Goodbye, doomscroll

“There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing.”

For many, including myself, staying at home as a pandemic precaution also meant more screentime. I found myself scrolling through feeds throughout the day to take breaks, distract myself, check in on the state of the world, and just do something.

A new anxiety took shape. The feeds surfaced the extremes without warning, and their frictionless design kept it coming. This year of horrible stress and worry was exacerbated by the overwhelm, addiction, and violence of feeds. More than any other year, I saw friends (who have the resources) find new habits in an attempt to mitigate the engulfing exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and burnout.

After burning out, what’s next? For myself, it’s deleting the addictive apps from my phone. It’s creating limits for how much I’m online. In the need to figure out healthier digital boundaries, I’ve noticed a similarity to physical distancing and limiting gatherings. Still, it’s crucial that I remain connected, aware, and responsible. There’s difficult news. There’s media intended to manipulate. Dip into the feeds, but with caution. I feel anxious before I even realize it.

I find my refuge in a daily news podcast from NPR. In phone calls. In writing emails like it’s the 2000s, in a way that they feel like long letters. In postcards. In watching the sunset. In browsing homepages. I go back to media that’s less demanding — that’s receptive to limits rather than only pushing for more engagement.

In 2021, we’ll wave goodbye to the doomscroll. The scale of the mental health impact of this horrible design will give rise to mounting social pressure on companies to make changes on ethical grounds. We may see surface changes, but they won’t attend to the deeper harms. As a response, we’ll witness wider explorations outside of these addictive and toxic patterns, both from readers and media makers.

I’ve previously written about zines, and about media that cares for you. The qualities of these formats make them not just bearable, but also healthier. Consider what a healthier UX feels like:

  1. The media requires clear intention. Anything you read, you specifically request. You don’t just wander in expecting anything. There’s no “up next” that pushes front and center, automatically claiming your attention. You’re less surprised by what you see because you’re prepared to receive it.
  2. There’s a thoughtful narrative. Various sections of information are juxtaposed with reason. There’s deliberateness in how the information is synthesized instead of optimizing some supplier metric. The narrative responds to the reader.
  3. There are clear boundaries. Requesting more, seeing more, takes some effort. We’re not aggressively pressed for more attention. That doesn’t mean limiting the spread of important information; the stories we’re seeing on the impact of the pandemic, and on justice for marginalized people must be visible. But how can we better frame and distribute them with care? And in a way that is also safe for their authors?
  4. You can choose how you interact. The media meets you where you’re at. For example, mobile apps can be more addictive than the desktop web. Give readers a choice to opt for the less addictive option.

There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing. This next year, we’ll see new formats for news and storytelling adopting these qualities. I’m excited to see this. My burned-out, screen-fatigued eyes and brain are too.

Kawandeep Virdee is the author of Feeling Great About My Butt and a writer advocate at Medium.

For many, including myself, staying at home as a pandemic precaution also meant more screentime. I found myself scrolling through feeds throughout the day to take breaks, distract myself, check in on the state of the world, and just do something.

A new anxiety took shape. The feeds surfaced the extremes without warning, and their frictionless design kept it coming. This year of horrible stress and worry was exacerbated by the overwhelm, addiction, and violence of feeds. More than any other year, I saw friends (who have the resources) find new habits in an attempt to mitigate the engulfing exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and burnout.

After burning out, what’s next? For myself, it’s deleting the addictive apps from my phone. It’s creating limits for how much I’m online. In the need to figure out healthier digital boundaries, I’ve noticed a similarity to physical distancing and limiting gatherings. Still, it’s crucial that I remain connected, aware, and responsible. There’s difficult news. There’s media intended to manipulate. Dip into the feeds, but with caution. I feel anxious before I even realize it.

I find my refuge in a daily news podcast from NPR. In phone calls. In writing emails like it’s the 2000s, in a way that they feel like long letters. In postcards. In watching the sunset. In browsing homepages. I go back to media that’s less demanding — that’s receptive to limits rather than only pushing for more engagement.

In 2021, we’ll wave goodbye to the doomscroll. The scale of the mental health impact of this horrible design will give rise to mounting social pressure on companies to make changes on ethical grounds. We may see surface changes, but they won’t attend to the deeper harms. As a response, we’ll witness wider explorations outside of these addictive and toxic patterns, both from readers and media makers.

I’ve previously written about zines, and about media that cares for you. The qualities of these formats make them not just bearable, but also healthier. Consider what a healthier UX feels like:

  1. The media requires clear intention. Anything you read, you specifically request. You don’t just wander in expecting anything. There’s no “up next” that pushes front and center, automatically claiming your attention. You’re less surprised by what you see because you’re prepared to receive it.
  2. There’s a thoughtful narrative. Various sections of information are juxtaposed with reason. There’s deliberateness in how the information is synthesized instead of optimizing some supplier metric. The narrative responds to the reader.
  3. There are clear boundaries. Requesting more, seeing more, takes some effort. We’re not aggressively pressed for more attention. That doesn’t mean limiting the spread of important information; the stories we’re seeing on the impact of the pandemic, and on justice for marginalized people must be visible. But how can we better frame and distribute them with care? And in a way that is also safe for their authors?
  4. You can choose how you interact. The media meets you where you’re at. For example, mobile apps can be more addictive than the desktop web. Give readers a choice to opt for the less addictive option.

There’s a hunger for media formats that feel more considerate, more consentful, and designed with care. It’s absolutely crucial for our safety and our wellbeing. This next year, we’ll see new formats for news and storytelling adopting these qualities. I’m excited to see this. My burned-out, screen-fatigued eyes and brain are too.

Kawandeep Virdee is the author of Feeling Great About My Butt and a writer advocate at Medium.

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