Scrolling away the doom: the destruction of human happiness

Browsing the web as means of passing time has been around for some time, yet active, mindless scrolling, that consumes quite a lot of our time, made its debut not that long ago. One of the biggest reasons for this? The social media platform TikTok. It is quite fascinating yet terrifying at the same time how one app on our phones holds pretty much any information ever. Younger generations are starting to substitute it for other search engines (think, Google, Yahoo) and receive their news, history lessons, latest gossip, trends, music all in one place. TikTok has it all. But at what cost?

As someone who also fell victim to the plague of TikTok and has been immersed in that environment for some time now, I have accumulated lots of thoughts on the “average TikTok user experience” and felt as this might be the place to let them reside. In this post I wanted to highlight the concept of doom-scrolling.

Cambridge dictionary defines doom-scrolling as “the activity of spending a lot of time looking at your phone or computer and reading bad or negative news stories”. It is a relatively new phenomenon that has become more visible in our lives with the help of social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and multiple others. Most studies1 in regards to doom-scrolling also mention COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns as reason for the acceleration of this phenomenon. Restrictions on mobility and socialising, and the stressed importance of staying home, led people across the globe to more frequent online presence. Cue doom-scrolling. 

Mindless swiping through plethora of videos in hopes to land on one that will give us a minuscule amount of dopamine became a part of many of our daily routines and for a lot of people it persisted as a habit. Were we meant to see so many people? What are the long-term effects of doom-scrolling? What has happened to our attention spans? What does it do to our brains if we see a video of puppies, a comedic skit and a reportage of a war torn city all in the span of a minute?2

Doom scrolling pertains to the length of our attention spans as it makes us constantly look for the next best thing. Why read a dense book or a research paper where somebody has thoroughly examined a topic of our interest? Instead we can just watch a 30 second video that has the bullet points of it (probably also has missing important information and also misinformation, but hey it just took 30 seconds off the day). Afterwards as a treat we can spend the next hour scrolling through other topics that have nothing to do with what we initially searched for. Guess what? The information we were searching for? Gone in our heads. Overwritten. Overwritten by ten other topics we just listened about. The idea of looking for the next best thing then translates to other areas in our life as well, for example, dating apps. Apps like Tinder or Bumble offer the possibility to look through big database of people, matching with someone you might like, but keeping in mind that there probably are better options if I just keep swiping. Online we see more people than we normally see in person and now we know how their house looks like, which political party they support and what did they eat for breakfast. Is this information beneficial to our daily lives?

While we cannot clearly define the long-term effects of doom-scrolling, since it is a relatively new concept, my few main take-aways would be these:

  1. Consumption of large amounts of information, that tends to be incomplete, inaccurate or simply unnecessary, interferes with our critical thinking skills. 
  2. Substituting feelings of boredom for doom-scrolling has an impact on the length of our attention spans, therefore it probably affects our learning abilities as well. (Think about what this means for future generations)
  3. Last but not least, constantly looking for the next best thing possibly alters our happiness levels, since it creates the feeling of never having enough, whether that is in relation to dating, seeing others live in our dream homes, have our dream jobs and so on. We might never feel content if we keep comparing ourselves to others, and unfortunately social media has made it quite easy for us to do so.
  1. Doomscrolling during COVID-19: The negative association between daily social and traditional media consumption and mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. ↩︎
  2. Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being. ↩︎