My war on doomscrolling


My attempts at avoiding doomscrolling and living a healthier digital lifestyle

Toby Kurien articles doomscrolling slowlife socialmedia twitter

The definition of doomscrolling, according to Urban Dictionary is:

When you keep scrolling through all of your social media feeds, looking for the most recent upsetting news about the latest catastrophe. The amount of time spent doing this is directly proportional to how much worse you're going to feel after you're done.

I'd like to broaden that definition a bit, because it's not just about upsetting news, it's about any news. Doomscrolling for me is when I scroll through feeds, then decide it's enough, put the phone down, can't think of anything else to do, so pick the phone back up and continue. Often I'm so sucked in that when I finally look away from my phone, my eyes take a while to adjust and feel strained. A few months ago I decided that this is a bad habit, and needed to stop.

Culprit 1: Algorithms

Twitter just sucks me in. Endless tweets, even from people I don't follow. So I deleted it off my phone, and just kept checking it on my less convenient tablet from time to time. That didn't change things much though, because I just spent more time on my tablet. Then twitter started sticking irrelevant tweets into my notifications. That's when I realised that the problem is not that I look at Twitter, but that their algorithm keeps sticking tweets everywhere I look, tweets I didn't ask for. First it was promoted tweets (easy to ignore), then the "because you follow XXX" tweets, then the topic-based tweets, then just completely random popular tweets, and finally the "in case you missed it" tweets in my sacred notifications! Nothing more insulting than looking for the dopamine hit from clicking on an unread notification, only to see a non-interaction.

To get past this, I stopped using the Twitter app altogether. Instead I use Nitter. I added people I want to follow into a public list, and then I load that list in Nitter to see my timeline. No more algorithms, just tweets from people I deliberately follow. I can now actually finish looking at all my new tweets from the people I follow, in about 5 minutes. Done. Close Nitter and move on... to Mastodon 😆 At least Mastodon doesn't have algorithms, so I get the same benefit of "finishing" my feeds in about 5 minutes.

Algorithms are the main problem!

Culprit 2: posting stuff, expecting interactions

The second big reason to keep picking up the phone and looking for notifications is for the aforementioned dopamine hit from interactions. If there are interactions, I'll want to see who it was, maybe interact back, and then resume the doomscrolling. So I made a pact with myself: ignore likes and retweets, these are not real interactions. An interaction is when someone replies or @s me. Those can be set to come through via e-mail, or is a simple Nitter search for my username away. So I check that once or twice a day.

Related to this is that the more I post, the more I'll want to check if there was an interaction. Email notifications solve this problem - no email, no interaction. Also, I post less, more deliberately. Fire and forget, post and don't look back, move on to other things.

What other things?

So no more social media (other than my 10 minute catchup), no more Hacker News, no more Reddit on my phone. When I wake up, I'm done reading stuff in 10 minutes. So then what do I do in my leisure time?

This is where it gets tricky - what do I do to satiate my brain's endless need for something new to find delight in? I'm trying a few things. For one, I read books. When there's nothing else to read on my phone, but there's a book waiting to be read, why not read it? Is reading a book so much better than reading social media feeds? I think so.

I found that when I have a lot more time to spend, then I might let a few distractions creep in. One such is news and thought/opinion pieces. Regular news sites are full of click-bait and algorithm-driven content, so I spent some time finding just a single source of quality news and opionions, which ended up being Daily Maverick. I skip past the corruption news though - I'm glad it's there, expose the bastards, but I'll pass, thanks.

A more recent distraction is Geminispace: a whole new world of content-driven sites, because it's all just text. I previously blogged that:

Gemini is to the web what reading a book is to watching TV. The former is focussed, simple, requires some effort, and may be more rewarding. The latter may be more compelling but also full of distractions and advertisements.

Another thing I do with my spare time is that I try to embrace a "slow life": sit outside, listen to music, watch birds, pay attention to my surroundings. I call it "soul feeding" time, and it happens at around sunset. I've taken up the challenge of trying to identify all the birds I see in my yard. I've created a bird list, which now has 24 bird species in it.

Will it stick? I hope so.