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Doomscrolling is slowly eroding your mental health

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Doomscrolling is slowly eroding your mental health

Enlarge (credit: Joel Sorrell | Getty Images)

It's 11:37pm and the pattern shows no signs of shifting. At 1:12am, it’s more of the same. Thumb down, thumb up. Twitter, Instagram, and—if you’re feeling particularly wrought/masochistic—Facebook. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic left a great many people locked down in their homes in early March, the evening ritual has been codifying: Each night ends the way the day began, with an endless scroll through social media in a desperate search for clarity.

To those who have become purveyors of the perverse exercise, like The New York Times’ Kevin Roose, this habit has become known as doomsurfing, or “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating myself to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.” For those who prefer their despair be portable, the term is doomscrolling, and as protests over racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd have joined the COVID-19 crisis in the news cycle, it’s only gotten more intense. The constant stream of news and social media never ends.

Of course, a late-night scroll is nothing new—it’s the kind of thing therapists often hear about when couples say one or the other isn’t providing enough attention. But it used to be that Sunday nights in bed were spent digging through Twitter for Game of Thrones hot takes, or armchair quarterbacking the day’s game. Now, the only thing to binge-watch is the world's collapse into crisis. Coronavirus deaths (473,000 worldwide and counting), unemployment rates (around 13 percent in the US), protesters in the street on any given day marching for racial justice (countless thousands)—the faucet of data runs nonstop. There are unlimited seasons, and the promise of some answer, or perhaps even some good news, always feels one click away.

But it’s not. Right now, people are living at a time with no easy solutions, a moment with a lot of conflicting “facts” in a rapidly changing landscape. According to Nicole Ellison, who studies communication and social media at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, that means there's a “lot of demand on cognitive processing to make sense of this. There’s no overarching narrative that helps us.” That, she adds, only compounds the stress and anxiety they're already feeling.

For years, people have questioned the net benefits of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and while some studies have found social media, when used responsibly, can have positive effects on mental health, it can also lead to anxiety and depression. Or, at the bare minimum, FOMO. And that’s just the result of looking at too many brunch photos or links to celebrity gossip. Add in a global pandemic and civil unrest—and the possibility that social media networks are incentivized to push trending topics into your feeds—and the problem intensifies. “In a situation like that, we engage in these more narrow, immediate survival-oriented behaviors. We’re in fight-or-flight mode,” Ellison says. “Combine that with the fact that, socially, many of us are not going into work and standing around the coffee maker engaging in collective sense-making, and the result is we don’t have a lot of those social resources available to us in the same way.”

The doom and gloom isn’t all the media’s fault, though. Mesfin Bekalu, a research scientist at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that while a lot of the news is bad, “as humans we have a ‘natural’ tendency to pay more attention to negative news.” This, along with social media algorithms, makes doomscrolling—and its impacts—almost inevitable. “Since the 1970s, we know of the ‘mean world syndrome’—the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is—as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related content on television,” Bekalu says. “So, doomscrolling can lead to the same long-term effects on mental health unless we mount interventions that address users’ behaviors and guide the design of social media platforms in ways that improve mental health and well-being.”

The effects of doomscrolling also vary depending on who’s doing it. Allissa Richardson, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, notes that when she was researching her new book Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism, she spoke to many activists who didn’t participate in doomscrolling simply because, they said, “I can’t see myself being killed over and over again in this tiny square on my phone.” Being able to participate in, and then opt out of, excessive social media use is, she notes, a privilege, which is why, when it comes to social media, many Black users turn to Verzuz battles on Instagram Live and other forms of Black joy as an act of resistance. “Doomscrolling for  Black people works in the inverse, we’re actually trying to look for something separate and apart from bad things,” Richardson says. “For many nonblack Americans, this has been an incredibly enriching time, and doomscrolling for them is a deep dive into the things maybe they weren’t educated well about in the first place or maybe did have an inkling about but were ignoring.”

To that end, there have been some upsides to the constant clicking. Social media is helping people stay connected during lockdown, and as the conversation shifted away from COVID-19 and toward racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, it's become a tool for active engagement—spreading news about protests, bail funds, community resources—rather than just a forum for the passive consumption of pandemic updates. Yet the late-night digging, the endless reading of bad news, is draining. (It can also, Richardson notes, endanger protesters whose identities get spread around in other people’s feeds.) It’s a compulsion that’s only gotten worse in recent months, and one that points to humanity’s quest to find coping mechanisms when many of them have been stripped away.

So, the doomscrolling continues. The actual origins of the term are a bit murky, though many point to this tweet from October 2018 as a possible forebear. More recently, doomscrolling was designated one of Merriam-Webster’s Words We’re Watching, and Dictionary.com named it one of its "New Words We Created Because of Coronavirus."

