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U of I professor Ben Grosser’s The Endless Doomscroller hits close to home

Ben Grosser, Associate Professor of New Media in School of Art + Design at University of Illinois, is no stranger to analyzing the current media landscape and our consumption methods as humans on the internet. That, plus the rammifications of such, and who the profiteers of the system are.

His creation, branded similarly to a basic newspaper, The Endless Doomscroller, is a fascinating look at doomscrolling, which hits pretty hard during such a rough time for many. As phones — and our connection to the internet and all the news and information that comes with it — continue to control basically every waking moment of our existence these days during a pandemic, this showcase of doom scrolling and the endless cycle of bad shit is pretty depressing and important simultaneously.

This made me recall his supercut of Mark Zuckerberg from what seems like a lifetime ago, but was only 2019.

Here’s his description of doomscrolling per his website:

“Doomscrolling” refers to the ways in which people find themselves regularly—and in some cases, almost involuntarily—scrolling bad news headlines on their phone, often for hours each night in bed when they had meant to be sleeping. Certainly the realities of the pandemic necessitate a level of vigilance for the purposes of personal safety. But doomscrolling isn’t just a natural reaction to the news of the day—it’s the result of a perfect yet evil marriage between a populace stuck online, social media interfaces designed to game and hold our attention, and the realities of an existential global crisis. Yes, it may be hard to look away from bad news in any format, but it’s nearly impossible to avert our eyes when that news is endlessly presented via designed-to-be-addictive social media interfaces that know just what to show us next in order to keep us “engaged.” As an alternative interface, The Endless Doomscroller acts as a lens on our software-enabled collective descent into despair. By distilling the news and social media sites down to their barest most generalized messages and interface conventions, The Endless Doomscroller shows us the mechanism that’s behind our scroll-induced anxiety: interfaces—and corporations—that always want more. More doom (bad news headlines) compels more engagement (via continued liking/sharing/posting) which produces more personal data, thus making possible ever more profit. By stripping away the specifics wrapped up in each headline and minimizing the mechanics behind most interface patterns, The Endless Doomscroller offers up an opportunity for mindfulness about how we’re spending our time online and about who most benefits from our late night scroll sessions. And, if one scrolls as endlessly as the work makes possible, The Endless Doomscroller might even enable a sort of exposure or substitution therapy, a way to escape or replace what these interfaces want from and do to us. In other words, perhaps the only way out of too much doomscrolling is endless doomscrolling.

Top image from The Endless Doomscroller.

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