-ass news was bad on just about every level so there’s no seeking out a particular item, it’s all shitty.
And there’s no real escape even if you want to stay current — you don’t have to seek sad, depressing, dangerous news, the shit news comes to you.
A relatively new term, “doomscrolling‘ mainly entered the catch-all online universe at the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, seeking answers to an absolutely brand-new horror for a historical period not seen in 100 years. And, of course, we had cruel, dangerous asshole T-Rump in charge.
According to Merriam-Webster: ‘Doomscrolling and doomsurfing are new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.‘
However, I felt the same intense sense upon reading climate change studies/reports and research a decade or more ago — even back then there was an indication we be fucked. And now, of course, that’s pretty well general knowledge among those who closely follow the science.
The ‘doom‘ in scrolling has been there a while.
Newshounds all must suffer from this affliction, a news addict has been this way for years and years. Except right now all the news is shitty, from the before-mentioned climate change to Republicans and the end of American democracy, Vlad Putin with nuclear weapons, and all sorts of other malignant shit, such as the US economy even — after Wall Street melted down Friday for the fourth day in a row, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell can’t say shit:
He doesn’t know if it is doomed to fall into recession. He doesn’t know how long high inflation will persist. And he doesn’t know if healthier supply chains will be much help.
“It’s very hard to say with precise certainty the way this is going to unfold,” Powell told reporters this week. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be.”
Unhealthy, though, to ponder long and hard — certainly, no ‘doomscrolling’ if you can help it:
New research suggests that #doomscrolling — the tendency to surf through depressing news online — can lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes:https://t.co/xaCgZ8zGpI#OntarioDisabilityLawyer #Anxiety #Depression pic.twitter.com/JCoRrPdL7s
— Kotak Law (@KotakLaw) September 22, 2022
Despite all that, I just can’t help it.
And just keeping up with the news is the shits. Surfing the InterWebs on just about any level can be hazardous to your health. A new study published in August confirms the sad, depressed state of being alive right now — from the Guardian earlier this month:
Associate Prof Bryan McLaughlin, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Texas Tech University, said the 24-hour-news cycle could bring about a “constant state of high alert” in some people, making the world seem like a “dark and dangerous place”.
“For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress,” he said.
“But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”
About 27.3 percent of those surveyed reported “moderately problematic” levels of news consumption, 27.5 percent were minimally impacted and 28.7 percent experienced no problems.
While some readers can comfortably receive news updates without any tangible psychological effects, others demonstrate a more compulsive obsession with the media, and struggle to detach themselves from the bad news they’re reading.
Of those with severely problematic consumption levels, 74 percent reported experiencing mental health problems and 61 percent reported physical problems compared to 8 percent and 6.1 percent of all other study participants.
“We did anticipate that a sizeable portion of our sample would show signs of problematic news consumption. However, we were surprised to find that 17% of study participants suffer from the most severe level,” McLaughlin said.
“This is certainly concerning and suggests the problem may be more widespread than we expected. A lot of people appear to be experiencing significant amounts of anxiety and stress due to their news consumption habits.”
An apt conclusion from Dr Kate Mannell, a media studies researcher at Deakin University in the Australian state of Victoria: ‘“People weren’t avoiding it completely, but were taking conscious steps to limit their news consumption after realising [it] had become unhealthy … They found strategic ways of staying informed … doing one longer form piece of news engagement or going directly to public health. … We’re in an unstable world … We’re going to have increasing climate catastrophes — crisis contexts in place around Covid are going to become more prevalent … Becoming stressed and anxious is a legitimate natural reaction to the world around you, but it’s important … people are able to gauge when [news consumption] becomes problematic.”‘
The problem, though, is all news is problematic.
And like climate change science, there are feedback loops with bad news ingestion — from Wired last March:
“Doomscrolling is essentially an avoidance technique used to cope with anxiety, so wherever you are vulnerable to anxiety, doomscrolling can become an unhealthy coping mechanism,” says Megan E. Johnson, a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher specializing in trauma and brain-behavior relationships. “And ironically, the very things doomscrolling can rob you of—healthy sleep, meaningful social interactions, fulfilling work, and hobbies—are also the things we know are most supportive of our mental well-being. So it becomes a vicious cycle.”
Part of the right-now/real-time environment — further fuel on the anxiety fire from somewhat long ago:
Black-n-white in color of the now:
And think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace
A climate catching afire:
Surfing on a scroll, yet here we are once again…
(Illustration out front: M.C Escher’s ‘Hand with Reflecting Sphere,’ also known as ‘Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror,’ and found here.)