Home >Lounge >Features >Everything you need to know about 'doomscrolling'

If you find yourself scrolling on your smartphone every night these days to know more about the covid-19 pandemic, then you are not alone. Users around the world are going from one news update to another, seeking answers to endless questions. Here's a look at five key questions around this phenomenon.

What exactly is it?

It’s a term (a verb) that has been resuscitated by the covid-19 pandemic. If you find yourself aimlessly scrolling from one bit of bad news to another, be it on a website or social media networks, you are essentially “doomscrolling" or “doomsurfing". The pandemic has everyone hooked on to news and, let’s admit it, not a lot of it is positive.

Why is it trending right now?

The Merriam Webster website recently listed “doomscrolling" and “doomsurfing" as words that are increasingly being seen in use but are “yet to meet the criteria for entry" into the dictionary. These two are the latest additions to a coronavirus lexicon that keeps expanding: “covidiot", for example. While “doomscrolling" was first seen on Twitter a couple of years ago, it has been one of the most searched terms on the internet globally since the turn of the year.

But why do we keep scrolling?

It’s a combination of the user experience design on websites, social media platforms and the brain’s tendency to prioritize bad news. “I keep going back to ‘screen time’ versus ‘screen use’," says Amitabh Kumar, founder, Social Media Matters, a Delhi-based non-profit that works on tech public policy, online safety and digital parenting. “Doomscrolling is basically screen time. The screen has got you indulged but you don’t know what you are looking for. Your mind knows that it’s never- ending and that is what you are enjoying," adds Kumar, who also points to the unending scrolling design on many websites as a possible reason. Manoj Kumar Sharma, coordinator of the SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) Clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, says “doomscrolling" affects our collective attention by creating an illusion-like situation. “All of us have a tendency to be overwhelmed by negative information, rather than positive information. I think if we were given a choice, we are more likely to want to know more about a negative thing," adds Sharma.

Is it really bad for you?

Not necessarily. A 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking explains how excessive smartphone use predicts increased stress in the case of smartphone users who don’t disclose or express much online. “However, for those who communicate their feelings, anxieties and problems online, excessive smartphone use can even reduce loneliness and relieve stress," the study explains. Manoj Kumar Sharma says the effects of "doomscrolling", for instance, will vary from individual to individual. “It will depend on individual dispositions and how you take a piece of information or news. Some of us might use all this information in a positive manner, while for others, this might be decompensating. It is also a matter of your peer groups and what kind of a circle you live in," he adds.

How do you stop if it's affecting you?

At an individual level, Amitabh Kumar believes small changes can help you cope with the overwhelming amount of negative news. “I would say, expose yourself to news and information just twice a day. Maybe once in the morning and then when you are about to close your day," he adds. “It will also help if you define your working space at home and keep your devices there. Remove your entertainment from screens and indulge in some offline, leisurely activities for a change," says Kumar. Sharma, meanwhile, says since many users are seeking answers to questions, related to covid-19 or otherwise, through this endless scrolling, it’s important that they move a part of this conversation offline too. “Even though you have all of this information, discuss it with others. Let it get validated by your family, your friends. That’ll be the ideal remedy," adds Sharma.

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