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Doomerism Isn’t Helping Us Cope. So Why Can’t We Stop?

We are living through the age of doomerism, but… is there a better way to deal? A bunch of very real global crises – plus the psychological effects of 24-7 news and doomscrolling – can make it feel like the world is truly falling apart. For gen-z who are coming of age in this environment, it can be paralyzing. But how much of this sense of apocalyptic doom is totally warranted, and how much is shaped by our constant onlineness? And more importantly, how much of this attitude is really helpful?

Transcript

We are living through the age of doomerism. A bunch of very real global crises–plus the psychological effects of 24-7 news and doomscrolling–can make it feel like the world is truly falling apart. For gen-z who are coming of age in this environment, it can be paralyzing. But how much of this sense of apocalyptic doom is totally warranted, and how much is shaped by our constant onlineness? And more importantly, how much of this attitude is really helpful? In July 2022, Jane Coaston wrote a New York Times piece called “Try to Resist the Call of the Doomers” about how “we are experiencing a new religion of profound pessimism.” According to Coaston, the problem with doomerism isn’t that it honestly points out our challenges, but that it “luxuriates in the awful” and makes people feel so hopeless that they lose agency and don’t work to address what’s wrong in the world. Sure, things are bad, but every small piece of news cannot signal the end of the world, right? So is it possible for us all to just…calm down a little?

Here’s our take on doomerism, its impact on Gen-Z and mental health, and how –even if there’s a lot that is bad right now – there’s also a better way to deal.

CHAPTER ONE: NEWS IS DESTROYING US

In the past few years, the phrase “I’m tired of living through a major historical event right now,” has become a pretty all-encompassing meme. From the pandemic to the storming of the US capital, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, financial crises and the climate crisis on top of this, today’s events paint the picture of a world that is extremely unstable and scary. But our emotional impression of all this is also shaped by our relationship to the media–which is drastically unlike it was even a few years ago. Journalists’ job is largely about exposing problems and holding powerful people and institutions accountable-so it makes sense that there’s going to be a heavy bias toward bad news. But today we spend an average of four hours per day on our smartphones dramatically increasing the amount of bad news we take in and the proportion of our time we dwell on it compared to previous generations.

“It used to be that people waited for the evening newscast or for the morning newspaper to get their dose of fear. Now they get it on their phones constantly.”

- Barry Glassner

There’s also an economic incentive driving the negativity that shades all the media we consume. A study from Harvard Business School confirmed that on Twitter, negative news spreads farther and wider than positive.

News publications have a vested interest in filling our feeds with fatalism to get clicks. And we can see this in the panicking, alarmist, catastrophic tone that characterizes so many headlines today–even when the stories are actually dealing with relatively minor or moderate levels of problems.

All this has a deep emotional effect that spreads over into our personal lives. If we’re constantly dwelling on terrible events reported in sensational, panicking terms, then we’re going to bring a negative, if not catastrophic lens to how we view our actual lives and our expectations for what’s possible or likely. This is known as the “availability heuristic”,–essentially, our brains draw on information that’s readily available to us. So if we’ve been reading a lot about shark sightings or terrorist attacks, we’ll worry more about these than about, say, car crashes, which are statistically a much higher risk but very underreported in news.

“So now you sort of internalize this thing and now all of a sudden you’re thinking “could it happen to me?”

- Dr. Peter Lin, CBC

A 2022 study from Perspectives in Psychiatric Care showed that consumption of news via social media rose by nearly 50% during Covid, thanks in part to doomscrolling and doomsurfing. Often people turn to these activities with a desire to self-soothe, but the results say: “Doomsurfing and Doomscrolling lead to the experience of emotions of intense anxiety, uncertainty, apprehension, fear, and feelings of distress which in turn lead to difficulties in the initiation of sleep, poor quality of sleep, decrease in appetite, decreased interest in activities and low motivation to continue with tasks of the day.”

Social media as a news source has changed the way people consume news. Because people will receive news quickly via their social feeds, they have started spending less time actually reading the content of news articles to get the full picture, with social content manager Buffer showing that the average visitor will only spend 15 seconds reading an article they’ve clicked on

And because there are so many outlets competing for people’s attention, more effort goes into making news sharable and engaging, with doesn’t always equate to the best reporting. As Nicole Martin writes, “timely and sensational news does better…so often times it is overly exaggerated for social.”

CHAPTER 2: IS THIS A GENERATIONAL PROBLEM?

