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(present participle): the act of relentlessly reading bad news online

A friend said it first. I hadn’t realised there was a word for what I was doing. It was March, and I was endlessly checking Twitter. I had a book deadline that increasingly seemed unreal and two young children self-isolating at home who wanted attention. I alternated reading lines of Tyrannosaurus Drip with checking my phone. “Mummy, turn the page,” they would remind me, as my thumb returned to its default swiping position. Not that they minded. They were thrilled that I was constantly with them. But I wasn’t really there. 

“All I’m doing is eating trash and doomscrolling,” my friend told our WhatsApp group. Doomscrolling — of course. I couldn’t get enough of the bad news. I became obsessed with death counts, ventilators, lockdowns. My weekly alerts told me my screen time was up 50, 60, 70 per cent. I ignored it. I woke in the night and started swiping at 3am, breaking a hard rule I’d had for years to put my phone in aeroplane mode when I went to bed. I followed every link, as if by consuming more information I could control the situation. Knowledge is power. But it was Twitter, and what little knowledge I gleaned was drowned out by hysterical opinion, which just made me feel worse. 

I realised I needed to stop. I deleted Twitter from my phone. I tried to slow down. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I finished my book on time and the new daily routine started to feel normal: full on, with work deadlines and small children, but predictable and contained. 

Then, in November, the first vaccine proved over 90 per cent effective in Phase 3 trials. Stock markets surged, and people went online to indulge in a new activity that seemed at odds with 2020: joyscrolling. It’s a(nother) terrible expression, but if it turns out to be the word of the year in 2021, I won’t be complaining.

alice.ross@ft.com

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