LONG LIVE THE DOOM SCROLL
A new phrase came about during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Doom Scroll. And while it sounds like a Dungeons and Dragons plot device it is a new phrase to describe our use of digital technology. It is defined as the act of perusing through social media’s most negative corners for extended periods of time. When you do this on your phone you literally swipe up and see the endless barrage of information (Merriam Webster). For our purposes I will include in the Doom Scroll non negative viewings, to me even if you are looking at endless good things there is still a doom involved. Doom is inevitability, it is judgement passed of your future (Deering).
Stephen Ramsay, in his essay The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around, describes screwing around as being born from “insouciant boredom” where you find yourself following the path of your interests and whichever way the wind blows you. This, to Ramsay, is “browsing” and he explains it as such, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, really. I just have a bundle of “interests” and proclivities” (Ramsay, p. 5). An important aspect of Ramsay’s “browsing” or screwing around is that it is still intentional. You flit from topic to topic but through your desire to following your interests and proclivities. Ramsay posits another form of research, what he calls “searching” where you look something specific up because you have been directed there by previous knowledge or some guide. Obviously searching is full of intention.
The Doom Scroll challenges our ability to browse. Though we still find the boredom in us we now fill it up with an almost mechanical commitment to the Doom Scroll. On apps like Tik Tok we do not even have to scroll anymore as the video will slide right out of your way when it is finished. This is the antithesis of screwing around. Instead of searching or intending for knowledge, information, or content it is presented to you and you accept it.
Jodi Dean, in her book Blog Theory talks about how during the early internet there were two factions that emerged to guiding the new internet users through the vast expanse of information. There were the bloggers, individuals that left signposts and cairns for their fellow travelers and there were the search engineers, cartographers looking to use algorithms to map the data they did not even know about. (Dean) In the end it was the cartographers who won out. Providing us a map with no compass. We have access to all that is knowable but with no direction or sense.
The algorithms that are being employed push you ever so slightly to where it believes you want to go. It presents you with something without you having asked for it. Larry Page described Google as “automagical because understand what you want and deliver it” (Zuboff p. 128). This is a clear distinction from the type of searching or browsing that Ramsay described, gone is the intention you do not walk into the library you did not even think about the library yet you have been presented with seemingly endless information that demands your attention. This approach of the automagical and prescient understanding of desires that Google developed then extended to the social media platforms that capture our attention.
What makes the Doom Scroll so interesting is that it is the embodiment of our platforms speed represented in a near catatonic state. There is so much and at such a fast pace that all we can do is mindlessly scroll. The Doom Scroll is now embedded in the platforms as it is the way to keep the attention of the user. Today our time and attention are the most sought after resources, even more than our data. The new approaches to capture this resource was described as such, by Alexander Monea in Captured Time: Eye Tracking and the Attention Economy “the infrastructure of the attention economy has been one of pure bombardment, of inefficient spamming, which when collectively constant and immersive ensures that you are everywhere and always ensnared” (p. 243) This economic mode has determined the existence of the Doom Scroll. The mansions in Silicon Valley do not pay for themselves. The Doom Scroll is like quick sand, it captures your attention and holds it dragging you down the timeline with it.
Here is this information and then here is this information and then here is this information. The platforms work in a repetitive drone, numbing us to the most beautiful things and the most horrifying things we see. Twitter which still for the most part follows a chronological order comes a new terrifying prospect, that you will have missed something in the time you were away from the platform. Facebook and Instagram no longer follow a chronological posting display and TikTok is known for its algorithm that presents you with videos. The order of which you see the posts on your feed is now determined by the vague machinations of their algorithms, something that we do not have full access to (Lua). Doom is often associated with the shadows and the murk. Your fate is sealed but the specifics of it remain hidden, covered by the specter of mystery.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the middle classes of the west stayed at home and sent their emails. Unsurprisingly it was from this context that we began to grapple with the Doom Scroll. The endless feed of information, posts, articles, selfies, COVID shows to binge, and anything else people would put online. The Doom Scroll began its reign. Once something is named and titled it then takes on another form. It is spoken into existence. The Brooklyn based rock band Parquet Courts released their album “Content Nausea” in 2014. The titular song starts off as a rollicking garage country rock mix before breaking down and the singer A. Savage explains what has happened in this new era of the content nausea,
Well I’ve been north and I’ve been south
I’ve been west and I’ve been east
Been around long enough to know
Life’s lived best when scrolling least.
The internet offers us untold ability to wander through all of the worlds information. Imagine the impact this could have for people. The impact it already does have in exposing people to new ideas and ways of thinking is spectacular. Though Doom Scrolling shows us a future where our intention has been stolen this is not the only future. Ramsay’s description of screwing around should enliven us to break from the Doom and once again start screwing around.
boyd, d & Crawford, K (2012): CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA, Information, Communication & Society, 15:5, 662-679
Dean, J. (2010). Blog theory: Feedback and capture in the circuits of drive. Polity.
Deering, S., & Goldman PhD., R. (2020, November 28). Here’s How to Deal With Doomscrolling. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-doomscrolling-5088882
Editors of Merriam-Webster. (2020, June 10). Doomsurfing and Doomscrolling Meaning. The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/doomsurfing-doomscrolling-words-were-watching
Facebook – Meld je aan of registreer je. (n.d.). Facebook. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.facebook.com/help/520348825116417
Lua, A. (2021, February 17). How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021: Everything You Need to Know. Buffer Library. https://buffer.com/library/instagram-feed-algorithm/
Ramsay, S. (2010). The hermeneutics of screwing around; or what you do with a million books. Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, 111-20.
Santeralli, E. (2021, August 16). Sponsored Content: What You Need to Know (and 9 Examples!). Active Campaign. https://www.activecampaign.com/blog/sponsored-content
Savage, A. (2014) Content Nausea [recorded by Parquet Courts] On Content Nausea [CD] New York, New York: What’s Your Rupture?
Zuboff, S. (2020) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. PublicAffairs.