Doomerism is especially unhelpful in a moment when collective mental health struggles are rising. US surgeon general Vivek Murthy has spoken of the ‘youth mental health crisis’ that’s been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to doomerism, Gen-Z have been dealt a poor hand. They’re coming into adulthood with this media environment as their main experience of what the greater world is: constant bad news, framed with exaggeration and hyperbole, while misinformation spreads rapidly and facts and truth are more questioned than ever.

“Ok guys, I’m gonna use social media to spread fake news that Murphy’s hired an alt-right figurehead to speak at their pub.”

- It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

But it can be helpful to remember it’s not the first time generations have faced gloomy views of the future. Millennials were branded the unluckiest generation, after they entered the workforce following the 2008 recession and still haven’t caught up to other generations financially. As a result, millennials tend to have pessimistic expectations for their financial futures

Like millennials, Gen X were told they were being born into economic prosperity only to have the rug pulled from under them. Coming of age in the aftermath of Watergate and the Vietnam War, they rode a wave of cynicism and malaise that came to define gen-x in movies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused and Reality Bites. We can see a lot of echoes of Gen Z in Gen X’s lack of optimism, fear that in order to make money you’ll have to compromise yourself, and distrust of major institutions. Even baby boomers felt a similar malaise in the post-world-war-II era, embodied in the disaffection and isolation of 50s James Dean vehicles Rebel Without A Cause and East of Eden or 60s new Hollywood fare like The Graduate. The free love and sexual liberation movements that defined Boomers as youths were about rejecting suburban emptiness and an assumed life path they feared wouldn’t fulfill them. Maybe doomerism is a cumulative thing – each generation’s concerns builds on the last’s, and it’s all exacerbated by the modern overexposure to bad news.

CHAPTER THREE: THE NEW ABSURD

Doom doesn’t have to be expressed solely in bleak, dark iterations–it’s also taken on more comedic tones. In the aftermath of World War Two, the theatre of the absurd gained momentum through playwrights and thinkers like Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus. It’s this same philosophy that drives Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez in Rick and Morty, whose genius and cosmic awareness makes him highly aware of the meaninglessness and randomness of so much of life. When Morty is thrown into the VR video game Roy at Blipz ‘n’ Chipz, he experiences an entire life, well-lived –ondensed into a two minute montage with a tragic ending–but then this is immediately forgotten about. It just happened.

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness. It’s the most comical thing in the world.”

- Rock and Morty

Rick and Morty explores a multiverse with endless different versions of the characters, underlining just how un-special our particular existence may be. We can see the multiverse concept connected to an absurdist stance in other popular culture like Umbrella Academy. There the titular superheroes travel through time and space to prevent an oncoming apocalypse, and in doing so they become cult leaders, start relationships with mannequins, or live on the moon. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once also has an apocalyptic threat hanging over protagonist Evelyn as she encounters versions of herself in multiple universes . But while this perspective almost makes the characters nihilistic. in the end knowledge of all these other potential scenarios makes Evelyn appreciate the one she’s been born into, despite its stresses and less-than-glamorous aspects.

Even stories that feel more grounded in our current reality lean into the ridiculousness of it. Don’t Look Up, a not-so-loose satire of how the world has buried their heads in the sand over the climate crisis, plays the bizarrely inadequate responses of the government, media and tech industry for dark humor–the kind of thing you would laugh at if the absurdity weren’t so accurate. Whether films and shows give us any, unhinged multiple universes, or make comedy of a post-apocalyptic version of our world they point out how, in the face of a doom, humans often maintain a strange veneer of normalcy, mundanity or shutting off. But while the humor in these portrayals offers an aspect of comfort or coping mechanism, they’re also infused with a strong streak of despair. So maybe it’s time to lean into that earnestness underneath the disaffection–to let ourselves feel how much we do care and want to strive to make things work out better.

As Coaston writes,

“the best way to spur action is to begin from a place of optimism—a belief that the thing you want really is possible.”

OUTRO

Even if the doomerism moment is dark, maybe this mood can bring people together in that darkness–to inspire us to help each other muddle through. Gen-Z are increasing practices like mindfulness and meditation, both of which seek to ground oneself in the present moment

The rise of things like digital detoxes are speaking to an awareness that we need to be more conscious and intentional about our relationships to social media, news and our phones. These coping strategies can help dispel the doom, and let us manage and engage with the bad news without spiraling into unchecked negativity. We have to cultivate a mental state that makes us ready to meet the challenges ahead–not with resignation, but with hope, and action.

“Sing, but remember to stop for air. And by God get off twitter once in a while.”

- Sarah Z