“Doom-scrolling” is a new internet expression that seems to be growing in popular usage. It’s defined online as: “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.” I would venture to guess that anyone who has a social media account on Facebook or Twitter has had the experience of lying in bed, scrolling down through endless posts about politics or Coronavirus or other current events. Despite the fact that everything we’re reading fills us with anxiety or anger, we scroll on – unwilling to stop, say our prayers, and get a good night’s sleep.
It’s worth reflecting on why we do this. There’s something addictive about it, and self-destructive since it robs us of peace and needed rest. Troubled by what we see and read, we nonetheless go deeper and deeper into the scroll, looking for satisfaction and resolution in the next posting, which never comes. The internet, especially social media, exploits the restlessness of the human heart. Promising much, what it delivers is eternal dissatisfaction and unfulfillment.
The author Patricia Snow has described the internet as the “faux Mystical Body.” It’s an allusion to the Mystical Body of Christ, and it illustrates the way that evil mimics good, twisting and distorting it, so that it appears to share the qualities of what’s good and holy, but in fact has been hollowed out of truth and goodness. The internet, in itself, is not bad. It is a tool that can be used for good things. But in too many ways it has led to the impoverishment and coarsening of human interaction. Offering connection and vast networks of online communities, its more common effect is social fragmentation, isolation, and alienation. Young people get together but spend their time engrossed in their phones, looking to “connect” with anyone except those who are physically present. The dinner table is invaded by devices that distract us from engaging with the people with whom we’re supposed to be sharing a meal. Addiction to virtual experiences deprives us of the natural interactions that are necessary for us to grow in our humanity. This experience is contrasted with the “Mystical Body of Christ,” which is the truest form of relationship because its members are bound together by the supernatural bonds of grace. While on earth, we must work to foster this bond with each other through the liturgical and sacramental life – especially the Mass – and by caring for each other through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This fosters true connectivity, which is grounded in divine charity, the love of Christ, who is the Head of the Mystical Body and who holds it all together.
Doom-scrolling, and the mindless surfing of the internet, mimics in a perverse way the glorious experience of the Beatific Vision, which is the direct encounter with God enjoyed by the Blessed in Heaven. Doom-scrolling through our never-ending social media feeds, we plunge ourselves into an ersatz “always more,” remaining completely unsatisfied, filled with fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger. The Beatific Vision, however, is a kind of “Glory-scrolling,” where the saints plunge themselves together into the “always more” of God, which is always perfectly satisfying while, paradoxically, always leaving us desiring more.