What our doomscrolling and joyscrolling habits can tell us about the world, and ourselves, in 2020.
With the flick of a finger, scrolling has become a reliable salve that’s carried me through the lowest of lows this year including a long bout of Covid, two breakups with two guys with the same first name, and the loss of my grandmother to the coronavirus. While I know social media can worsen my mental health, at the same time it’s been helpful to have an entire community of strangers and friends to commiserate with, just a few clicks away.
Maybe I was already scrolling too much before this year (note: I was), but my reliance on social media has become even more intense. And by no means am I alone in this. With global lockdowns and so many people becoming remote workers, the very act of being online has become our greatest, and sometimes sole connector, to the outside world.
Though swapping memes chock full of dark humour has become a frequent pastime, recently I’ve noticed myself searching for more joy in the form of posts and stories showcasing adorable pets and babies along with influencers doing funny impressions, dances, and skits.
Laura Cerri, founder of Shop Journal, an online vintage store, has noticed the same thing. “I used to fall into a deep, dark pit while scrolling online a few months ago but now I’m actively searching for things that are light and upbeat,” she says. “Sometimes that’s pictures of animals in clothes, other nights it’s self-help quotes. I also love looking at elaborate jelly desserts and I’ve started a folder for ‘good things’ on Instagram.” I myself created a folder dubbed LOL a few months ago.
What is doomscrolling?
“Why are we doomscrolling in 2020?
Probably for the same reasons we all slow down to see the carnage of a roadside crash,” says Carrera Kurnik, culture editor at trend forecasting agency Fashion Snoops. “We have a deep-rooted curiosity for disaster and doom.” With a year marked by uncertainty and anxiety, the trend forecaster believes many of us are endlessly scrolling through our feeds to find the answers that might help us make sense of everything that’s going on.
“One of the biggest ways to stay connected during the Covid-19 pandemic has been through digital media; since we can’t be together IRL, we often gain the feeling of connection and being social by scrolling social media,” says psychotherapist Elizabeth Beecroft, referencing a study by the New York Times that found we are spending almost 50% more time on our phones during the pandemic. “Being on our phones or social media allows us to check in on our friends and family and keep up with the world.”
Doomscrolling coincides with our obsession with 2020 negativity, according to Holly Friend, a senior foresight writer at The Future Laboratory, a UK-based company that provides future insight to consumer brands.
“You only need to look at Instagram and TikTok to see the barrage of memes that epitomises this sense of mass existentialism – for the last few years Millennials and Gen Z have become defined by their melancholic, half-sarcastic approach to living.”
According to Friend, this year a collective negative attitude has been accelerated by the global chaos of the pandemic and for this reason, it’s only natural that people are actively seeking out bad news in a time when everything feels overwhelming. “We want to validate and justify our anxieties.”
Negativity bias also plays a part. “Humans have a negativity bias which means negative information impacts our behaviour at a much higher rate compared to positive or optimistic information,” says Kurnik. “It’s negativity bias that gets us to buy newspapers with horrific headlines or stay longer on social media sites.” Fear and outrage are powerful motivators for getting an audience to engage with a platform but unfortunately, these tactics for grabbing audience attention have adverse effects on a user’s mental health.
Though we are spending more time on our phones in hopes of feeling connected, Beecroft says we are also exposing ourselves to the unfortunate and negative online news as a byproduct. “So many unfortunate and detrimental things have happened this year we have almost become accustomed to seeing upsetting news updates,” she explains. “Biologically it is human nature to want to stay up to date and consume information, however when that information is something that can help us respond to a potential threat or dangerous situation we are even more attuned, entering ‘fight or flight’ mode.”
Spending so much time online, not to mention consuming content that’s negative, can increase our risk of anxiety, depression, and stress in general according to the psychotherapist. “If we begin to experience these symptoms we can become more frustrated, isolated, lonely, irritable, hostile, lack motivation, and even develop headaches from all that screen time.”
Should I be joyscrolling instead?
Recently however, Shanu Walpita, trend forecaster and London-based founder of Futurewise Studio, says in a bizarre (and very 2020) twist, people seem to be sidestepping the norms of the negativity bias and are leaning into joy and positivity.
“This behavioural shift likely stems from the need to quell anxiety linked to the deluge of information-overwhelm, distrust and the general weirdness of 2020.” According to Walpita, people are seeking-out pockets of pleasure on social platforms like Instagram and TikTok as a result, including cheerful and humorous content, as well as beautifully designed quotes and life ponderings.
Enter joyscrolling, a new phenomenon that’s emerging in response to the never-ending carousel of dismal news. “People are paying more attention to their ‘digital diets’ and ensuring that the content they’re consuming is providing them with a sense of wellbeing,” says Carrera Kurnik of Fashion Snoops.
Seeking out digital reminders of joy in the world and accessing small, even insignificant, pieces of good news can kickstart people’s hope and optimism, according to Friend. One of her favourite examples is Vibes.fyi, an alternative online space for positive news, in which people can share the good things that have happened to them today. “Created by the notorious Gen Z Mafia using Discord, it has become a gentle reminder of the spontaneous and light-hearted moments of human connection in our daily activities, which consumers are gradually waking up to and acknowledging, rather than obsessing over the scary, or macabre elements of society that we are psychologically so drawn to,” she explains.
“In a post-truth world, it makes complete sense to turn to uplifting content,” says Walpita. She says there’s something mindful yet latent about joyscrolling; “conscious (or subconscious) decisions to focus on positivity is switching the negative rhetoric of social media while reminding us that social media can also connect, inspire and posit positivity.”
As a matter of fact, joyscrolling can actually activate different parts of our brains, releasing chemicals that boost our mood, says Beecroft. “It can be a way to find motivation, bliss, happiness and contentment in the world of media,” she explains. “Joyscrolling is something that can help you feel connected, positive, and is a way to create a healthy relationship with technology.”
In order to maximise your joy, Beecroft says it’s vital to limit the time you spend on screens either by opting out of news alerts, setting timers on specific apps, scheduling a time out of each day to consume the news, finding another outlet when you’re feeling the urge to scroll, or even shutting your phone or other tech off altogether.
Having boundaries when it comes to social media, now more than ever, is no easy feat. For this reason, Beecroft recommends finding an accountability partner, ie a supportive friend or family member, whom you can call and speak to when you need support.
Finding a balance
Moving forward, Kurnik sees apps like Moodrise, which uses scientific research to show users digital content that releases serotonin or dopamine in the brain to improve mood, becoming more prominent while we’re also going to see an increase in the use of terms like: “digital hygiene,” “digital nutritional label,” and “digital pharmaceutical.”
“I think joyscrolling demonstrates the changing mindset of consumers as they adopt a mindset of radical optimism in order to survive and thrive during this difficult time,” says Holly Friend of The Future Laboratory. As we move into winter and officially enter 2021 – another year of Covid-19 – people will continue to seek out good news that reminds them of the kindness and empathy around the world. “The pandemic has created a global feeling of solidarity, but equally we must not shield ourselves from the realities of what’s happening.”
While the first vaccine has officially been approved in England, it’ll take time for circumstances to change globally in a major way. With this, Friend says the future of digital news and scrolling is balanced. It’s necessary to educate ourselves on the harsh truths of topics such as the pandemic and systemic racism, but it’s also important to ensure our days are sprinkled with elements of goodness, too.