There’s something else in the etymology, though. Particularly in the word doom. Originally, the word had connotations that related it to judgement day and the end of the world, but now it's just as likely to be associated with destruction or ruin. The act of doomscrolling, then, is to roll toward annihilation. Or, to borrow a phrase from Joan Didion (writing during America’s last traumatic, generation-defining year, 1968), it is an act of slouching toward quietus. Taken biblically, it has a Revelation tone. Each swipe through the timeline marks the end of a day of reckoning—for the state of the world at large and for the person attached to each appendage doing the scrolling. Simultaneously, each person watches the demise of so much, while also slowly destroying themselves. (This rush to judgement could also explain why so many public figures are now facing cancellation.) Didion lifted “slouching towards Bethlehem” from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” itself a reflection on the destruction caused by World War I written amidst the 1918 flu pandemic. It’s only natural that the world’s scrolling reflects those writers’ apocryphal Apocalypse visions.

At the same time, it doesn’t have to. Doomscrolling will never actually stop the doom itself. Feeling informed can be a salve, but being overwhelmed by tragedy serves no purpose. The current year is nothing if not a marathon; trying to sprint to the end of one’s feed will only cause burnout and a decline in mental health among the people whose level-headedness is needed most. That means you, dear reader. Amidst all of the pain, isolation, and destruction of the past six months, it’s not worth it to add on to the strain with two hours of excess Twitter every night. Perhaps now just needs to be the End Times for your timeline.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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Eczema patients treated by drug-producing microbes found on their own skin

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Enlarge (credit: Getty | Media for Medical )

Looking to find the most effective probiotics? You may need to look no further than your own body.

Scientists could rid eczema patients’ arms of disease-spurring Staphylococcus aureus simply by picking out rare but helpful bacteria also on their skin, growing it up to large quantities, and mixing it with off-the-shelf lotion that the patients slathered on. The finding, reported this week in Science Translational Medicine, is another example of harnessing the protective and disease-fighting potential of the human microbiome. Researchers are optimistic that in future clinical trials, the personal bacteria boosts will prove useful in longterm treatment for eczema, without the risks that come with antibiotics.

“This approach is inherently superior to current pharmaceutically derived antibiotics,” the authors conclude. Unlike bottled antibiotics that may kill microbes indiscriminately—friends or foes—the patient’s skin bacteria selectively killed off harmful S. aureus and left the protective community intact.

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Universal Install Script

11 Comments and 25 Shares
The failures usually don't hurt anything, and if it installs several versions, it increases the chance that one of them is right. (Note: The 'yes' command and '2>/dev/null' are recommended additions.)
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10 public comments
jsonstein
1578 days ago
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one of them *has* to work, esp all running in parallel
43.128462,-77.614463
acdha
1582 days ago
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Your ticket to an exciting DevOps job
Washington, DC
srsly
1582 days ago
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I appreciate the lines,

> apt-get install $1
> sudo apt-get install $1
Atlanta, Georgia
kimmo
1582 days ago
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Excellent idea to run all of these in parallel. :)
Espoo, Finland
kevjava
1582 days ago
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Don't forget to run as root!
toddgrotenhuis
1582 days ago
arghhhhhh
JayM
1582 days ago
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:)
Atlanta, GA
Cthulhux
1582 days ago
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Doesn't work on BSD since there is no bash by default. Pffff, universal!
Fledermausland
tante
1582 days ago
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Universal Install Script
Berlin/Germany
superiphi
1582 days ago
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Ha ha ha ha.
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
alt_text_bot
1582 days ago
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The failures usually don't hurt anything, and if it installs several versions, it increases the chance that one of them is right. (Note: The 'yes' command and '2>/dev/null' are recommended additions.)

Five-Day Forecast

5 Comments and 13 Shares
You know what they say--if you don't like the weather here in the Solar System, just wait five billion years.
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5 public comments
emdot
1694 days ago
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I need a 5 second option.
San Luis Obispo, CA
maxdibe
1694 days ago
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Your 5 forecast:
on a bike
JayM
1694 days ago
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Heh
Atlanta, GA
stefanetal
1694 days ago
10 years out something happened.
lukeburrage
1694 days ago
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I can't believe there isn't a Celsius version of this automatically served to browsers outside of the USA.
bobdvb
1694 days ago
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#fail for using Fahrenheit
Down from 51.5, left of 0.25
stevetursi
1694 days ago
Lighten up. He's ridiculing American weather forecasts.
dukeofwulf
1694 days ago
If you've ever read his What If articles, you know Randall is a huge fan of Celcius and Kelvin scales (naturally, he's an engineer).

The Security Risks of Third-Party Data

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Most of us get to be thoroughly relieved that our e-mails emails weren't in the Ashley Madison database. But don't get too comfortable. Whatever secrets you have, even the ones you don't think of as secret, are more likely than you think to get dumped on the Internet. It's not your fault, and there's largely nothing you can do about it.

Welcome to the age of organizational doxing.

Organizational doxing -- stealing data from an organization's network and indiscriminately dumping it all on the Internet -- is an increasingly popular attack against organizations. Because our data is connected to the Internet, and stored in corporate networks, we are all in the potential blast-radius of these attacks. While the risk that any particular bit of data gets published is low, we have to start thinking about what could happen if a larger-scale breach affects us or the people we care about. It's going to get a lot uglier before security improves.

