Doom-scrolling has been a bad habit of mine for years. I no longer use social media, but I can kill a lot of time in the Apple News app. And because I am the kind of person to “lean into” topics that scare me instead of running away from them, my Apple News feed is always full of things that scare me! This is not good for an autistic person with high levels of anxiety.
The problem is, bad news has a way of coming all at once. When a company is losing money and needs to reduce its workforce, it typically lays off people in the thousands and it makes a big headline: ACME To Lay Off 20,000. But when things turn around at ACME and they start hiring again, it is a handful of people at a time, as individual departments are given the go-ahead to start filling positions that have gone unfilled in the meantime. You never see an announcement of rehires: ACME hires IT Support Specialist, 3 Customer Support Specialists, 2 Shipping Clerks and 2 Entry-Level Engineers. When employment levels recover as an economy gets moving again, we know about it largely from monthly employment reports of hiring data aggregated across the entire economy. Even there, the good news comes in more slowly than the bad news did. In the early months of a recession, an economy can lose 1 million jobs in a month. But even when the economy is growing well, we rarely see more than 400,000 jobs added in a month (in the US) — and in a lukewarm recovery it can be much less than that. But eventually, it adds up — and one day we are told that the unemployment rate has dropped below 4 percent, far below the 12 percent it topped out at in the recession — good news for the economy as a whole — but for those who have remained unemployed for the duration, the news is still bad.
Basically, bad stuff seems to happen in big doses — which we usually hear about, while good stuff happens in a lot of little doses — most of which we never hear about. Bad news also seems to have a bigger ripple effect. A plane crash can lead to the grounding of the entire fleet of an airline. A bad week on the stock market can drive companies and individuals to cut spending. Data breaches and cyber attacks reveal vulnerabilities many of us never knew existed and throw us into a panic. And this is without a pandemic to worry about. Conversely, a few little pieces of good news are never enough to encourage most of us back into water.
Perhaps those of us who engage in doom-scrolling are literally hoping to find those little green shoots of emerging good news; the silver lining around the cloud; the light at the end of the tunnel. But they are hard to find.
When the two Covid-19 vaccines were announced in close succession, it did seem like a rare occurrence of good news coming all at once. But in reality, the vaccine will be doled out one person at a time — so we are unlikely to see a positive outcome for many, many months. And the economic recovery we are all hoping for will probably be even slower to materialize.
I am not a historian — but history does tell us that this will pass. One day, it will be normal again to write a blog post from a coffee shop where one was lucky to grab the last open table and had to wait fifteen minutes for one’s drink to be ready. But coffee shops will reopen one at a time. And baristas will be hired one at a time. And so it goes for the rest of the economy. And there is no way of knowing how many years that will take.
In the meantime, we just have to keep looking for the good news.