The Devil’s UX Dictionary: Doomscrolling

A man in a dark room with nine electronic tablets on a black desk in front of him
Image from blog.tabiib.com

If the events of 2020 and early 2021 can be likened to using an unsterilised lance to prick the boils on humanity’s arse, doomscrolling played the role of a slack-jawed bystander gawping on as jets of fetid pus made their arcing flights from our clenched buttocks. This analogy is accurate because it refers to the tendency people have to vampirically gorge themselves on negative news or feeds that inspire emotions from schadenfreude and spite at the lighter side of the scale to hatred and despair at the heavier end.

Doomscrolling is possible because of the infinite scroll feature on many social media sites, and so is ultimately a UX issue. As a by-product of social media’s inherent addictiveness, it crosses into the territory of dark UX by moving beyond the territory of understanding and catering the users needs and into that of coercing and manipulating them.

While it may not have been Aza Raskin’s intention to enthral users in a vicious cycle of curiosity and melancholy when he invented the infinite scroll, the shadowy psychological aspects of over-engagement were an inevitability given the nature of the human psyche. Although not of the ilk of more ancient forms of doomscrolling — like the hearty breakfasts with a prime view of the morning’s hangings you could once buy at London’s Viaduct Tavern — were it possible for people to view live executions as their eyes were still adjusting to waking, many probably would, and would further dehumanise themselves and everybody else in doing so.

Even if humanity’s obvious propensity to fuck everything up couldn’t have somehow been anticipated in advance, the lack of any meaningful attempt by social media sites to curb the damage they’re capable of after the event remains a textbook example of mechanical, faceless and unethical design. Better understanding of human psychology in its fullness — that is, its darker, shadowier aspects of it, rather than what merely motivates people in shallow and ephemeral ways — would likely lead to a culture of corporate responsibility that could actually make real and positive differences to the world.

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Dave Griffiths

UX Designer, writer and occasional photographer & music transcriber. Also a huge fan of dogs, satire, non-dualism, mythology and nature