We don't know why anonymous hackers broke into the networks of Avid Life Media, then stole and published 37 million -- so far -- personal records of AshleyMadison.com users. The hackers say it was because of the company's deceptive practices. They expressed indifference to the "cheating dirtbags" who had signed up for the site. The primary target, the hackers said, was the company itself. That philanderers were exposed, marriages were ruined, and people were driven to suicide was apparently a side effect.

Last November, the North Korean government stole and published gigabytes of corporate e-mail email from Sony Pictures. This was part of a much larger doxing -- a hack aimed at punishing the company for making a movie parodying the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The press focused on Sony's corporate executives, who had sniped at celebrities and made racist jokes about President Obama. But also buried in those e-mails emails were loves, losses, confidences, and private conversations of thousands of innocent employees. The press didn't bother with those e-mails emails -- and we know nothing of any personal tragedies that resulted from their friends' searches. They, too, were caught in the blast radius of the larger attack.

The Internet is more than a way for us to get information or connect with our friends. It has become a place for us to store our personal information. Our e-mail email is in the cloud. So are our address books and calendars, whether we use Google, Apple, Microsoft, or someone else. We store to-do lists on Remember the Milk and keep our jottings on Evernote. Fitbit and Jawbone store our fitness data. Flickr, Facebook, and iCloud are the repositories for our personal photos. Facebook and Twitter store many of our intimate conversations.

It often feels like everyone is collecting our personal information. Smartphone apps collect our location data. Google can draw a surprisingly intimate portrait of what we're thinking about from our Internet searches. Dating sites (even those less titillating than Ashley Madison), medical-information sites, and travel sites all have detailed portraits of who we are and where we go. Retailers save records of our purchases, and those databases are stored on the Internet. Data brokers have detailed dossiers that can include all of this and more.

Many people don't think about the security implications of this information existing in the first place. They might be aware that it's mined for advertising and other marketing purposes. They might even know that the government can get its hands on such data, with different levels of ease depending on the country. But it doesn't generally occur to people that their personal information might be available to anyone who wants to look.

In reality, all these networks are vulnerable to organizational doxing. Most aren't any more secure than Ashley Madison or Sony were. We could wake up one morning and find detailed information about our Uber rides, our Amazon purchases, our subscriptions to pornographic websites -- anything we do on the Internet -- published and available. It's not likely, but it's certainly possible.

Right now, you can search the Ashley Madison database for any e-mail email address, and read that person's details. You can search the Sony data dump and read the personal chatter of people who work for the company. Tempting though it may be, there are many reasons not to search for people you know on Ashley Madison. The one I most want to focus on is context. An e-mail email address might be in that database for many reasons, not all of them lascivious. But if you find your spouse or your friend in there, you don't necessarily know the context. It's the same with the Sony employee e-mails, emails, and the data from whatever company is doxed next. You'll be able to read the data, but without the full story, it can be hard to judge the meaning of what you're reading.

Even so, of course people are going to look. Reporters will search for public figures. Individuals will search for people they know. Secrets will be read and passed around. Anguish and embarrassment will result. In some cases, lives will be destroyed.

Privacy isn't about hiding something. It's about being able to control how we present ourselves to the world. It's about maintaining a public face while at the same time being permitted private thoughts and actions. It's about personal dignity.

Organizational doxing is a powerful attack against organizations, and one that will continue because it's so effective. And while the network owners and the hackers might be battling it out for their own reasons, sometimes it's our data that's the prize. Having information we thought private turn out to be public and searchable is what happens when the hackers win. It's a result of the information age that hasn't been fully appreciated, and one that we're still not prepared to face.

This essay previously appeared on the Atlantic. The Atlantic.

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kevjava
1760 days ago
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Very much this.

Future Self

6 Comments and 17 Shares
Maybe I haven't been to Iceland because I'm busy dealing with YOUR crummy code.
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5 public comments
satadru
2124 days ago
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Folks, make that trip to Iceland. You won't regret it.
New York, NY
toddmichaelryan
2125 days ago
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Love it.
mrobold
2125 days ago
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From my own vault:

* To the person who ever has to modify this that isn't me:
*
* I'm really, really sorry. This project started out so simply. It was a pretty straightforward
* dumb-client. All processing was done on the back-end routine and all this
* code did was display the appropriate data. That was it.
*
* Over the past 8 years (Christ, have I been here that long?), rather than rewriting the client,
* we have simply affixed more and more functionality to it - most of which would have necessitated
* a complete redesign of the client in any other organization. However, in the interests of
* expediency, those things have been bolted on - turning this dumb client into a 14,000+ line
* monstrosity that, frankly, I doubt anyone other than myself could actually maintain without
* losing their sanity. It's quite possible that the only reason I've been able to maintain
* this code is that my sanity left me a long time ago.
Orange County, California
jimwise
2125 days ago
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...
jepler
2125 days ago
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the day that stretches out before me, ladies and gentlemen
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
emdeesee
2125 days ago
The #-delimited comments are cute.
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